Jax Pension Reform Task Force Presents Recommendations

Mar 20, 2014

A sales tax hike, changes to future employees pensions and an increase in current employee pension contributions are some of the final recommendations of Jacksonville’s Retirement Reform Task Force.

The task force presented their 50-page report Thursday to Mayor Alvin Brown, Council President Bill Gulliford and Police and Fire Pension Fund Director John Keane.

The recommendation suggests the city raise the millage rate and then ask voters to swap the property tax hike for a half-cent sales tax increase. The report also asks their recommendations be acted upon as a complete package and not be addressed in a piecemeal fashion.

Task force chair Bill Scheu said city leaders must act to solve the pension crisis.

"These are our leaders they have to lead. We have elected them. If they do the same things that others have done shame on us," he said.

"We have to support leaders that are going to do the right things and this is the most important thing in the city's life now is to get the financial foundation squared away so that we can do the kinds of things for our quality of life that are going to build a city."

Mayor Brown thanked the task force for their work and promised a solution will be settled upon this year, but he also reiterated his opposition to any tax increase.

"You know I'm against taxes, raising taxes, I'm against any type of tax. I don't think we need to raise taxes to solve this problem," he said. "I think the key is working with police and fire and JEA."

Brown says the next step is to negotiate a pension reform plan with the police and fire unions. That agreement would then be forwarded to the city council for approval.

He has proposed that JEA pay an additional $40 million a year to help pay off the city's Police and Fire Pension Fund liability. JEA says any answer to that requests is at least several months away.

City Council President Bill Gulliford called the mayor's "no new taxes" stance political. He said everything, including a tax hike, should remain as an option.

"Doing the right thing says everything has to be on the table, everything has to be considered and somehow we have to come up with a funding source. You tell me where that funding source is," he said. "It's not selling city property, it's not some of the other voodoo that has been suggested."

"Let's be big boys and girls and look at the thing realistically, that's what we have to do."

Gulliford said he will call a special meeting of the city council to discuss the task force proposals. He said the pension problem must be solved, and if it costs him and others their political careers, it's a price he's willing to pay.

You can follow Kevin Meerschaert on Twitter @KMeerschaertJax.