Public Utility Votes to Help Jacksonville With Pension Reform — With Some Some Conditions

Florida

The Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA) has agreed to help the city in its efforts to fund its pension system – but there are a few strings attached.

JEA would make a one-time, $120 million payment to the city’s pension fund. In return, JEA wants the city to slash the utility’s future contributions and let it create its own pension plan for employees. (Since JEA is a public utility, it’s employees belong to the city’s pension plan.)

More from First Coast News:

The [JEA] board voted unanimously to support the deal on Tuesday following little debate, but months of work studying to determine if it was a good move for the authority.

The JEA, in turn for providing $120 million, would see its annual contributions to the city slashed plus allow the JEA to break away and create its own pension plan for its employees.

Mayor Alvin Brown has touted the JEA option as a good move because the city could match the $120 million to make a lump sump payment to drive down the pension obligations that push $1.6 billion.

The Jacksonville City Council still needs to approve the agreement.

 

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Jacksonville Pension Task Force Member: Use Sales Tax to Fund Pensions

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A member of Jacksonville’s Pension Reform Task Force is calling for the levy of a sales tax, with revenues going toward the city’s Police and Fire Pension Fund.

Dr. Sherry Magill, the president of the Jessie Ball Du Pont Fund and a member of Jacksonville’s Pension Reform Task Force, is latching on to a sales tax measure proposed last month by Councilman Bill Gulliford.

Gulliford’s measure would put a half-penny sales tax on the May ballot. Voters would then decide its fate.

More from the Florida Times-Union:

As a member of the mayor’s task force on pension reform, I urge members of City Council to pass Councilman Bill Gulliford’s bill to place a half-penny sales tax on the ballot.

I appeal to voters to pass the measure. Without a dedicated revenue source to pay down the police and fire pension obligation we incurred over many years, City Council will have no choice but to close libraries, stop mowing parks and eventually eliminate the basic functions of local government.

[…]

The city’s finances will only get worse over time. The fairest method of raising revenue is the sales tax, spreading our obligation across the community.

Since the task force released its report 11 months ago, many City Council members have reached the identical conclusion: We cannot maintain basic functions of local government if we do not raise new funds to spend down the debt. Both the Fitch and Moody credit rating agencies downgraded the city’s bond ratings, warning us to pay our debts.

[…]

The task force called for shared sacrifice. Police and firefighters have agreed to make additional pension payments and reduce benefits. It’s time for the public to keep faith with the people who protect us and to pay our debts.

Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown has said he will veto any measure to put a sales tax on the ballot.

 

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Jacksonville Voters Could Decide Fate of Sales Tax to Fund Pension Debt

Florida

A Jacksonville city councilman has moved forward with the idea of levying a sales tax to help fund the city’s Police and Fire Pension Fund.

The tax would have to be passed by voters, and could appear on the May ballot.

From WOKV:

Councilman Bill Gulliford has filed a bill which would allow a sales tax option to get on to the May ballot. The tax can’t be specifically earmarked for the pension debt, but rather it is for fire services. The intent behind the action is to use the tax as revenue for fire services and then take the money in the budget that would have been used for that and dedicate it toward the pension debt pay down.

Unfortunately, the process has another hitch still.

By state law, any new sales tax is offset by a change in the property tax. So, in order to actually generate revenue from the new sales tax, the City Council would have to vote to raise the property tax rate, but again that would drop back down when the sales tax takes effect.

Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown has repeatedly said he opposes any tax increases, so it’s unclear if he will move to veto the measure.

 

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Public Utility Back in Fold of Jacksonville Pension Reform Plan

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Jacksonville public utility company JEA is back on board with the city’s pension reform plan.

The company is helping to finance much of the city’s current reform proposal; JEA will make a $120 million lump sum payments to the city’s Police and Fire Pension Fund.

Last week, it was unclear whether JEA would go through with the plan.

