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1st City Council committee passes pension reform

City Council tries to finish pension reform before new mayor, council takes office

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The City Council Rules Committee voted 5-2 Monday in favor of a new agreement with the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund. If it passes a second committee on Tuesday, the bill would go to the full council before 11 new council members and the new mayor take office on July 1. 

"I hoped and prayed it would happen, and I still do," said Councilman Bill Gulliford, who has championed the latest pension reform push. "I am going to do everything I can to make it happen."

Previous pension reform plans have failed, and the latest proposal still doesn't address every issue, including where the money will come from to cover the $1.7 billion deficit.

Gulliford's bill would change how much the city would pay into the pension fund. It also has the pension board turning over its $79 million in reserve money to the city to help pay down the deficit.

On Friday, Police and Fire Pension Fund Executive Director John Keane said legal questions could hold up the deal.

"We are ready to move on. I think they are going to have a fire under them to get the answers to these questions," Keane said. "We are ready to move on. There are two more council meetings. Council leadership supports this, so they could have more than two more council meetings to get this done. We are committed to it."

Mayor Alvin Brown has been dealing with pension reform since he first took office four years ago, and he would love to see a deal settled before he leaves office.

Brown's chief of staff, Chris Hand, said it looks like it will happen.

"I think what you are now seeing is everybody working together to try and resolve this," said Chris Hand, chief of staff for Brown. "It's a definite priority for the mayor, and I think it's a shared priority for everybody to get this done before this mayor and the city council leave office. So I think it's possible." 

Mayor-elect Lenny Curry is staying out of the debate for now. On Friday, his staff would not say whether Curry would like to see pension reform resolved before he takes office.