Pension Task Force discusses options

Pension fund for Jacksonville police, firefighters needs $1.7 billion in funding

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - City officials, police officers, firefighters and interested taxpayers hoped to learn some answers Thursday as to where Jacksonville will be heading on pension reform.

The city is spending more than $140 million this year on pension, and the amount increases more each year. Mayor Alvin Brown and others have said it is the worst financial problem facing Jacksonville.

The Retirement Task Force appointed by the mayor met Thursday to discuss options. It wasn't the group's final meeting, but options were presented to deal with the pension mess.

Among items on the table were changing the pension fund to a 401K plan or something similar. The committee is also looking at suggesting bigger contributions to the fund by police and firefighters, asking the JEA for an annual contribution -- even a tax increase.

There was lots of discussion among board members as well.

Chairman of the task force Bill Scheu told Channel 4 that the group would examine everything from the "unfunded liability of $1.7 billion," to the governance of the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund.

"There are four basic periods: No.1, the payment of the unfunded liability of $1.7 billion, how do you reduce that?" asked Scheu. "No. 2 is the pension design going forward; how do you design a fair but sustainable pension that appreciates the service of police and fire personnel but at the same time doesn't cause the dilution of other city services and huge tax burdens on taxpayers."

"No. 3, the investment authority of the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund, what sort of investments should there be invested in or can they be invested in?" Scheu added. "And No. 4, the governance of the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund -- whether (the pension fund) is set up correctly to protect the beneficiaries of the pensions, but also the taxpayers who ultimately have to pay the fines."

Scheu said the group considered alternatives to figure out a way to come to an agreement on reforming the pension fund system so that "it's sustainable over the next several years."

"Most of the meeting is going to be to have the Pension Task Force talk to each other about what direction we should be headed in and from that discussion that will then be cue to narrow the alternatives that they are going to present," said Scheu.

Scheu said the Task Force would like to present recommendations to the city by Jan. 21.

"This is a fundmental issue for the community to solve and it has to be done soon," said David DeCamp, of the mayor's office. "(Brown) is very optimistic about the work the task force has done."

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