More from the Florida Times-Union:

After a series of fast-paced negotiations between Mayor Alvin Brown’s administration and top JEA officials, prompted by a public rift last month, a plan to use the financial wherewithal of JEA and the city to pay the hefty price tag of Jacksonville pension reform is back on track.

JEA audit and finance committee members Thursday unanimously approved an agreement that stipulates the utility would — in exchange for financial and administrative concessions — make a $120 million lump sum payment to the city. Brown wants the city to use that payment, plus an additional $120 million the city would borrow, to more quickly pay down the $1.62 billion debt to the Police and Fire Pension Fund.

[…]

JEA’s annual general fund contribution currently increases by $2.5 million each year, maxing out at a total $114.2 million in 2016. That contribution formula — which expires next year — means that even as JEA’s revenues have declined in recent years, its contribution to the city has ballooned, a gulf that has become a top concern for JEA officials in recent years.

In exchange for borrowing $120 million for pension reform, however, the city had agreed to, in broad terms, reduce those JEA contributions by $2.5 million for the next several years and ultimately revert to a formula linked to JEA revenues.

JEA’s participation isn’t yet fully guaranteed; the utility’s board will meet later this month to vote on its participation.

 

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Former Jacksonville Mayor Calls for Tax Increase to Fund Pension Reform

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Former Jacksonville mayor and current city Chamber president John Delaney said Monday that a tax increase is likely the best way to fund the city’s pension reform measure.

The city has been weighing a pension reform bill for months, and one of the points of debate has been the source of funding for the measure. Current Mayor Alvin Brown’s plan was to team with a public utility company and borrow the money.

But Delaney says a tax increase is more likely.

From the Florida Times-Union:

JAX Chamber Chairman John Delaney said Monday a pension financing plan supported by Mayor Alvin Brown is “not viable” and the solution “probably is going to be a tax increase to solve that problem.”

[…]

In regard to pension reform, Brown favors a plan for the city and JEA to borrow $240 million to more quickly pay down the city’s $1.62 billion debt to the Police and Fire Pension Fund.

JEA would pay off its $120 million in borrowing by getting reductions in the amount it pays in annual contributions to City Hall. The city would repay its $120 million by using savings from its annual pension contributions to the Police and Fire Pension Fund, along with projected growth in tax revenues from an improving economy.

[…]

But Delaney said City Hall already is financially strained in paying the day-to-day costs of city services, so reductions in future JEA revenue would hurt the city. He said the same financial constraints affect the city’s ability to borrow $120 million and repay it.

He said to “dig out of the pension hole, it’s going to take a new independent slug of money, which ultimately probably is going to have to be a tax increase to solve that problem.”

Read more Pension360 coverage of the Jacksonville pension reform saga here.

 

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Jacksonville Mayor Submits New, Updated Reform Bill

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Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown has submitted a reworked version of the city’s pension reform proposal, which was previously passed by City Council but wasn’t approved by the city’s Police and Fire Pension Fund.

The bill needs to be approved by both entities before it passes into law. The City Council may vote on the new bill next month, according to the Jacksonville Business Journal.

More details from the Jacksonville Business Journal:

Brown’s bill comes in the wake of a City Council version of pension reform legislation, which was approved by a 16-3 margin in December, being sent back by the Police and Fire Pension Fund.

City Council worked with Brown to come up with changes that will, hopefully, appease the board. City Council still expects to make some changes, though, President Clay Yarborough told the Florida Times-Union.

Some of the sticking points of the council-approved bill were the interest rate that firefighters and police officers get on Deferred Retirement Option Program accounts, cost-of-living adjustments and City Council’s power to change benefits.

The council’s agreement with the Police and Fire Pension Fund will go until 2030. After 2030, the city and unions will have to settle all disputes through collective bargaining.

Additionally, City Council will be able to make changes to benefits if the groups are not able to reach an agreement.

The city’s Police and Fire Pension Fund was 43 percent funded at the end of 2013.

