Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Police Pension Negotiations: 'We're So Close' But Still No Deal

Ryan Benk

Jacksonville police officers and Mayor Lenny Curry picked up pension negotiations where they left off last year.

The mayor is offering a better deal for new hires this time around, but union leaders still are not sold on his plan to move them into 401k-style retirement plans.

On Wednesday, Fraternal Order of Police members were shown two clips of Curry in 2014 in their packed union hall, to the surprise of Curry and his staff. According to police, they’re from a recorded, closed-door meeting with police union leaders when he was still campaigning to be mayor.  

“I have come to the conclusion that 401ks will not work for law enforcement,” said Curry in the recording.

The mayor maintains the clips were taken out of context and that his newest offer is a good deal for police officers.

“The defined contribution plan that I’ve put on the table today looks nothing like a 401k you see in the private sector,” he said. “It is rich and it is rich because it respects the risk that men and women in uniform experience every day.”

Curry’s plan differs from a pension because it doesn’t have a guaranteed payout — it’s subject to fluctuations of the stock market. But, he pointed out the city would also match up to  25 percent of a new employee’s contribution. Curry’s also offering a 20 percent pay bump over three years and for recently cut benefits to be restored, including an annual cost of living adjustment of 3 percent.

But union president Steve Zona said the city contribution is nearly the same amount as it would be if new hires were rolled into the state’s pension plan — a move the union wanted but the mayor stridently opposes.

“We’re so close, so close to making a deal and in our opinion the (Florida Retirement System) is almost the same cost as what the mayor put on the table,” he said.

If the city migrated employees to the FRS, ceding bargaining control to lawmakers, Jacksonville would have to contribute 29 percent of salaries, 6 percent of which would go toward the state’s unfunded liability.

The financial health of the state’s $114 billion pension system is up for debate, reports the News Service of Florida.

FRS is projected to be 85.4 percent funded, which is considered by most actuaries to be stable, but independent financial consultants working with the state Board of Administration say that number is too optimistic. Instead they project Florida’s pension fund is probably closer to 79 percent funded and falling.

The police union has 30 days to agree to Curry’s offer or it’s off the table.

Curry needs to get unions to agree to close one of three city pension plans in order for a sales tax extension that voters approved in August to take effect.

Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at, at (904) 358 6319 or on Twitter @RyanMichaelBenk.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.