Jax City Council approves amended pension bill

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville City Council voted Tuesday night for an amended version of pension reform, capping a year-long process that features dozens of meetings by a pension reform task force followed by negotiation lead by Mayor Alvin Brown and then City Council's imprint on pension reform.

The vote was 16-3 in favor of the legislation. Voting against the legislation were council members Robin Lumb, E. Denise Lee and Kimberly Daniels.

Lumb and Lee said they couldn't support the bill because there is not currently a way to pay an extra $400 million over 10 years to accelerate paydown of a $1.65 billion debt the city owes the Police and Fire Pension Fund.

The amended legislation passed by the council said none of its provisions will take effect until and unless the city comes up with a way to fulfill that financial commitment.

But it won't be the final word on pension reform.

The Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund will take up the amended pension package, which differs in key respects from the tentative agreement the pension fund negotiated with Brown back in June.

The fund's five-member board can approve the pension package as shaped by City Council, reject it outright, or decide it will accept some but not all of the changes made by City Council.

If the pension fund board opts to make its own modifications, the whole measure would ping-pong back to City Council.

The amended version got backing from JAX Chamber and the Jacksonville Civic Council, two groups that came out against Brown's first attempt at pension reform in 2013.

But the Concerned Taxpayers of Duval County, which also has been involved for years in scrutinizing the pension fund, urged Jacksonville City Council to vote down pension legislation.

Concerned Taxpayers argued the legislation, which two City Council committees have amended, still leaves pension benefits at unaffordable levels for the city.

The group wanted City Council to rejected the legislation and impose deeper cuts in pension benefits, such as requiring police and firefighters to wait until they are 62 to begin collecting pension benefits earned after the slimmed-down benefits take effect.

Curtis Lee, vice president of Concerned Taxpayers of Duval County, said the legislation's requirement for the city to pay an extra $400 million over 10-year to the pension fund puts too much burden on taxpayers without getting enough money-saving measures through pension benefit cuts.

In a letter to City Council members, Lee wrote that the amended version of the pension bill is an improvement over the tentative deal reached by Mayor Alvin Brown and the Police and Fire Pension Fund.

But he said the measure still has "opened (and/or failed to close) so many cans of worms, and has so many other flaws, including economic flaws, that it should be rejected."


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