Jacksonville City Council members got their first look at Mayor Lenny Curry’s pension reform plan Thursday.
Curry’s been tight-lipped about just how his half-cent sales tax and other reform measures would save the city money.
Fourteen bills associated with implementing Curry’s plan are making their way through city council and the mayor’s team has one-on-one meetings scheduled with councilors next week. A public workshop and votes on the measures are expected by the end of the month.
The mayor called his pension reform plan — which relies on the extension of an existing half-cent sales tax — a historic move for Jacksonville.
“As we approach next year’s 50th anniversary of consolidation — 50 years next year — I would argue that your vote, that your vote in support of this reform package, will be looked back upon as our city’s most important decision since then,” he said.
Curry has held his pension plan details close to the vest since voters last August approved extending and repurposing the Better Jacksonville infrastructure tax to pay down the city’s $2.85 billion pension debt.
The mayor said city money being used to pay down debt should being going toward infrastructure projects and public safety. So as expected, Curry’s plan defers debt payments until the tax is slated to take effect — in 2031.
Curry’s critics argue the mayor is kicking the can down the road, and the mayor acknowledged deferred liability payments will incur more interest, putting taxpayers on the hook for more in the long run.
“Of course there are costs associated with paying off $3 billion in debt that we didn't create. There’s costs associated with these reforms and you’ll hear from my team the detail of those costs,” he said. “However, do not lose sight of the fact that a generation before us kicked these pension liabilities down the road and in doing so, put us in the position to have to pay this bill.”
But according to the mayor’s projections, deferring the bulk of debt payments would free up more than $80 million to spend in next year’s budget. That’s after accounting for the extra money the city would pay in raises and benefits for city employees.