It’s another major step forward in Jacksonville’s ongoing efforts to reform the City’s pension system.
The Jacksonville Association of Fire Fighters has now approved a proposed packet of changes to their wages and benefits, just a few weeks after the Fraternal Order of Police voted to do the same. Both would see new hires shift to a 401(k) style plan that includes a guaranteed lifetime withdrawal. Existing members get a one-time lump sum payment and 20% raise over three years, as well as the restoration of some benefits that were cut in a 2015 reform plan.
Thanks Jacksonville Association of Firefighters for voting yes in BIG#s today. Huge step in solving pension crisis/rewarding 1st responders— Lenny Curry (@lennycurry) March 15, 2017
2.As cities r being crushed by pension debt,we r on cusp of solving ours w finality.Responsible times,Historic times for our city.Our future— Lenny Curry (@lennycurry) March 15, 2017
Initially, it was believed portions of the tentative agreement would have to be cleared by the Police and Fire Pension Fund as well, but a new opinion from Jacksonville’s General Counsel now says that’s not the case.
An email from General Counsel Jason Gabriel to PFPF Board Members, City Administration, and other parties says that, after studying a range of laws from the Florida Constitution through the 2015 reform agreement, the office doesn’t believe the Board has any domain in the ongoing negotiations. Instead, Gabriel says his office believes these matters are up to the City and Unions.
One key driver behind the decision is that Gabriel says the tentative agreement doesn’t require amending the 2015 agreement in terms of benefit changes- which are subject to collective bargaining. The area that could be impacted is the use of PFPF accounts and provisions for additional payments toward the pension debt. Gabriel says they have concluded that the accounts are connected to pension benefits.
“Accordingly, the reserve accounts are inextricably linked to benefits, and the changes in the use of these accounts that were agreed to by the City and its police and firefighter unions as part of the 2017 negotiated changes and associated agreements reflect benefit changes. As such, the negotiated changes in the shared use of the reserve accounts are part of the changes intricately connected to retirement benefits that the 2015 Agreement expressly authorized,” the email from Gabriel says.
Gabriel says, considering all of that, the PFPF Board doesn’t need to take any further action on the 2017 agreement. That means the changes head to the City Council for a vote.
This tentative agreement reflects the continued efforts of Jacksonville to pay down the more than $2.8 billion pension debt and make changes to help the City sustain plans moving forward. Jacksonville voters approved a half-cent sales tax to pay down the debt, but unlocking the funding requires closing out the existing pension plans. The police and fire unions make up the vast majority of the pension debt.