Cook Co. retirees concerned about pension plan

November 30, 2009 (CHICAGO) Every year, the cook county board is obligated under the state constitution to match the funds that employees put into their pension plan.

Last year, that payment should have been $104 million, but the money never came. ABC7 has learned there will be a payment but not for nearly what is owed.

"They made a promise in the last year they were going to take care of this and now we are all paying a price," said Christine Trzos, Cook County retiree.

Promises made, promises broken -- so says 63-year-old Christine Trzos who ABC7 first spoke to one year ago after she and thousands of other Cook County retirees received a letter from the pension board warning that if the county board failed to fully fund the pension plan for $104 million in matching funds, their pensions could lose value.

One year later, and the pension fund is now owed $113 million. The additional $9 million is for interest.

"Right now we may be okay but if we continue with these losses and underfunding, we're out of business," said Trzos.

"People who are in their golden years should not be scared out of their wits that their pensions may be lost. They are not lost," said Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica.

Peraica, a Republican, agrees that the county's pension fund may be on a path toward bankruptcy and he says that's where it deserves to go because it's bloated. Peraica believes the future for new county employees should be 401K plans.

"What we're talking about is new employees and those who are not vested prospectively. That's where those changes need to be made," said Peraica.

But for now the county board has approved a $30 million payment to the pension fund. And finance committee chairman John Daley says it's much less than $740 million in bonds that county board president Todd Stoger had wanted but was rejected.

"I'm willing to support the bonding for the entire amount, but there's not a lot of support for it. So we're going to have to start 30 this year, maybe 30 next year or bond out," said Daley.

Not only is there last year's payment, but now this year's payment is due and it's even higher. Friday, the board is expected to override President Stroger's veto. They want to roll back Stroger's sales tax hike. But if they succeed with that retirees worry they're taking away revenue that could be used for funding their pensions.

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