Police, fire pension 'deal' faces rocky future

Pension fund board withholds approval as agreement due to go to City Council

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Police and Fire Pension Fund agreement hammered out last week in negotiations with Mayor Alvin Brown with not be introduced to Jacksonville City Council on Tuesday night after the pension fund's board heard opposition from its members and decided to hold off on its endorsement.

With no legislation written, apparent lack of support among the unions' rank-and-file and concern from City Council members about where the $40 million per year to fund the deal would come from, the agreement could be in jeopardy.

The city is $1.7 billion behind in funding to the fund that pays retirement benefits to Jacksonville's police officers and firefighters.

Brown and the pension fund's executive director, John Keene, shook hands on an agreement that calls for an increase in how much current employees will contribute to the fund from 7 to 10 percent in coming years.  The pension fund also agreed to give the city $107 million over five years from a reserve fund.

City Councilman Richard Clark told Channel 4's Bruce Hamilton on The Morning Show Tuesday that the deal needs to be examined in detail to determine its implications.  He also said it's in the city's best interest "to keep emotion and politics out of the process."

The biggest issue for council is finding a dedicated funding source for the additional $40 million annual contribution to the fund.  A task force recommended raising property taxes, then asking voters to exchange that with a 1-cent sales tax.

"I don't know how you commit to legislation that commits us to $40 million without having a funding source," Clark said.

Of 13 city councilmen polled Tuesday, four did say they would support putting the sales tax the November ballot, two was opposed and seven said they needed more information before they could decide.

City Council president for the next month, Bill Gulliford, said with this much uncertainly, he certainly wouldn't allow the measure to be introduced.

"I can't block it but I (will) darn well vote against it without an identifiable funding source," Gulliford said. "I don't want to play politics with this thing. We don't need to get past the next election. We need to get past the whole significant problem that we have and get resolution to it now -- not put it off and not postpone it."

Clark admits the issue is complicated and confusing.

"For two years I've been the council liaison on the pension fund. It's taken two years just to wrap my arms around it," Clark said.  "At the end of the day we need to know what the structure's going to be so we can manage the deficit and keep our bond rating strong."

Members of the pension board have their own concerns about the deal and said they won't vote on the agreement until late next month. 

A Jacksonville Sheriff's Office officer said the longer it drags on, the more officers are leaving over the lack of a solid pension plan.

"I can't hold any blame for those who choose to leave and they are leaving," Sgt. Bo Bottin. "They are going to Tampa, Colorado, Washington and so forth. These officers are not leftovers."

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