Unions, members oppose pension reform plan

Board set to vote Friday on pension deal approved by City Council


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – On the eve of a final vote on Jacksonville's pension reform, police officers and firefighters spoke out against the plan Thursday.

Last week, the Jacksonville City Council approved a deal that now needs the OK of the Police and Fire Pension Fund's Board of Trustees. They'll take up the matter at 9 a.m. Friday, but Thursday afternoon the five members of the board heard from the officers and firefighters who will be affected by the plan.

The unions and members told the board to vote down the plan, saying it will do nothing but hurt them, because current officers and firefighters and new hires will have to pay more into the pension program.

The city called it shared sacrifice.

Officer Michael Taylor, who has been with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office for 17 years, was shot on the job. He said to get less than what was promised is unfair.

"We hear all of this about shared sacrifice," Taylor said. "I've shared. I've given enough. In 2001, while protecting the city, I was shot twice while protecting the city. I almost lost my life. I gave up a lot. In the end, I ended up losing my family over this whole thing, so if you can sit in a meeting and say 'shared sacrifice,' ask how many people have been shot on their job there and have lost their family, and I think you could say very few."

Others said the city-approved pension deal would make it difficult to recruit new officers and that it's a slap in the face for current officers.

"Morale is at an all-time low," Officer R.T. Weeks said. "There's not a lot of trust right now. There's not a lot of good faith, but we still continue to do our job."

Many say former Sheriff Nat Glover is the swing vote on the board.

"I've got to look at the reality of the situation and make the best decision based on what I think is best for our pension members in the city," Glover said Thursday. "I am not ready to say anything more than that."

Council approves pension deal

There is a $1.7 billion deficit in the Pension Fund. In addition to increases in employee contributions and raising the retirement age for future hires, the plan commits the city to paying an additional $350 million over the next 13 years to address that deficit.

It will be up to the next administration to find those millions of additional dollars the plan requires.

A task force last year recommended a property tax hike or a sales tax increase to fund the plan, but neither of those ideas has any traction, and incoming Mayor Lenny Curry promised he would oppose any new taxes for any reason. Other ideas include using money from the JEA or issuing bonds.

Some City Council members said while the approved plan passed council 14-4, the agreement could be struck down in the courts. While Circuit Judge Beverly Thomas refused a request to block the vote with an injunction, he previously ruled the current pension contract was illegal because of the way it was negotiated with the Pension Board, not in collective bargaining with the police and fire unions.

"I don't think this is the end of it," said Councilman John Crescimbeni, who cast one of the dissenting votes. "I think it's very likely we will end up in court on this issue. We didn't collectively bargain, so I think the case can be made for that."

John Winkler, of Concerned Taxpayers of Duval County, the group which brought the lawsuit challenging the agreement, said it's very likely the judge will make some type of ruling. But who the deal was negotiated with isn't the only problem with the deal.

"I have a second reason for not liking this legislation, which has absolutely nothing to do which whether it was legal or not, and that's the commitment to add another $32 million a year beginning three years from now for another decade," Winkler said. 

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