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Mayor Brown To Push For JEA Pension Partnership Despite Tax Hike Recommendation

City of Jacksonville

Mayor Alvin Brown’s administration is pushing back against a new poll looking at where voters stand when it comes to the issue of pension reform.The University of North Florida poll showing 73 percent of respondents do not support the mayor's pension reform proposal came out yesterday.

Within hours the city’s pension reform task force recommended a tax increase to help pay down Jacksonville’s $1.7 billion dollar pension liability.

Mayor Alvin Brown's chief of staff Chris Hand joined Melissa Ross to discuss the results and how the mayor's office is responding to the task force recommendation.

"Obviously the mayor's position on tax increases has been very consistent; he opposes them," Hand said.

He noted what he said was one of the most important results of yesterday's task force meeting—that officials left open discussion of other reform options, including Mayor Brown's proposal.

"The mayor is going to continue to peruse that partnership idea with JEA, to work with our municipal-owned utility to have them make an increased contribution for a limited period of time to help pay down the unfunded liability while the city works with them to find savings and revenue opportunities to help offset that increased contribution," he said.

Hand echoed statements made in an email yesterday from mayoral spokesman David DeCamp that the UNF poll question on pension reform was phrased in a way that did not reflect the mayor's proposal.

"I don't know exactly what JEA proposal they were testing, but they certainly weren't testing Mayor Brown's proposal," he said.

When asked how a rate increase could be avoided, Hand reiterated that as a partner in the pension reform plan the city would help JEA with savings and revenue measures to offset the increased contribution.

As an example of those cost saving measures, he said the city has offered to help JEA create it's own pension plan, which Hand said could save the utility more than $500 million.

"The goal here is a balance," he said.

Jacksonville residents aren't the only people who don't appear to be enamored with the mayor's plan.

Jacksonville City Council President Bill Guilliford, who may run against Brown in the 2015 mayoral election, called the mayor's pension proposal "a fairy tale."

"with all due respect to the council president, I'm not sure what idea we could come up with at this point that he would find that he is supportive of," Hand said.

Hand also responded to a question on the allegations from JEA board member Peter Bower that Brown administration officials pressured him to guarantee a vote for the plan.

Hand said he couldn't speak directly to the allegations because he hasn't spoken with Bower, but did say he has shared information on the plan with other members of the board who he said did not feel pressured.

"That's all we're trying to do, is ask people to keep an open mind," he said, adding that the proposal is in the process of being reviewed by JEA's financial officers.

You can follow Melissa Ross on Twitter @MelissainJax.

Melissa Ross joined WJCT in 2009 with 20 years of experience in broadcasting, including stints in Cincinnati, Chicago, Orlando and Jacksonville. During her career as a television and radio news anchor and reporter, Melissa has won four regional Emmys for news and feature reporting.