by David Chapman
The final City Council meeting for many members and the current administration will include a vote on pension reform.
Council members met as a committee of the whole Tuesday to discuss two pension reform bills that proponents claim will save a combined $1 billion over a 35-year period. One measure is for general employees and one is for police and fire employees.
Mayor John Peyton announced the deals and agreed upon changes to the plans in May following two years of discussion among his administration, Council and City officials.
But as of Tuesday’s meeting, the Council auditor’s office reported it could not confirm the stated savings of both measures because of a lack of information provided by the administration.
The office provides research and information for Council to use in making decisions when voting on legislative measures.
Between now and Tuesday’s vote, administration officials said they will work with the auditor’s office to answer questions and provide the missing information.
Several critics of the proposals voiced concern during public comment Tuesday over the timing of the deals and their designation as emergency items.
Several said that not enough time has been allowed for the public to digest and analyze the impact of the deal. Others wanted more done to address the $1.6 million in current unfunded liability.
The deals would save less than $250,000 in the next budget year, according to the auditor’s office.
Several Council members defended both the timing and the merits of the measures.
“We have to start somewhere,” said Council member and President-elect Stephen Joost. “This is the first stage in a process.”
On the timing issue, Council President Jack Webb said 95 percent of the bill had been vetted in shade meetings and, along with several Council members and administration officials, said pushing the items to a new administration and new Council would be a setback because of needed re-education.
The ordinance regarding police and fire employees was substituted earlier Tuesday and amended twice during the committee as a whole meeting.
The first amendment removed language pertaining to allowable investment strategies such as hedge funds, shorts sales and increased foreign investments, while the second amendment removed an entire section of the ordinance about potential issuance of pension obligation bonds.
The City negotiates the deals with the Police and Fire Pension Fund, though it was unclear Tuesday whether the fund’s board of trustees would sign off on the changes.
Fund Executive Director John Keane said the board would not approve it at this time because it had not seen the newly substituted and twice-amended bill. Both sides must be in agreement for the reforms to take effect.
Following discussion and before the vote, several Council members said they still had questions and reservations before sending the bills to the full Council Tuesday, but Joost asked his colleagues to reconsider.
“Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good,” he said. “This is a good start.”
The police and fire pension reform deal was approved by the committee as a whole 10-5, with four Council members excused. Approving the bill were Bill Bishop, Reggie Brown, Doyle Carter, Dick Brown, Johnny Gaffney, Ray Holt, Warren Jones, Joost, Art Shad and Webb.
Those voting against it were Richard Clark, John Crescimbeni, Ronnie Fussell, Denise Lee and Don Redman.
The general employee pension reform bill also had a 10-5 vote for approval, with only Redman and Reggie Brown swapping sides. Redman voted yes and Brown voted no.
Pension reform won’t be the only headline item on Tuesday’s full council agenda.
Before the committee as a whole meeting, the Finance Committee met for almost four hours and was the final committee stop for several measures.
Legislation surrounding the EverBank-to-Downtown economic development agreement passed unanimously 5-0. The measure providing a $2.75 million incentive to the company to offset moving expenses was approved 4-1, with Crescimbeni the opposing vote.
Much as it did in the Rules Committee the day before, legislation regarding a 14-parcel land donation around the Osborn Center to the Jacksonville Transportation Authority for development of a regional transportation hub generated lengthy discussion.
The two committees had opposite outcomes. The Finance Committee approved the measure 4-1, with Crescimbeni voting no, while the Rules Committee denied the measure 5-1, with Lee being the lone supporter.
All of those measures, in addition to several others, were introduced by Peyton on May 24 with a goal to have them voted on by current council by Tuesday.