Mayor Curry still out selling pension changes

Unions must approve closing of pension plan to new employees

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Mayor Lenny Curry made his case Tuesday to the first of the city employee unions that must agree to close their pension plans to new workers to allow the voter-approve half-cent sales tax to kick in to address Jacksonville's $2.7 billion pension deficit.

The city is offering a 401k retirement savings plan to new employees instead of the defined pension plan. 

Curry told employees of the Jacksonville Supervisor's Association they would receive a 2 percent bonus next year and 9.5 percent raise over the next three years in exchange for accepting the new contract terms.

For new employees, the city would make a 10 percent contribution to match the worker's 8 percent. After 16 years of service, the city would match would increase to 12 percent.

"Legacy pension plans and guaranteed benefits are a dinosaur. They are not sustainable," Curry told the collective bargaining session. "So I'm offering a defined contribution for new employees. Those people in our city that have some sort of retirement plan. It's a bold initiative and it guarantees that we get this behind us once and for all."

In the Aug. 30 primary, nearly two thirds of Jacksonville voters approved a 30-year half-cent sales tax to begin in 2030 that would pay down the current pension deficit, but the legislation that allows that also requires the existing pension plan for the city's seven unions to be closed to new employees and require existing employees to contribute more to the pension plan.

Jason Geiger, with the Jacksonville Supervisors Association, said it was too early to give an opinion on the offer.

"We have to go back with the numbers together and discuss it with our team," Geiger said. "We're still trying to process it. We have to look at the full picture."

Curry will present his plan to the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters later this week, where his proposal may receive a chilly reception.

Randy Wyse, president of the fire union, said 401k plans have not been successful for public safety employees in other parts of the state.

"I think a 401 is going to be problematic as it relates to recruitment and with retention," Wyse said. "We are willing to look at anything they lay across the table. There are some hybrid plans out there and have a combination of both."

The Fraternal Order of Police did not want to comment Tuesday. Curry is expected to make take his proposal to its board on Friday.

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