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Mayor aims to clarify pension plan confusion

Opponents to tax to fund pension plan call language confusing

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry answered questions about his plan to use a half-cent sales tax to pay down the city's pension deficit at a town hall meeting in San Marco Thursday night. 

Curry has been making his way through Jacksonville -- going district by district -- to clarify the plan.

Concerned Taxpayers of Duval County and several other activists filed a lawsuit against the amendment, saying the language in the referendum is just too confusing, and that voters won't know what the amendment means.

But Curry said, simply put, the plan is solid and the best option. He said he's confident it will pass.

At the meeting at Southside Baptist Church, Curry said he believes "we are on the road to Detroit" if the pension crisis is not solved.

"The people that don't think they're paying for pension costs right now, their tax dollars in this operating budget, $292 million that they pay that should be going to services for them are being paid to pension costs," Curry said.

Voters will have the chance on Aug. 30 to decide whether to approve the sales tax, which would go into effect in 2030, once the Better Jacksonville half-cent tax expires. 

The tax could solely be used to pay off the pension liability and would end when the debt is paid off, but would not last beyond 2060.

"Government officials often say, 'Give me this revenue so I can solve this problem.' And then we find out years later, the problem wasn't solved. We wrote this legislation in a way that says, 'This tax dollar, this penny can only be used to solve this problem. I can't change that. Another mayor cannot change that and council can't change that," Curry said. 

Kathleen Perera, who lives on the city's Southside, was one of the many people who attended the meeting to learn more about the referendum. 

"I've been hearing a lot about it but really haven't been paying attention to the details. So I said, 'This is the time to come out and look at it,'" Perera said. "I was very impressed with it. What I was most concerned about was they were going to do for the pension for the future, as well as paying for the pension now."

Perera said she believed Curry did a good job clearing up any confusion. She said it was also great that the mayor is keeping up with his promise of transparency and staying in touch with the community.