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Former Jax Mayor Hazouri: 'No Exit' From Pension Crisis Without Tax Increase

Patrick Donges

There are few people with more insight into the policy issues of a city than it's former chief executive.From Jacksonville's pension woes to next year’s mayoral race—school funding challenges to quality of life—former Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Hazouri joined Melissa Ross to discuss the issues of the day.

"It is our number one issue, it should've been resolved a long time ago," Hazouri said when asked about the city's pension crisis.

The Jacksonville Retirement Reform Task Force has recommended allowing residents to vote on where to increase taxes to pay the city's $1.7 billion unfunded liability to the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund.

Mayor Alvin Brown has stuck to his pledge not to raise taxes, advocating for a partnership with municipally-owned utility provider JEA.

"I think it's a platitude that every politician likes to think, I don't think anybody should make that promise," Hazouri said of the tax pledge.

Under Brown's plan, the city would work with JEA to identify revenue streams and cost-saving measures while JEA increased it's contributions to the city for a limited time to cover the pension gap.

JEA officials spoke out after the plan was announced, saying it would result in a rate increase for residents.

"You can't have a quality city... without paying the piper," Hazouri said, adding that there is "no exit" from the pension crisis without a tax increase.

Hazouri noted that since the City Council has been forced to raise taxes over the past several years due to funding gaps in Mayor Brown's annual budget proposals, he has in effect been raising taxes.

"I want the best for my family, I want the best for this city, I want him to succeed," Hazouri said of Brown.

"We don't want our potholes ending up becoming sinkholes, and that's what you're going to end up with if you don't pay the piper," he said, lamenting that Jacksonville could become "little Detroit" without proper fiscal planning and management.

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.