City officials, Police and Fire Pension Fund reach tentative deal

The mayor and the police and fire pension fund are trying to solve the $1.7 billion pension deficit.
The mayor and the police and fire pension fund are trying to solve the $1.7 billion pension deficit.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After weeks of roadblocks, setbacks and disagreements, Mayor Alvin Brown and the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund reached a deal on Wednesday that should help solve a $1.7 billion funding deficit.

As part of the tentative agreement, the pension fund agreed to give $107 million over five years to the city to help pay down its debt. The pension board will transfer $61 million to the city this year and then pay increments of $7 million a year in following years.

The city will pay $40 million a year to hopefully retire the deficit.

"I think it's a great day for the city of Jacksonville," Mayor Alvin Brown said. "When two groups got together and did what was right for the taxpayers. We have a great agreement."

City Council President Bill Gulliford said the most manageable funding source for the city's $40 million annual contribution would be an increase in property tax or sales tax.

"There's no pot of gold that we can reach in and pull money out of," Gulliford said. "We've got to come up with an additional source of revenue and we're very limited.
"We're not magicians," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, we've got to solve this once and for all and do it right. And that may involve some pain, and I'm sorry."

The agreement includes an increase in how much current employees will contribute to the fund and no change in the cost of living increase they receive after they retire.

Right now, they pay 7 percent of their salary into the fund. That jumps to 8 percent in October under the new agreement. Once the city makes up for a pay cut the police and firefighters took two years ago, the employees will then pay 10 percent into the system.

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Also, the cost of living increase will remain at 3 percent a year, even though the mayor originally wanted to reduce that amount.

"We're happy we finally reached an agreement. It's been a long, long trail," said John Keane, executive director of the pension fund.

The Police and Fire Pension Fund board still has to sign off on the agreement, and then the deal will  be introduced to city council on Tuesday.

"I'm very happy for the hardworking taxpayers of Jacksonville, and I'm very excited for the city employees," Brown said. "I think it's a fair plan that's going to be sustainable."

But not everyone is happy with the deal.

"I don't think it's worth a warm bucket of spit, frankly," said John Winkler of the Concerned Taxpayers of Duval County.

Winkler is upset because of the cost of living increase included in the deal. He said taxpayers will be paying for that for many years to come.

"We're facing the possibility of paying folks 40 years from now six times what the average wage earner is earning in Jacksonville if inflation stays low," Winkler said.

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