Pension reform: 'Now the hard part starts'

Jacksonville task force presents final recommendations to mayor, council

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Retirement Reform Task Force that's spent the last several months looking at ways to fill a $1.7 billion deficit in the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund presented its final report Thursday morning to Mayor Alvin Brown, City Council president Bill Gulliford and pension fund director John Keane.

The 50-page report recommends the city increase property taxes to raise $68 million per year, then ask the voters on the November ballot to replace the property-tax hike with a half-cent sales tax.

Task force chairman Bill Scheu called the plan "shared sacrifice," saying the plan calls for police and firefighters to contribute more to their own retirement as well as asking the taxpayers to fully fund the pension plan.

"This is the most important thing in the city's life now.  We need to support the kind of people who are going to step up and make this happen," task force chairman Bill Scheu said. "We have elected them. If they do the same thing that others have done, shame on us."

DOCUMENTS: Task Force executive summary | Final draft report

The mayor says they will review the report and talk to the fund managers and, police and fire unions and City Council members, but remains adamant that he will not support a tax increase.

"I'm against any kind of tax.  I don't think we need to raise taxes to solve this problem," Brown said.  "I think the key is working with police and fire and JEA."

Brown has asked the city-owned utility to contribute an additional $40 million per year to fund the pension plan without asking citizens to pay any more.

Gulliford dismissed Brown's opposition to a tax increase as blatantly political.

"Everything should be on the table for consideration," Gulliford said.  "Even if you amend the benefits ... which everyone understands need to be done, there is a funding issue."

Gulliford said he'll call a special City Council meeting right away to begin the process of addressing the recommendations -- saying, "Now the hard part starts."

Late Thursday afternoon the St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners sent a letter to Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown. The letter expressed concern that over time would have consequences to utility rates for 30,000 St. Johns County residents.

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