Police, firefighters pension becomes political issue

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - At the end of a week in which voters make their first pick for who will be the city's next mayor, a revised pension plan for Jacksonville's police and firefighters was defeated by City Council, and the current pension plan was voided by a judge -- and the man who wants Mayor Alvin Brown's job came out swinging.

Republican Lenny Curry said Friday he would allow current police and firefighters to keep their benefits as is and not pay more into the system while making up the $1.7 billion deficit with reduced benefits for new hires.

"We have to honor our first responders and the promises that were made to them in years gone by. I would start with new hires which would involve retirement age, which would involve rates of return, which would involve COLA (cost of living) adjustments," Curry said.

Curry specifically said he would not change the terms, costs or benefits for current police officers or firefighters.

"Look, these men and women serve the city and they had been made promises, they built their retirement ... around these promises," Curry said.

Curry's strong stand comes as a surprise to some at City Hall. City Council members and the mayor's staff say it goes against what the Pension Task Force called for: shared sacrifice among all employees.

Curry also slammed the plan that was defeated Wednesday night by council, saying the recent ruling by Judge Thomas Beverly voiding the current pension plan would have ultimately taken down the new plan had it passed.

"Let's be clear about this," Curry said. "The mayor has failed to solve this problem. He has failed to get Republicans and Democrats to agree to a plan, and if his plan had passed, it would be illegal under the judge's ruling."

But Brown's staff disagreed, pointing to attorneys and other groups who support the plan that was defeated in 9-9 tie vote before City Council.

"That this was a legal, comprehensive solution, and we feel we still have the chance to explore whether or not there is opportunity to push pension reform forward and achieve it," mayor's spokesman Dave Decamp said.

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