Pending pension agreement presented to fund board

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A new pension reform deal is on its way to the Jacksonville City Council, after the police and fire pension board met with Mayor Alvin Brown Wednesday to discuss the re-worked deal.

The plan, proposed by Councilman Bill Gulliford, has passed two City Council committees and is poised for a vote next Tuesday night. Two previous pension reform plans have gone down to defeat, and the current plan has been ruled illegal by a Circuit Court judge. Gulliford said the funding is gone and a new deal needs to be approved.

"The reality of it is, we've got to come up with a solution before it runs out. Because when it jumps to 32 million, where does that come from?" Gulliford said.

The plan is reworked from previous plans and includes changes in benefits for future employees, adjusts guarantees in the cost-of-living allowance and makes other changes designed to help the city catch up on a $1.7 billion deficit. 

It involves both the city and Police and Fire Pension Fund putting in millions to sustain it temporarily while they search for a permanent funding source. 

Proponents said if the plan is approved, it would take care of pension issues for the city for the next 13 to 14 years. 

Some members of City Council are pushing hard for a plan to be in place by July 1, when Mayor Alvin Brown and 11 current members of City Council leave office.

"We have a great opportunity to move forward on resolving retirement reform once and for all," Brown said. "We're all working together and had an opportunity to really make the case again today to Police and Fire Pension Fund board."

If City Council passes the Gulliford plan, it must also be ratified by the pension fund board. If the first plan fails, there is one also pending that was introduced by Councilwoman Lori Boyer that differs in a few ways, including how future employees and contract negotiations would be handled.

There may be an issue that could cause problems at the City Council meeting Tuesday night. The new deal allows the city to call for collective bargaining to happen again in seven years, and the pension fund wants a 10-year window for locked in benefits. But Boyer disagrees and doesn't support this plan, she feels that window should be only three years.

"I really believe what we should be doing as to benefits for current employees is entering into collective bargaining. Now the other parts of the bill with respect to paying down unfunded liability, and the governance with pension board, I completely support," Boyer said.

There are still obstacles, including a watchdog group asking for an injunction that would ban City Council from enacting any agreement with the pension fund as a violation of a ruling earlier this year requiring all pension negotiations be conducted with the unions for police and firefighters, not the pension fund.

In filing the request for an injunction, Concerned Taxpayers of Duval County wrote:

"While neither the City Council nor (Pension Fund Executive Director John) Keane are the appropriate parties to negotiate pension benefits for the members of the police and fire unions, their negotiations also violate state law by attempting to establish an agreement lasting more than three years...."

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