Mayor Brown wants JEA to contribute to pension reform

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Mayor Alvin Brown has a new plan for pension reform that involves the JEA, but it likely would cost JEA customers more money.

"I cannot support a tax increase," Brown told the Pension Reform Task Force. His new plan increases current employees' contribution to the their pension and reduced the cost of living increase. To pay down the city's $1.4 billion in unfunded liability, he is asking for JEA's help.

The mayor instead is proposing that JEA increase it's annual contribution to the city by $40 million dollars a year for 14 years to fix the financial shortfall to the city's Police and Fire Pension Fund. JEA currently contributes $109 million a year plus franchise fees and public service taxes it collects from customers, for a total of $233 million a year.

Brown wants JEA to increase it's giving to the city, without raising rates. JEA board Chairman Mike Hightower told First Coast News that can't happen.

"There is no way we can contribute an additional $40 million to the $200 million that we now give to the city each year, without having a negative impact on the JEA which of course would have a negative impact as a rate increase to our customers, " said Hightower.

He is also concerned that the increased contribution would hurt JEA's bond credit rating and cause the JEA to pay more interest on it's $5 billion dollar debt.

Homeowners like Jenny Suber, who is retired, and Samuel Johnson, who lives on a fixed income, do notlike the idea of a JEA rate hike at all.

"That would really affect our budget," said Suber. "Even though we saved our money and we live within our budget and we expect certain rate raises but for $40 million to go to somebody else's pension, that is difficult for me to accept."

Johnson lives in the Mixon Town area. "It is going to hurt the people on fixed income and the lower class. The mayor needs to try and find something else."

"It will affect everyone," added Nelson Rodriguez. "Because you need electricity, you need water, you need sewer, everyone is affected by that. They should find another alternative."

Hightower said JEA has seen only about a 1 percent growth in revenue over the last year, because of customer's conservation efforts. He adds that new EPA regulations in 2015 will cost the JEA more money.

Hightower said JEA will take a look at the proposals, and listen, but he says their first responsibility is to their customers.


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