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.

Jacksonville Pension Reform Bill Faces Obstacles As It Heads To City Council

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Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown’s pension reform bill is headed to the City Council, where it will be scrutinized and approved by two separate committees.

But it won’t be smooth sailing for the bill, as several council members will likely push for unpopular amendments to the measure.

The bill 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.

From the St. Augustine Record:

When Mayor Alvin Brown’s pension reform deal heads to a City Council committee today, the meeting will be led by a councilman pushing for several significant changes that could jeopardize the bill.

Rules committee Chairman Bill Gulliford said he’ll try to convince his colleagues to adopt one of the six amendments he’s proposed to the pension package, which was based on negotiations Brown conducted earlier this year with the Police and Fire Pension Fund.

Gulliford’s amendments would seek further reductions in pension benefits for current police and firefighters, which the pension fund rejected during negotiations.

If the council approves any amendments to the pension deal, the pension fund’s board also must approve the changes.

Brown has touted his deal as the city’s best shot yet at fixing its pension crisis and its looming $1.65 billion pension debt. He has said the deal would save the city $1.5 billion in the next 35 years.


In recent weeks, some council members questioned the deal’s merits.

The leading criticism: Brown hasn’t identified a realistic funding source for the $400 million more the city and its taxpayers will contribute to the fund over 10 years — on top of the yearly required amount — a major component of the deal’s saving.

The extra $40 million per year in contributions would expedite the paydown of the city’s debt obligation to the pension fund and save money over the long haul, just as homeowners benefit by making extra payments on their mortgages.

Brown’s legislation would use money from the pension fund’s reserve accounts to cover this year’s $40 million payment and then $21 million in the 2015-16 budget. But there isn’t a definitive plan yet to pay the rest.

Other critics say current police and firefighters really didn’t sacrifice anything to help resolve the pension plan’s woes.

For the bill to pass, ten council members need to support it. Currently, only seven council members are on board.