City sweetens police, fire unions pension deal

Sales tax to pay off deficit requires unions to agree to close current plans

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The city of Jacksonville and the unions representing its police officers and firefighters continue to negotiate terms to modify the pension plan that is $2 .7 billion in debt. The city's latest offer of a guaranteed retirement amount for new employees not in the union isn't closing the deal.

Duval County voters approved a new, half-cent sales tax to begin in 2030 to pay off the deficit, if the city and its unions can be reached. Police and firefighters said the agreement could impact the caliber of first responders interested in working in Jacksonville, and the city's latest proposal appears to be yielding to some of the unions' demands.

City leaders have said this is the biggest financial problem the community faces, one that could bankrupt the city if no so it’s the biggest financial problem facing the city, one that could bankrupt the city if no solution is found.

The current offer would give police and firefighters a 3 percent bonus and a 20 percent pay raise over three years, but calls for current employees to increase their contribution to the current pension plan.

New employees would be enrolled in a 401k retirement saving plan that would include a 25 percent contribution by the city.

"I want to be clear on where we are," said Randy Wyse, president of the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters. "We have not had an agreement on future employees.  What that is, we don’t know yet, but we have not come to an agreement on future employees."

The 401(k) plan is something the union said is unpredictable. They would rather see new employees joins the Florida Retirement System -- the plan state employees including public school teachers use.

The mayor has said no to that, and bill recently filed by state Rep. Jason Fisher, R-Jacksonville, could shut down that option altogether.  The city stressed Wednesday the mayor had nothing to do with that. 

"To be quite frank with you, I don’t want to discuss and waste my time talking about Jason Fisher or FRS because it's not on the table," said Sam Mousa, Mayor Lenny Curry's chief administrative officer.

What is new on the bargaining table is a plan that would allow new employees to take part in an additional program that along with a 401(k) that would provide a guaranteed amount at retirement.

After meeting with the police and fire unions Wednesday, city leaders will meet with other city unions later in the week.  They want to move quickly and have a deal by mid-February so they can budget for this next year. The unions said there's no reason to rush.

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