Members unanimously advance pension overhaul to full City Council vote

Legislation will close current pension to new hires, delay debt payments


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After City Council members were briefed by their auditor Wednesday on the ordinances that Mayor Lenny Curry calls the final solution to paying off the city's pemsion debt, the "committee-of-the-whole" unanimously advanced the legislation to a full Council vote on Monday.

The package of pension reform bills will close the existing pension plan to new police officers and firefighers, gives employees substantial raises, and defers the bulk of the repayment of the city's $2.8 billion debt until a half-cent sales tax begins in 2030. That tax, passed by the voters last year, will be dedicated to paying off Jacksonville's billion pension deficit.

The Council Auditor's Office review found few issues the numbers in Curry's proposal.

"The sales tax growth rate appears to be reasonable when you compare what happen with the Better Jacksonville tax plan," the auditor wrote, adding, "The savings to the city next year will be offset by salary increases in the next three years."

To encourage a favorable vote, the political-action committee that supported Curry's election is paying for a six-figure television and social media campaign encourage citizens to tell their councilmen to pass the ordinance.

Earlier this month, Curry presented City Council with 35 pages of details on what the plan will cost and how the city will fund the 20 percent raises for police and firefighters over the next three years, 25 percent 401(c)3 match for new employees, and other promises made by the Curry during contract negotiations the unions.

Curry said that if the plan goes as expected, the pension deficit would be completely paid off around 2049-2051. But his presentation acknowledged that there are costs associated with the new pension plan, including $37 million to fund raises next year, $77 million the following year and $120 million in 2020.

Critics of Curry's plan have said by reducing the bulk of the repayment of the pension debt 17 years until the sales tax kicks in will push the total amount due from just under $3 billion to nearly $6 million.

There is a pending legal challenge to the August 2016 sales tax referendum that voters approved.