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Councilman offers new pension proposal

Gulliford hopeful police, fire pension deal will get council approval

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – City Councilman Bill Gulliford announced Thursday that he has a new plan for an issue that has been debated for years in Jacksonville but remains unresolved: the Police and Fire Pension Fund.

Gulliford said every day that passes without a deal is costing the city more and more money, and he hopes his plan will pass, unlike previous proposals.

John Keane, president of the Police and Fire Pension Fund, said that he hasn't seen the full proposal from Gulliford, but he hopes this plan is one that everybody can agree on, because the issue has been unresolved for too long.

Keane said that even though he hasn't seen the bill, he has heard that it is similar to the most recent proposal that didn't pass but has a few changes that might make it more appealing.

"During the legislative process, there are tweaks and amendments, additions and subtractions," Keane said. "We're looking forward to working with people of goodwill who want to find a solution to the serious fiscal problem that faces our city."

Gulliford's bill aims to restore police officers and firefighter wages that were cut in recent wage reductions. After those salaries are restored, he wants members of both organizations to contribute 10 percent to the pension fund.

Gulliford also said there are other funding sources that he has in mind, but he isn't ready to say what those are. He said the sources do not include any sales tax or property tax increases.

"We just need to man up and get this thing resolved one way or the other," Gulliford said. "Obviously, whatever resolution it is, it's probably going to be distasteful."

Both Randy Wyse, president of the Firefighters Union, and Steve Amos, head of the Fraternal Order of Police, said that they are glad another proposal is out there.

"Let's keep going," Wyse said. "This is number five that we've done for already eight years. I've stood in front of you all every time and said, 'We support pension reform. Get it done.'"

Wyse and Amos are once again hopeful that after the proposal is amended in council that the final plan is one that everybody will think is fair.

"We need some stability for our employees," Amos said. "We are having a hard time recruiting and maintaining employees here as a result of the pension. It's got to do something to fix that."

"It's been a priority of the city for years to try to find a way to fund the unfunded pension liability," Keane said. "It's a priority."

The proposal also outlines the structure of payments for current employees and employees hired after the deal is reached.

Mayor Alvin Brown released a statement Thursday saying, "We will review today's proposed legislation, and we look forward to working with anyone who wants to achieve a solution that is fair to our hardworking taxpayers and our dedicated first responders. We will work with anyone committed to true reform."

"I think what we're really trying to do is give the Police and Fire Pension Fund Board some sense of trust we are going to do the right thing," Gulliford said. "They've got a lot of leverage."

Gulliford said that he wants this pension deal passed by the current council, saying that they have the knowledge of the issue and that there will be a big learning curve for the next City Council, which will have 10 new members on it.