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City Council deadlocks on pension plan reform

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After seven years of discussion, stops and starts, the Jacksonville City Council failed to pass the latest agreement that would address the growing deficit for the Police and Fire Pension Fund.

With a tie vote of 9 to 9 Wednesday night, the pension deal failed to pass. Mayor Alvin Brown will have to draw up a new deal, get it approved by the pension fund board and submit it to the council.

"If the mayor wants to ... bring a bill back to council that we can look at, it can't be the same bill, because this one was denied, so it can't say the same thing. But if it's a changed agreement, it can be put back before the City Council and we can debate it again," said City Council President Clay Yarborough.

Yarborough said his problem with the plan is that it could not be modified for a decade.

"If we had that safety in there about adjusting this sometime in the next 10 years, I was prepared to vote in favor of it tonight," said Yarborough.

Yarborough said that the mayor would need to draw up and submit a new pension plan before the new council members elected this spring will take office July 1. 

The current pension fund has a deficit that keeps growing -- now sitting at $1.7 billion. 

On The Morning Show Thursday, the mayor's chief of staff, Chris Hand, said the plan the council failed to pass would have saved $1.3 billion over the next 30 years.

"I think the word we'd all feel is disappointed on behalf of the taxpayers and first responders," Hand said. "This is a process the city has been dealing with for seven years. No one can claim that the city hasn't done its due diligence, looked at every aspect of this issue. In fact, this is the third agreement this City Council has considered, the second that Mayor Brown has brought to them, that they've turned down. So, unfortunately, the long and winding road of pension reform continues."

Some council members who voted against the bill said the plan lacks a clear funding source.

"Nothing matters until you get a funding source," Councilman Bill Bishop said. "This is why I say the whole thing is designed to fail. It's designed for everybody to say, 'I voted for change,' without having to make a change because there is no funding source."

With Brown set for a runoff against Lenny Curry on May 19, the failure of this proposal and a possible new pension plan might have a big impact with voters. If a new proposal is not voted on before July 1, it may be in the hands of a new City Council and, possibly, a new mayor.

About the Authors:

Specializes in Clay County issues, general assignment reporting and stories off the beaten path and anchors weekend evening newscasts.

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.