Florida Pension Changes May Unravel As Board Debates Reforms

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The Jacksonville City Council and Mayor Alvin Brown spent most of the summer months debating and constructing a pension reform measure that aimed to improve the funding of the city’s Police and Fire Pension Fund.

The Council approved the measure earlier this month. Now, the measure sits in front of the Police and Fire Pension Board, which will vote on it by January 15.

There’s no guarantee the board will approve the measure. From the Florida Times-Union:

It’s always been expected that changes to the 3 percent COLA and the guaranteed 8.4 percent return on DROP accounts for current employees were going to be stumbling blocks.

But the benefit changes for new hires hadn’t caused much of a stir until the board met last week to review the agreement.

Board members Richard Tuten and Larry Schmitt, representing the firefighters and police, said the changes are hard to swallow and will make it difficult to recruit good people needed to protect the city.

A third member of the board, former Sheriff Nat Glover, said he is uncomfortable with the changes and also concerned about the safety of the city.

Walt Bussells, the board’s chairman, said if a vote were taken, it would be 3-2 against.

“If we did do that, it kills the whole deal,” he said.


Tuten was the most vocal in his criticism of the changes for new hires and current employees.

He offered what he said was a string of broken promises and fear of more changes by politicians that “we can’t trust any farther than we can throw them.”

“If we are going to get keistered here, let’s go to court right now,” he said. “That’s what I get from my members.”

The measure calls for benefit changes for new police and fire hires, as well as COLA changes for current employees. In return, the city would pay an additional $40 million a year into the Police and Fire fund for the next 10 years.


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Several Jacksonville Council Members Support Investigation into Pension System

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Earlier this month, Florida state Rep. Janet Adkins sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott calling for an investigation into the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund – specifically, the “questionable practices and possible mismanagement” of its DROP fund.

Now, several members of the Jacksonville City Council say would support such an investigation and are planning on writing to Gov. Scott as well.

From the Florida Times-Union:

Councilman Bill Gulliford said he sent Scott a letter last week asking him to take a “hard look” into the pension fund’s practices. Councilman Bill Bishop and Council President Clay Yarborough said they plan to send letters to Scott, as well.


In October, the Times-Union reported how the pension fund ignored findings by the City Council Auditor’s Office and city lawyers that the pension fund incorrectly applied regulations for participation in DROP. The Times-Union found that three individuals who entered DROP will collectively receive about $1.8 million more than they would under strict interpretation of the code.

“You have members of the public and taxpayers asking leaders how they can get away with this,” Yarborough said. “I don’t have a good answer for them.”

When asked Monday what they thought of Adkin’s call for a state investigation, many council members said they supported the idea.

“I think it’s a worthwhile exercise,” said Councilman John Crescimbeni. “I think the taxpayers have a right to know whether there’s any waste or fraud.”

Other council members say they don’t support an investigation, or remained non-committal:

Councilman Jim Love said a state investigation may be “overkill”, while Councilman Richard Clark said it would serve as a distraction to the city’s attempt at pension reform.

“It puts a bad taste in my mouth,” Clark said. “I don’t know what it solves by accusing them of something. We need to solve our pension issues. We need to solve them in a fashion that’s constructive.”

Councilwoman Denise Lee said she didn’t “really have an opinion on it,” and Councilman Robin Lumb said he had no comment.

Mayor Alvin Brown’s office didn’t respond to a message seeking comment.

The Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund is currently deciding whether to approve the city’s pension reform measure, which was passed by the City Council earlier this month.


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Jacksonville Pension Reform Bill, Approved by Council, Could Still Stall

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The Jacksonville City Council approved the city’s long-debated reform plan last month, which increase future employees contributions to the city’s Police and Fire Pension Fund, as well as boost the city’s payments by $40 million annually.

But now the proposal is awaiting approval from the Police and Fire Pension Fund, and one big question remains: how will the city pay for its higher payments? From News4Jax.com:

The Police and Fire Pension Fund met Monday to look at the city’s proposal to deal with the $1.7 billion pension deficit and the members are stuck on a major issue: how the city will pay for it.

The Jacksonville City Council approved a plan without designating a funding source and gave the pension board a little more than a month to approve or reject it.

