December 7, 2017
The Civic Federation supports the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District’s Tentative FY2018 budget of $1.13 billion because it continues to control operating expenses and maintains financial safeguards, including substantial reserves, to cover shortfalls or financial emergencies. The full analysis is available here.
As detailed in the report, the District’s FY2018 budget proposal continues to make increased contributions to the pension fund and to the retiree healthcare trust fund. The contributions have started to reverse the downward financial trajectory of the pension fund and will make retirees’ healthcare benefits more financially secure and affordable for taxpayers. Additionally, by implementing safety training programs, the MWRD has significantly reduced the number of workers’ compensation claims.
As part of the most recent budgeting process, the MWRD held public study sessions on the budget, Capital Improvement Program and resource recovery, during which the Board, staff and members of the public could share information and ask questions. All MWRD study sessions are live-streamed, and videos and presentation materials are made available online.
“The MWRD’s continued fiscal prudence and budgetary transparency initiatives demonstrate best practices for Illinois governments,” said Civic Federation President Laurence Msall. “By making strategic investments today and inviting the public into the process, the MWRD is laying the groundwork for strong financial health in the long-term.”
While the District’s financial stewardship is commendable, the Civic Federation shares several of the MWRD’s concerns. The District relies heavily on property taxes and must balance competing needs for property tax revenue among operations, pension funding and pay-as-you-go construction funding. The MWRD also shares a property tax base with other Chicago local governments that have high pension and debt burdens and that have significantly increased their property tax levies. Ongoing pension reform litigation in Illinois leaves open the question whether the MWRD’s employee contribution increases could be challenged in court.
The Civic Federation encourages the District to continue to manage its property tax levy and expenditure growth, and to streamline the budget proposal into one budget book that includes all amendments made to the Executive Director’s Recommendations and the Tentative Budget prior to approval by the Board of Commissioners.