Finance committee defers sales tax increase bill

Half-penny sales tax increase would help fund the Police and Fire Pension Fund


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville City Council finance committee deferred the bill that would fund pension reform with a half-cent sales tax increase on Tuesday.

The proposal had been recommended by the rules committee Monday.

The full council meets next Tuesday and could still take up the bill then, but it would have to be pulled out of committee by Council President Clay Yarborough or by two-thirds vote of the council.

The rules committee, tasked with recommending a way to close a $1.7 billion gap in the city's Police and Fire Pension Fund, voted for a half-penny sales tax increase. That would bump sales tax in Jacksonville from 7 cents to 7.5 cents.

"You can't deal with this problem with a $1.7 billion deficit without some increase," Councilman Warren Jones said Monday. "Now, I voted for the half-penny sales tax that Mr. (Bill) Gulliford offered, but I want all options on the table."

That half-cent sales tax would last 10 years, helping the city make the extra $40 million a year contribution toward the fund that's needed because of the deficit.

The committee discussed four options for funding the pension:

  • A JEA franchise fee that would mean higher rates for consumers
  • A home or property tax, which would include businesses
  • A JEA lump sum payment
  • A sales tax option

JEA's board of directors voted two weeks ago to make a one-time $120 million contribution to the city to help fund the pension. The City Council could still adopt the mayor's JEA proposal.

Rules committee members also voted not to decrease the return rate for Jacksonville's police officers and firefighters. Finding a way to fully fund the pension is something the committee members said they owe to the men and woman of Jacksonville's police and fire departments.

"Especially with the events that happened in Ferguson, (Missouri), and then you had someone shooting randomly at our fire department," Councilman Stephen Joost said. "I don't dodge bullets any day in my life or ask to go out on a traffic stop when Lord knows what could happen, so (we need) to guarantee them a 2 percent rate on return for the risk they take every day."