 

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Jacksonville Pension Reform Hits Another Snag As JEA Says: “Take It Or Leave It”

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Jacksonville’s pension reform proposal – if and when it passes – would require the city and public utility company JEA to borrow a combined $240 million.

But that aspect of the plan has hit a road bump, and now JEA is telling the city to accept the plan as-is or count JEA out entirely.

From the Florida Times-Union:

JEA finance and audit committee members learned Tuesday that city officials have been trying to claw back a key concession that enticed the utility to become a partner in financing Mayor Alvin Brown’s major pension-reform legislation.

That concession — which in essence would amount to a reduction in JEA’s annual contribution to the city’s general fund over 20 years — is non-negotiable for JEA and could be a tricky sticking point for city officials going forward.

“It is a take it or leave it,” committee Chairman Peter Bower said.

[…]

JEA’s annual general fund contribution currently increases by $2.5 million each year, maxing out at a total $114.2 million in 2016. That contribution formula — which expires next year — means that even as JEA’s revenues have declined in recent years, its contribution to the city has ballooned. That gulf has become a concern for JEA officials.

In exchange for borrowing $120 million for pension reform, however, the city had agreed to, in broad terms, reduce those contributions by $2.5 million for the next several years and ultimately revert to a formula linked to JEA revenues.

Those changes were to be locked down for 20 years beginning next year.

But JEA CEO Paul McElroy told audit and finance committee members Tuesday the city now wants to be able to revisit, and potentially change, the new contribution formula in as soon as five years.

That didn’t sit well with JEA board members, who said they conceptually agreed to help the city pay its pension debt only on specific terms, including the new 20-year contribution formula.

The committee will meet again in 10 days to see if staff has been able to address the issue.

The city’s pension reform measure aims to improve the funding and sustainability of the city’s Police and Fire system. JEA is a key part of that plan, because the city cannot afford by itself to shoulder the cost of the proposal.

 

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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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Public Utility Company: We Can’t Afford Jacksonville’s Pension Reform Deal

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A key part of Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown’s pension reform proposal was forcing the city to pay an addition $40 million every year for 10 years into the city’s Police and Fire Pension Fund.

But the question was always: where does the city get that money?

The solution, pushed for months by Brown, was to have JEA, a public utility company, make the payments.

But after further analysis, JEA says it simply can’t foot the bill.

From the Florida Times-Union:

In a closely-watched report completed with help from outside attorneys and financial consultants, JEA says it can’t afford Mayor Alvin Brown’s proposal to use the utility’s financial muscle to help pay off the city’s $1.65 billion Police and Fire Pension Fund debt, according to a draft copy of the document.

The report’s conclusion is a body blow to Brown’s efforts to pass his signature pension-bill, and it echoes skepticism some JEA officials have aired for months about the idea — which would have JEA pay an additional $40 million a year for 10 years on top of the more than $100 million it already contributes annually to the city’s general fund.

“JEA recognizes the challenges for our community resulting from very significant unfunded pension liabilities for the Police and Fire Pension Fund and General Employee Pension Plan, which includes JEA employees,” the report says. “However, at this time, we are unable to increase our contribution to the City of Jacksonville without increasing rates, and even with a rate increase an increase in contribution to the city threatens our bond ratings.”

JEA says that it has other challenges it needs to address, and shifting more money towards the pension system would hurt its credit. From the FTU:

The report details many of the financial challenges facing JEA: industry-wide declines in electric and water sales, impending federal regulations that could come with massive costs and billions of dollars of its own in existing debt.

Several City Council members quickly dismissed Brown’s idea earlier this year, saying it’s clear JEA has too much on its plate.

The nation’s major credit-rating agencies have cautioned JEA that increasing its city contribution — which historically has been higher than the industry average — to address Jacksonville’s pension crisis could hurt its credit.

Officials in surrounding Northeast Florida counties that also use services from the city-owned utility have said they’re wary about the plan if it means higher rates for customers.

JEA already contributes about $100 million to the city’s pension system.