Residents outside Jacksonville fear JEA, city pension fix idea

By Jim Piggott - Reporter
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Residents in Jacksonville's surrounding counties that rely on JEA service are pushing to not raise rates to bail out the city's pension problem.

That's coming even though the retirement task force says the city should consider raising taxes to fund the $1.7 billion pension deficit.

But Mayor Alvin Brown is still pushing for JEA to contribute more to the city from its profit to pay down the cost.

Homeowners in St. Johns County spoke out at a commission meeting Tuesday. The county joins Nassau County in letting Brown and JEA know where they stand.

Ellen Whitmer is one of the 30,000 people in St. Johns County who rely on JEA for electricity or water service, and she told the St. Johns County commissioner Tuesday to follow the lead of Nassau County and tell JEA no way.

"I'm paying for that profit, and I have to pay my own taxes here to support my own government here," Whitmer said. "Why do I have to pay for my county and that county. It's ridiculous."

Even though JEA is owned by Jacksonville, it serves a number of people outside of Duval County, including 4,500 in Clay County and 5,900 in Nassau County.

JEA already pays the city millions out of its profit, and Brown is suggesting the utility contribute $560 million over 14 years to turn the pension plan around. In turn, the city would allow JEA employees to restructure their own pension plan, saving JEA $500 million in 35 years.

JEA chairman Mike Hightower has previously said that would lead to higher rates. But he now said JEA needs to thoroughly look at the mayor's plan.

As for the surrounding counties involvement, "One, we appreciate their concern. One, we appreciate their feedback. But we're going to be looking at that and its total, and then at some point, given what happens with the finance and audit committee, we will take the next step," Hightower said.

He said JEA will have a decision around November. Bill Bishop, the City Council representative for JEA, definitely has an opinion about the plan.

"So, no, I don't think it's a very good idea at all," he said. "JEA should not be used as a funding source for this sort of thing."

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