The city of Jacksonville on Saturday struck a historic, revolutionary (and still tentative) pension accord with the Fraternal Order of Police and the Jacksonville Association of Firefighters.
And not a moment too soon: Feb. 11 was the city’s “deadline” for the unions to take its offer.
The deal offers long-delayed raises to current employees (a 3 percent lump sum payout immediately, and a 20 percent raise for police and fire over three years) and gives all classes of current employees the same benefits.
As well, all police and fire officers will have DROP eligibility with an 8.4 percent annual rate of return and a 3 percent COLA.
The deal, if approved without modification, will bring labor peace through 2027 — though it can be renegotiated by the city or the unions at 3, 6, 9, and 10 years marks in the agreement.
For new employees, however, the plan is historic — a defined contribution plan that vests three years after the new employee for police and fire is hired.
The total contribution: 35 percent, with the city ponying up 25 percent of that — and making guarantees that survivors’ benefits and disability benefits would be the same for new hires as the current force of safety officers.
Members of both unions, and the Jacksonville City Council, have to approve the deal.
But all parties projected optimism after months of tough talk and hard bargaining from both sides.
“This represents another step toward solving Jacksonville’s pension crisis once and for all in a way that is good for taxpayers, first responders, and the future of our city. I want to thank the union leadership for working with me and reaching this historic agreement. I look forward to next steps with union membership,” said Mayor Lenny Curry.
FOP President Steve Zona had this to day.
“When I chose to run for president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5-30 I committed I would be transparent and include the members in decision making. After much deliberation, I feel negotiations have brought us to a point where the voice of the body needs to be heard by way of a vote on the current proposal offered by the city,” Zona said.
JAFF President Randy Wyse likewise confirmed that the members of his union would decide if the deal was good for them.
“Benefits reduced since 2015 will be restored with wage increases and pension equality for existing employees,” Randy Wyse, the President of the JAFF, said.
“Our main purpose and goal is the safety and security of Jacksonville’s Firefighters and their families. The JAFF has negotiated faithfully and openly a tentative contract that has been long overdue for existing employees,” Wyse added.
Between this and a tentative agreement with AFSCME to put its new hires into defined contribution plans, the city is on a roll when it comes to revolutionizing public pensions.
With a $2.85 billion unfunded pension liability growing every year, time was of the essence for the city to close its plans, which despite best efforts of previous pension reform, were choking out the city’s general fund.
The deal allows the city to stop making the extra payments to the Police and Fire Pension Fund that were required by the 2015 pension reform deal. Those payments were slated to eventually rise up to $32 million a year.
As Florida girds up for 2018 elections, and the post-Jeff Atwater as CFO era, expect the quiet whispers about Curry’s statewide future to get progressively louder going forward.