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Jax City Council seeks possible compromise on pension reform

The Jacksonville City Council may have come up with a compromise that could inch the city closer to a deal on pension reform.

However, finding a funding source for any plan still seems far down the road.

Three council committees amended and voted on the latest proposal. The Finance and the Recreation, Community Development Public Health and Safety committees approved it Tuesday. Rules rejected the plan Monday, but that was before the compromise amendment was proposed.

The main issue continues to be whether the city council would be able to make changes to the current employee retirement plan after three years upon implementation or after 10. The 10-year moratorium was the recommendation of the Police and Fire Pension Fund Board of Directors. The board will have to agree to any changes proposed.

That time line has been a sticking point for council members.

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The compromise, originally proposed by Councilmember Lori Boyer, would keep the 10-year moratorium in place but with the caveat that the board could impose changes if the projected pension costs deviate by more than 10% over the deal’s time span.

“Let’s be clear here. We have a mayor who is adamant against raising taxes and yet it is this body that has to balance the budget,” Boyer said. “It’s this body that, if we have to raise taxes to pay the obligations under this agreement, has to … do that.”  She says the mayor can continue to say he’s opposed to taxes because he cannot veto the budget.

Some council members, including Denise Lee, said the compromise accomplishes nothing because there is still no mechanism in place to pay down pension debt.

“You’ve got to have both to get this implemented,” she said. “So all of those amendments don’t do anything at this particular time. We need a funding source and it’s not before us.”

Other amendments approved by the committees include a sunset date of April 30, 2015, for the Police and Fire Pension Fund board to approve the proposal and a requirement to find a funding source by April 30, 2016.

The administration is still proposing the pension be paid off through a deal with the city’s utility JEA. JEA would pay a lump sum of $120 million in exchange for various financial and administrative concessions. The city would also borrow another $120 million.

Some council members are instead proposing to ask voters to approve a half-cent sales tax, which would indirectly be used to pay off the pension obligation. But a vote can’t take place before the presidential preference primary in March 2016.

The full council will again be asked to vote on the amendments and the proposal next Wednesday. The city’s First Election is Tuesday.

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