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Jax Pension Reform Panel Recommends Letting Voters Choose Between Tax Hike Options

Kevin Meerschaert

The Jacksonville Retirement Reform Task Force has recommended the city increase taxes to help offset the nearly $1.7 billion unfunded liability owed to the Police and Fire Pension Fund, and it wants to let voters decide what kind of tax hike they would prefer.The task force is recommending that voters be asked to approve a half-cent fire and rescue surtax added to the city’s sales tax bill.

Such a tax case be used to offset operational public safety costs. A half cent would raise about $68 million  a year and could free up other general fund dollars to pay pension costs.

But under state law that sales tax hike would have to be offset by a drop in property taxes.

Task force chair Bill Scheu says that means the city council would have to increase the millage rate and then ask voters if they want swap that hike for an additional sales tax.

"What they would be saying is do they prefer ad valorem tax or a sales tax. If they voted for the sales tax then the ad valorem tax by statute is automatically reduced. If they voted no on the sales tax the ad valorem tax would have been increased so they would have said we prefer ad valorem to sales or if they said yes they prefer sales to ad valorem,” he said.

The task force didn’t close the door on any alternative funding sources.

Mayoral spokesman Dave DeCamp says Mayor Alvin Brown maintains his opposition to tax hikes and insists they can find ways JEA can help pay off the pension bill without a rate hike.

The task force is expected to wrap up it’s work next week. A meeting is scheduled from 1-5 p.m. on Thursday, March 6.

You can follow Kevin Meerschaert on Twitter @KMeerschaertJax.

Kevin Meerschaert has left WJCT for new pursuits. He was the producer of First Coast Connect until October of 2018.