ISLAND LAKE – Paying back the nearly $400,000 owed to the Island Lake police pension fund may involve lawsuits, cutting expenses and possibly laying off a village employee, the village president said.
“The last resort would be to raise taxes,” Village President Charlie Amrich said after a meeting dedicated to the issue Thursday evening. “I refuse to do that. Somehow we’ll figure out a way to get through this.”
The Village Board is working with the police pension board to repay the money that was originally levied for the police pension but was instead spent on village expenses, including skyrocketing legal fees and settlements, according to a presentation made last year by the village’s new auditor.
A written proposal needs to be made to and accepted by the pension board, village attorney David McArdle said. Otherwise, the pension board could sue the village.
State law also allows the pension board to notify the state comptroller of the missing payments. The comptroller would then, starting in fiscal 2016, pay the pension fund the amount owed using state funds originally intended for the municipality.
The particulars of the agreement between the Village Board and the police pension board will be worked out over the next couple months as the village puts together its budget, said Trustee Keith Johns, who also serves as the Finance Committee chairman. The board also is waiting on final numbers from the auditors.
“We are working on this diligently,” Johns told the residents during the meeting Thursday. “I have had multiple meetings with this person, that person, every person. We have looked at this thing up and down. We are 100 percent doing what we can to get this paid back.”
He hopes the board will be able to put together an agreement that doesn’t involve cutting services, adding that he doesn’t think that’s fair to the residents who use those programs or the employees who work them.
The board also has been discussing possible legal avenues to recoup some of the funds.
Amrich declined to comment further, but he did add that the manager’s letter from the auditing firm did not mention the fact that the pension was being underfunded or in some years, not funded at all.
Echoing the frustrations expressed by residents over the last few months, some meeting attendees called for the resignation or termination of Finance Director John Little or the trustees who were on the board at the time of the missing payments.
“If you were involved in this thing then those of you that were sitting up there during that period of time and let this get away from you make Larry, Moe and Curly look like MIT graduates,” resident Don Saville said. “This should have never happened.”
When asked why Little was still in his position, Amrich said, “There’s several reasons that he’s still there, and one of the things is there is so much to that job and that position and to… I don’t know what I want to say here. I’ve got to be careful here. If you got rid of somebody that had taken care of all the finances in the village or whatever it is, a company, and they walk away, you don’t know what’s what.”
Amrich also disputed that some former Village Board members didn’t know about the misappropriation, adding that he thinks some people are backpedaling now.
Little told the Northwest Herald in October that he had not notified the Village Board during a public meeting about the shortfalls and did not know if he had notified them some other way.