- 2012 - August - 21st -
City Council President Bill Bishop and Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland. Bishop met with a group of past Council presidents, which included Holland, on Monday.
Photo by Karen Brune Mathis
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Bishop on pensions: ‘Something has to happen soon’

by Karen Brune Mathis, Managing Editor

City Council President Bill Bishop said Monday that he expects movement soon toward resolving the City’s pension fund situation.

“Something has to happen and something has to happen soon,” Bishop said after meeting with about two dozen members and guests of The Former Council Presidents.

The past presidents’ group, called The Prez, invited Bishop to its monthly lunch gathering. The former Council presidents meet regularly to talk about City issues. They met Monday at The Mudville Grille in St. Nicholas.

In an interview after the meeting, Bishop referred to Mayor Alvin Brown’s administration and its expectation of addressing the City’s soaring pension obligations by December.

“Something will happen before December to bring the issue to the forefront,” Bishop said.

Bishop declined to elaborate about what might happen, but noted the “administration is in charge.”

“Each time the question gets asked, the answer is, ‘we’re working on it,’” Bishop said.

He said that “technically, nothing has to happen. There is no official timetable other than Alvin’s self-imposed timetable, which is December.”

Brown has said he will unveil his pension-reform plan by the end of 2012.

“But why does it have to be December?” Bishop said.

A year ago, the pension issue was one of 18 topics that Brown’s transition committees addressed.

Brown took office July 1, 2011. On Aug. 8, 2011, his transition policy committees issued their reports.

The Pension Transition Committee’s report recommended three general options to “reduce the current crisis of cost” in funding the City’s pension plans:

• Reducing benefits for new and current employees.

• Increasing employee contributions.

• Terminating, freezing or closing current pension plans and setting up lower-cost plans.

“It is with a strong sense of urgency that we report to the mayor our findings and recommendations regarding the City of Jacksonville’s defined pension benefit system,” said the committee report in that August 2011 report.

It said then that the total of all City plans was reported to be more than $1.6 billion and that pension costs are expected to “skyrocket by more than 50 percent or more in the next five years if the current pension structure remains in place.”

The report said that new actuarial studies could require an increase in pension funding ranging from 10-50 percent more, or $132 million to $180 million, for the 2012-13 City budget.

A little more than a month ago, on July 16, Brown presented Council with that proposed budget. He said the administration must spend more than $150 million on pension obligations, an increase of more than $46 million.

“Pension reform must be our City goal,” he said. “We must reform pensions. This is not an option,” he told Council.

The transition committee report also said “Jacksonville faces a short-term and a long-term crisis as the escalating costs of pensions are projected to increase with significant volume and velocity over the next 20 years.”

Bishop said Monday that the current pension model “doesn’t work anymore.”

“It cannot be done by raising taxes, issuing pension obligation bonds or giving John Keane real estate,” he said, referring to the executive director of the Police and Fire Pension Fund.

The City has given the fund real estate to satisfy some of its obligations.

“All or part may be part of the answer, but those are not all of the answer,” Bishop said.

Bishop said the discussions also should include benefits, length of service, age of retirement, time of collection and existing employees.

“All sorts of things have to be on the table,” he said.

Bishop did not provide a timetable for resolving the issues, “because I don’t know what is all involved in fixing it,” he said.

Past Council presidents attending included Bill Basford, Henry Cook, Eric Smith, Bill Carter, Terry Wood, Jim Tullis, Lad Daniels, Property Appraiser Jim Overton and Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland.

The group offered questions and suggestions to Bishop about the issue, some of which Bishop called “a nonstarter.”

“If you’re going to put your big-boy pants on, you have a lot of options,” he said, referring to the need for open discussion of all of the factors involved in discussing pension costs.

“All this stuff gets demonized and that doesn’t help,” he said.




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