JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The city’s pension debt could finally be at a turning point in Jacksonville. Mayor Lenny Curry says the board in charge of the Police and Fire Pension Fund has until March 15th to address his latest proposal to resolve the issue. The problem is – they may not meet his deadline – or approve his proposal. It all hinges on their meeting in the next two weeks.
Last year Mayor Curry came up with the proposal to pay off the unfunded pension liability with future tax dollars. Then Duval County voters approved it: a half cent sales tax that would eventually start to pay off the multi-billion dollar debt. That would mean the half cent sales tax would be dedicated to paying off the pension, freeing up other money to pay for city necessities like construction or hiring first responders. But it still ultimately has to be approved by the pension board of trustees.
"Working on ten years now that we’ve been fighting through this,” said Jacksonville Association of Firefighters president Randy Wyse. “A lot of sleepless nights, a lot of hard work.”
On the line right now is a proposal that would restore pension benefits to existing firefighters and officers but close pensions to future hires who would instead be enrolled in a 401-K plan, which Wyse says is risky because there is no guarantee the investor will be able to always contribute, especially if we have another recession. That in itself could deter new hires.
“I think there are some problems with that but we felt like it was important enough that the deal on the table the members decide so we are taking it to a vote,” said Wyse.
The Fraternal Order of Police already approved the proposal on their end. Firefighters will vote in two weeks.
In the meantime individual trustees from the pension board will meet with the mayor’s office this coming week to go over the proposal in depth. While the mayor’s deadline still stands as March 15th the board of trustees plans to meet two days later, even though they never requested an extension from the mayor.
“The Pension Fund meets on the 17th and it’s still undetermined whether they’re going to vote on it that day but if they do vote on it that day then the city council has about 60 days from that point then the deal is done and everything will be solidified.”
The vote by the pension fund board could make or break the deal, a deal which Wyse says still is far from perfect
“The pitfall is really going to be recruitment and retention. A firefighter comes here, realizes that we don’t have a defined benefit pension plan, which almost every other city in the state of Florida has, I think you will have trouble retaining that employee, I think they will get training here then move on to other areas of the state.”
Much of the city’s reform efforts have focused on the police and fire pension fund, but Mayor Curry’s tax plan would also pay off the city’s two other pension funds for its general employees and corrections officers.
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