JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Calling the need for pension reform a "moral" issue, the Retirement Reform Task Force convened Thursday at 1 p.m. at City Hall in what most expected to be the group's final meeting.
Since being formed in July 2013 by Mayor Alvin Brown, the group has met some 18 times, typically in four hour sessions – a timetable well beyond the mayor's original prediction that it would produce recommendations "no later than August ."
The group discussed and voted on a slate of recommendations, ranging from changing who appoints the fifth member of the Police and Fire Pension Fund Board to when police and firefighter retirees are eligible for cost of living adjustments to their pensions.
However, the biggest issue remained how the city can pay down its $1.7 billion unfunded liability – money owed but for which there is currently no funding source. The group's draft recommendation proposes retiring that debt via a tax increase – a millage increase that would yield $68 million a year.
The same task force proposal suggests allowing voters a chance to convert that millage hike to a half-cent sales tax – presumably more palatable to voters – but it's not clear how well received any tax increase will be.
Brown addressed the board early in the meeting, thanking them for their service but also praising himself for tackling the issue of pension reform.
"This is not an issue most mayors take on in their first term," says Brown, who is seeking reelection in 2015. "No other mayor in history of our city has stepped up to the plate and addressed this in his first term. No other mayor."
Brown, who has previously said he will not raise taxes, has proposed siphoning an additional $40 million a year from JEA to pay down the unfunded liability, a move JEA opposes.
The board did not include that in its recommendations. Board member David Boor said "We hope this would be a plan embraced by everyone."
Assuming the board finalizes its recommendations today, their recommendations will go to the City Council for discussion as soon as next week.