The pension board is debating several issues again, including whether new members should carry the brunt of reform.

Under the plan approved by the council, future police and firefighters would undergo significant changes in the way their retirement is funded. They would pay more and the city would pay more into the retirement fund to bring it in line.

The pension board previously agreed to those changes in the plan, but now it might change its stance.

The board will reportedly meet again on Jan. 5 to vote on the reform measure.


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Jacksonville Will Vote On Pension Reform Measure This Week

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After months of debate, the Jacksonville City Council could approve this week a measure to reduce the city’s pension debt.

Observers say the measure, which would increase city pension contributions, change retiree COLAS and give the Council the right to change benefits, has the votes needed to pass through the Council.

From the Florida Times-Union:

The full council will meet Tuesday and could take a vote on the legislation.

Thirteen council members — more than a necessary majority for passage — voted last week in favor of the bill during two committee meetings after making several changes they said make the agreement a financially better deal for taxpayers.

After years of failed attempts to reform the police and fire pension and reduce the city’s $1.65 billion debt obligation to it, council members appear close to passing a bill that Brown’s administration says will save the city $1.2 billion over a 30-year period.

“I suspect there will be limited discussion on it, and I suspect the vote will be significantly in favor, maybe even an unanimous vote,” said Councilman John Crescimbeni.

If the Council passes the bill, it will still need to be approved by the Police and Fire Pension Fund Board. There’s no guarantee they will accept the deal. From the Florida Times-Union:

The pension fund board is composed of five members. The police and firefighters union each appoint one member, the City Council appoints two members and the fifth member is chosen by the four other members.

Whether the board members pass the bill remains a major question, because it includes some significant differences from Brown’s original legislation that they supported.

Council amendments include changes to guaranteed annual cost-of-living adjustments that current police and firefighters will receive to their pensions and interest rates earned in their Deferred Retirement Option Program accounts. The council would also retain the power to impose pension benefit changes in three years if future collective bargaining talks reach an impasse.

When Brown negotiated his deal with the pension fund earlier this year, pension board members nixed the concepts now included in the council’s changes.

Officials from the mayor office told the council last month that any changes made to the deal could effectively kill it.

The reform measure would increase city contributions to the pension system by $40 million per year for the next 10 years. It would also change the way COLAs are calculated and would give the Council the right to change worker benefits for the next three years.


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Jacksonville Poised to Pass Amended Pension Reform Plan

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After months of debate, the Jacksonville City Council is as close as ever to passing an oft-amended pension reform bill.

The bill originally was designed to force the city to pay higher annual payments into its Police and Fire Pension Fund. But new amendments will likely force pensioners to shoulder some of the burden, as well.

Details on the new amendments to the bill, from the Florida Times-Union:

One amendment favored by City Council would give the city the power to unilaterally impose changes in pension benefits in three years if there is an impasse between the city and police and firefighter unions in future collective bargaining talks.

Gulliford said that would put Jacksonville in the same posture as other Florida cities.

Another amendment would change the cost-of-living adjustments that current police and firefighters would get for pension benefits earned after a new agreement takes effect. Instead of a guaranteed 3 percent COLA annually, the COLA would float based on Social Security’s cost-of-living index, with a maximum COLA of 4 percent.

That change would reduce the city’s pension cost in years when Social Security is less than 3 percent, but the city’s cost would be higher if inflation pushes that index above 3 percent.

According to the calculations of the Times-Union, the bill, amendments included, is likely to pass a vote by City Council:

Most Finance Committee members previously backed the amendments during an initial round of voting last week.

Though nothing would be final until the full council meets Dec. 9, the votes so far show an emerging majority of council is lining up to approve the pension legislation, albeit with significant differences from the tentative agreement put forward by Mayor Alvin Brown.

In the Rules Committee, the unanimous votes for the amended bill were cast by Bill Bishop, Johnny Gaffney, Bill Gulliford, Warren Jones, Robin Lumb, Don Redman and Matt Schellenberg.


In addition to the seven City Council members who voted to move forward with the amended bill Monday, the amendments drew support at last week’s Rules-Finance committee meeting from council members Richard Clark, Lori Boyer, John Crescimbeni and Jim Love. City Council President Clay Yarborough also supported the amendments.

