Sales tax to fund Jax Police and Fire pension debt filed

You could soon decide whether to pay a half-cent sales tax to help fund Jacksonville’s the $1.65 billion Police and Fire pension debt.

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.

“We have a huge problem, and we’re running out of options, and the longer we take to address this thing, the more expensive it gets. Every day the hole gets bigger,” says Councilman Bill Gulliford.

Gulliford fears the contribution continues to grow and, without a funding solution, he says the amount demanded will immediately impact the money available for other City services.

This option was favored by a special Retirement Reform Task Force nearly a year ago. Gulliford tells WOKV he chose to introduce the bill now because there has been no forward motion on any other plan. A plan initially favored by the Mayor was to have JEA pay $40 million/year, but JEA determined that would impact their rates and credit. Since that time, several former City and civic leaders have crafted a plan which uses a lump sum from JEA as well as refinanced debt from the City, but that hasn't yet been vetted and is tied to ongoing contract negotiations with JEA which could take another year.

“How much longer do we wait to do something, how much longer are we gunna talk about it,” Gulliford says.

An overall Police and Fire Pension reform package is currently moving through City Council, after initially passing the body and then getting augmented by the Pension Fund Board. The Council passed an amendment, however, that any changes under that plan will not take effect, however, until a funding source for the pension debt is determined.

Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown has previously said he will veto any attempt to get a sales tax on the ballot. I asked his office whether that's still the Mayor's position and was told "The Mayor has repeatedly said that he opposes tax increases." The statement further says the Mayor continues to support the civic leader-crafted solution.

Gulliford knows this option is hard to swallow- going so far as calling it convoluted because of all the funding that has to get shifted around. The City continues to request the state allow them to create a half-cent sales tax specifically earmarked for pension debt, but that has not yet been acted on.

WOKV wants to know whether you support the concept of paying a new sales tax to help fund the $1.65 billion Police and Fire Pension debt. Send us an Open Mic on the News 104.5 app.

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