Pension task force recommendations coming soon

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The city is narrowing its focus on how to solve the $1.5 billion pension crisis.

A city retirement task force is finishing up its work and will be making some recommendations soon to the mayor and the City Council.

On Wednesday, the board spelled out where it wants to go with the measure and how to pay for the problem.

Higher taxes are on the table but are not the only option, according to the board chairman.

Police and firefighters' salaries and pensions make up a big portion of the city budget, and the retirement plan is one of the city's biggest problems.

The task force's recommendations could force changes in the way the city negotiates new contracts with the police and fire unions. Also, the board is looking at ways the city can bring in more money.

"There is no revenue side of it that has been taken off the table, but that does not mean that is where we are going to end up," said Bill Scheu, who's on the task force.

Those ideas will come up later this month.

Mayor Alvin Brown listened in on Wednesday's meeting. Normally he dismisses the talk of tax increases right off the bat, but this time was different.

"Everyone knows I do not support a tax increase on anything. But I am not going to get in the way by dictating what the task force is going to do," Brown said.

It's a topic the board wants to wait on talking about as well. But members are looking at possible changes in the way the city negotiates with the unions.

Randy Wyse, the head of the fire union, said that could be a problem because deals have already been made with the pension board and the way they invest retirement funds.

"To unravel that is dangerous, very dangerous," Wyse said. "I don't think people have looked at what the financial impact of that would have on the city. So I say be very cautious about where you are stepping just because the judge's ruling says it deserves to be in collective bargaining. Be very careful. Be very cautious."

The board will meet three more times. It will list the funding possibilities on Jan. 21.

The judge's ruling on the lawsuit regarding the Florida Times-Union and pension negotiations is having an impact at the meetings. The task force is making sure everything is in the open and that it is following the rules.

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