JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Retirement Reform Task Force has no more than two meetings scheduled and has whittled options to pay the city's unfunded liability down to four.
The city owes $1.7 billion to the Police and Fire Pension Fund to pay for a shortfall in funding.
All four options mean city residents will be paying more money out of their wallets. The question is, where will the money come from?
The task force hopes to decide within the next two weeks how it will recommend the city to pay its unpaid bills for pensions for the city's police and firefighters.
There is mayor's proposal that the JEA contribute $40 million more to the city, which JEA says means a rate hike. The city could raise JEA's franchise fee by 3 percent, making it total of 6 percent on your JEA bill. The city could raise property taxes by about $1 million, raising about $44 million. The fourth option is a sales tax hike of 1 percent, but that is the least likely of the four.
It is a tough issue says Bill Scheu, chairman of the task force.
"You want to do the right thing for the police and fire," said Scheu after a 3-hour meeting Wednesday morning. "And you want to do the right thing for the citizens of the community. Because we have let it get to where it is, the decisions are both complicated and not always something we like doing."
The task force will hear from JEA and the Mayor's office Tuesday, Feb. 18 about the plan for JEA to contribute $40 million. Mayor Alvin Brown still insists JEA can do that and not raise rates, but JEA Chairman Mike Hightower has said that is not possible.
"We believe that we can offer significant savings on JEA's pension obligations by assisting in restructuring it's plan," said mayor's aide David DeCamp. "And that way we can provide some assistance to the JEA, and the JEA, which is city owned and a partner in major events in the city, can contribute to a solution on retirement reform."
City Council President Bill Gulliford told First Coast News he would oppose a property tax hike, but would lean toward the sales tax. But task force members say there is a legal question as to if the city can even do that since there are already two sales tax hikes already being levied for other projects, such as the Better Jacksonville Plan.
The task force also discussed changes to the current pension plan. A complete change to a 401 "K" style plan was rejected. They will look at a defined benefit plan as the city has now, which guarantees a certain amount to retirees. The other option would combine a defined benefit plan and a 401 "K" type plan, where city employees would contribute a certain amount and the city would also contribute. Employees would have control of their investments.
Jacksonville Sheriff's office representative Dwain Senterfitt said these pension questions have cost the department 70 officers who have gone on to work elsewhere. Fire union president Randy Wyse said in the last recruiting class only 4 of 36 came from another department to work here. He said that is usually 50 per cent of more of a class that came from another county to work here, but that is no longer the case.
The full task force meets February 19th and could make it's final recommendations, but if they can't accomplish that, a final meeting is scheduled for February 26th to wrap up their work.