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Highlights of the budget

Wayne Horne | 2/24/2016, 2:26 p.m.
Last week’s City Council vote approving a master contract with the City of Joliet’s six bargaining units was deemed a ...
Wayne Horne

Last week’s City Council vote approving a master contract with the City of Joliet’s six bargaining units was deemed a “fair” deal for all concerned, according to some council members’ comments. The Council vote was 6-1 for the agreement. Councilman Pat Mudron was the only ‘no’ vote. Councilwoman Jan Quillman abstained claiming a conflict of interest for herself. Her husband is a retired policeman.

Here are the highlights:

*Four-year contract 2016-2019, no raise for two years; four percent raise in years three and four

*Current healthcare plan extended to 2030

*No layoffs for four years

*Residency provision for all new hires

Union contract negotiations can be a risky business for elected officials. City employees vote and pay close attention to the city council’s mandates. The goal, of course, is to strike a “fair” agreement all parties can live with. It should be noted that this particular agreement takes elected officials past the next two elections and the contract will be up for renewal almost two years before the 2021 election. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence.

The fact that the contract does not grant raises for the next two years seems more than fair. City of Joliet employees are among the highest paid municipal workers in the state. A wage increase is hard to justify. According to many reports, few in the national workforce have received pay increases in the last few years. Many senior citizens on fixed incomes and those receiving disability benefits from Social Security did not receive any increase in payments this year and a very small increase last year.

The giveback of residency requirements for new hires doesn’t affect any current employees. Also, employees with more than 20 years on the job are not required to live in Joliet. Employees are also guaranteed no layoffs. A possible exception could be a reduction in the current number of firefighters in the event the city decides to close a fire station, as was threatened after budget hearings last year.

The core of the agreement is an extension of the current healthcare plan through the year 2030 with no increase in the employee’s share of the cost, currently about $1200 per year.

Last November the City Council’s Finance Committee discussed the health insurance contract renewal with Blue Cross representatives. According to the city’s health insurance advisors the trend for health insurance rate increases was about 2.5 percent annually. If that trend is to be believed, the cost of health insurance for the six bargaining units will increase by about $1.75 million over the next five years. However, the cost of the City’s health insurance plan over the last five years has gone up over 21 percent. The City currently pays over $51 million for employee benefits, including health insurance. That does not include retirees. The unfunded cost for retiree healthcare exceeds $235 million, according to the last actuarial valuation of the retiree healthcare benefit program dated January 1,2014.

By the way, the only council member to vote no, Pat Mudron, has over 35 years of experience dealing with health insurance. According to Mudron he was not consulted regarding the health insurance part of the contract prior to the City Council vote.