JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The City Council approved an amended version of the city's pension agreement Tuesday night, moving the city one step closer to solving its biggest financial mess: the $1.7 billion deficit in the Police and Fire Pension Fund.
The 16-3 vote passed a watered-down version of what Mayor Alvin Brown and the head of the pension fund agreed on earlier this year. Now, it will go back to the pension fund board for its approval.
"We came up with an agreement and the council had to add their voice to it," Brown said. "They're entitled to make their amendments and make changes and that's how the process works."
Some in the police sector weren't pleased with the approved proposal, however. Undersheriff Dwain Senterfitt left his badge at home and showed up as a private citizen to give the council an earful of what he feels the pension deal does to cops.
"Do any of you know what the starting pay for a police officer is?" Senterfitt asked "A starting police officer makes $38,100 a year. That's almost $16,000 less than your council assistant makes. A police officer has to work for eight years to make the same thing your council assistant makes."
But City Councilman Bill Gulliford said if the city can fix the $1.7 billion pension problem, it will free up money in the future that could go to raises.
"If we could get this pension thing under control and cut this huge cost we're facing every year, that might give us the opportunity to give raises to police officers and firefighters," Gulliford said.
Despite the progress, no funding source was designated in the City Council's approved plan for an additional $40 million annual contribution for the next 10 years.
The mayor's office has been pushing an idea to use JEA as a funding source, and in turn help with the pension for JEA employees, but some council members are very leery of that.
"I think it's a great opportunity, a tremendous opportunity for us to work with JEA as a partner in this process to really protect hard-working taxpayers, first responders and move our city forward," Brown said.
The bigger issue may be with the Police and Fire Pension board, since amendments to the agreement made by the council tie cost-of-living increases for new retirees to the COL adjustments made to Social Security, plus changes to the deferred retirement plan.
The council also inserted language giving it the right to reopen the agreement every three years if there is an impasse during contract negotiations.
The Police and Fire Pension Board will meet to discuss the proposal Wednesday and then again Dec. 19.