JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Bankruptcy is not an option. That was the consensus of Thursday's meeting of the Jacksonville Retirement Reform Task Force at City Hall. The group, formed by Mayor Alvin Brown to find an answer to the city's looming pension crisis, made no final decisions, but did narrow the pool of possible solutions.
First, members seem to agree that paying down the massive $1.7 billion unfunded pension liability will require a revenue source -- aside from future payments into the Police and Fire Pension Fund. Those sources could include raising taxes, laying claim some of JEA's annual city disbursement and selling off city property, or some combination thereof.
However, the group today flatly rejected a plan floated by the Jacksonville Civic Council to borrow as much as $1 billion to pay down the debt quickly, or to declare bankruptcy to shed the debt outright.
The group also narrowed options on how to reform the current pension structure. Those options that remain include the city's negotiated settlement with the firefighters -- which would raise both employee contributions and retirement age -- and some kind of hybrid plan, which mixes the traditional guaranteed benefit with a 401K-style plan.
Mayoral spokesman David DeCamp told FCN the administration was "really optimistic" about where this is going. While the mayor opposes tax increases as a matter of policy, Decamp says praised the task force for having an "intellectually honest discussion" of its options.
The city's annual pension obligation currently comprises about 20 percent of the budget, or about $120 million this year. That figure is projected to increase to $200 million by 2024, and nearly $400 million by 2036.
Bill Scheu, chair of the task force, expressed satisfaction with the group's progress on what he called "an extremely complex issue."
Despite the general consensus, the meeting ended on a somber note, when task force member, longtime civic leader and Jacksonville Aviation Authority Board Member Dr. Chester Aikens
. Despite the efforts of fire union president Randy Wyse and vice president Mark Treglio, Aikens later died at Baptist Hospital.
The task force's final meeting is Jan 8 at 1 pm, at which it is expected to vote on a recommendation to the mayor.