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Judge rules Chicago Park District needs to return employee contributions

A few one hundred dollar bills on a man’s fist. Isolated on white.

The $378.8 million Chicago Park Employees' Annuity & Benefit Fund will return some employee contributions after a 2014 pension reform law was ruled unconstitutional.

Last month, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Neil Cohen ruled the city's 2014 pension reform law unconstitutional. Along with raised employee contributions, the law increased the minimum retirement age, increased employer contributions and lowered retiree cost-of-living adjustments for members of the Chicago Park District retirement fund.

Mr. Cohen is now ordering the district pay back, with interest, the participants who made increased contributions, according to court documents filed March 21.

Dean Niedospial, executive director of the park employees' pension fund, could not immediately be reached for information on how much will be returned to participants.

Mr. Cohen also ordered the park district's increased employer contributions remain with the pension fund and that an increase in the district's property tax levy that was intended to help pension funding be returned to its previous level.

"This means that employees will have the same rights to retire and enjoy cost-of-living benefits in retirement as they had before the law was passed," said Eliseo Medina, co-trustee for Service Employees International Union Local 73, in an emailed statement. SEIU Local 73, which represents Chicago Park District employees, filed the lawsuit in 2015.

Matt McGrath, a spokesman for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, called the judge's decision "disappointing."

"Since day one, Mayor Emanuel took steps to address our financial challenges, including identifying balanced solutions to our legacy pension liabilities while also phasing out the risky financial practices of the past," Mr. McGrath said in an emailed statement. "The judge's decision in this matter is disappointing, but we will work to find another responsible and fair funding plan that allows for the park district to continue its core mission while still meeting the district's pension obligations."