That would add up to at least 12 members voting for the bill, which would exceed the 10 votes needed to get a majority on the 19-member council.

The city’s Police and Fire Pension Fund is 43 percent funded.

Task Force Leader: Jacksonville Needs to Approve Pension Reform

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Over the summer, Jacksonville’s mayor put together a Retirement Reform Task Force. The Task Force’s job description, according to the city website, is to “review the proposed public safety pension reform agreement, seek input from stakeholders and other interested citizens, and make recommendations on how the City should proceed.”

On Monday, the leader of that task force, William E. Scheu, wrote a column for the Florida Times-Union urging the Jacksonville city council to approve the pension reform measure currently in front of them.

The reform measure aims to improve the funding of the city’s public safety pension system by forcing the city to make higher payments to the system – to the tune of an extra $40 million a year.

But city council members are worried because the mayor has not specified where he will get that extra money.

Scheu acknowledges that concern, but says this is the best chance to enact a pension reform measure built by compromise.

From the column:

Last year a broad-based, stakeholder-representative task force met 17 times and urged a comprehensive reform that recognized the interests of the various parties, acknowledged the legal conundrum in which the city was forced to operate and examined various alternatives for reform.

The solutions the task force proposed with the help of The Pew Charitable Trusts included significant governance reforms, benefit reductions for both future and existing employees, a reformed plan design and a funding source for accelerated pension contributions.

Task force members considered the fact that litigation was a present fact but an expensive and uncertain route for the future.

Its solution was a compromise that is not perfect, but is attainable and sustainable.

It was supported by the Times-Union and most business, civic and political leaders.


While the mayor has not provided good leadership in refusing to identify a dedicated funding source for the additional pension contributions recommended by the task force, the City Council should not abandon its own responsibilities and “kick the can” further down the road.

The City Council has an opportunity to move Jacksonville forward by adopting the proposal now before it. It is imperfect, but it is a responsible step toward ensuring that Jacksonville’s quality of life will improve and that the annual fights over funding the city’s core services will end.

The Fitch and Moody’s rating agencies have recognized that Jacksonville’s financial condition is sick.

It is time to enact pension reform.

It is time for Jacksonville to take its medicine for the harm inflicted on it by our leaders in earlier years.

Read the entire column here.

Jacksonville Shelves Controversial Pension Appointment Bill

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The Jacksonville City Council unanimously agreed yesterday night to shelve a proposal that could have given the Mayor the power to appoint a member to the city’s Police and Fire Pension Fund board. Reported by the Florida Times-Union:

A wall-to-wall crowd of police and firefighters only had to wait a few minutes Wednesday evening to learn the fate of legislation aimed at giving city leaders the ability to appoint a majority of the Police and Fire Pension Fund board.

In contrast to the debate two weeks ago, the discussion Wednesday night among City Council members only lasted long enough for City Councilman John Crescimbeni to make a motion for withdrawal of his bill.

The council agreed 18-0, resulting in a win for police and firefighters who rallied in opposition to the legislation. Mayor Alvin Brown’s aides also lobbied against the bill, arguing it might unravel a proposed package of pension reforms negotiated by Brown and the Police and Fire Pension Fund.

Crescimbeni’s bill would have scheduled a November referendum for voters to decide whether the mayor should have the power to appoint the fifth member of the Police and Fire Pension Fund board.

Currently, two members of the board are chosen by police and firefighters, two are selected by City Council, and those four members jointly pick the fifth member.

Leaders representing city firefighters applauded the council’s decision But at least part of the reasoning behind shelving the bill had less to do with pension reform and more to do with logistical issues. From the Florida Times-Union:

Randy Wyse, president of the Jacksonville Association of Fire Fighters, said the demise of the bill clears the way for City Council to consider a separate bill containing a host of changes to the police and fire pension system.

“We can move on and get true pension reform,” Wyse said after the vote.

In asking to withdraw the bill, Crescimbeni said there wouldn’t be enough time for election officials to take the procedural steps for placing the referendum on the November ballot.

Duval County Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland has said the legislation needed to be wrapped up this week.

A handful of council members tried to pass the bill earlier this month, but the council postponed the passage of the bill in a 9-8 vote.


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