Ward 7 Ald. Joe “Lone Ranger” McMenamin lost, again, at Tuesday’s city council meeting. The alderman was the lone dissenter on a 9-1 vote aimed at reeling in the city’s unfunded debt for police and firefighter pensions, which now stands at $350 million. McMenamin wants to lower the expected rate of investment return from 7 percent to 6.7 percent, then to 6.4 percent, which would have forced the city to find as much as $2 million for pension contributions next year and perhaps twice that in subsequent years. McMenamin said he’d support a tax increase and even vote for the city’s annual budget – he’s never done so, but it’s always passed nonetheless – if his colleagues would lower the expected rate of return for pension funds.
McMenamin’s colleagues didn’t quibble with his math but pleaded poverty, saying they can’t imagine making budget cuts without helping potholes and hurting public safety. “If we don’t have the money, where are we going to get it?” asked Ward 2 Ald. Herman Senor. “What you’re wanting to do is cut a firehouse,” thundered Ward 10 Ald. Ralph Hanauer. “What firehouse in Ward 7 do you want to cut? Tell us now.” Ward 8 Ald. Kris Theilen said the city faces cuts if tax collections are low, and with municipal elections coming up, the city could be in the hands of new aldermen without budgeting experience. “I don’t want to put them behind the eight ball, starting out,” Theilen said. Sure, pensions are a mess, Ward 1 Ald. Chuck Redpath acknowledged, but the council can’t pass laws without money. “When (someone) comes in front of the city council and says ‘Here’s your ordinance, find the money’ – that’s not the way to do business,” Redpath said. McMenamin, who supports a natural gas tax to ease pension woes, says the city should do business by doing math, and what’s happening now isn’t sustainable. Bill Carmean, a retired firefighter who is secretary to the firefighters’ pension board, said most of the board favored McMenamin’s plan. “It’s just going to be more painful down the road for everyone – your kids, my kids, everybody in the city,” he said.