Schellenberg to pitch Gulliford on pension bill
Called a premature move by many, City Council member Matt Schellenberg wants a chance to explain his emergency legislation to transfer $69 million in real estate to the Police and Fire Pension Fund.
The bill will be introduced Tuesday and seeks a vote the same evening, the final council meeting of the fiscal year. It will be the last opportunity for council members to add or cut services and programs, or as Schellenberg wants his legislation to do, decrease the millage rate.
The bill would give the Shipyards, old courthouse and former City Hall building, among other properties, to the fund to help lower the city’s $1.7 billion unfunded pension liability.
The plan calls for the fund to develop and sell or use those assets, with profits to benefit the fund.
Schellenberg plans to meet with council President Bill Gulliford at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday to explain the timing of the bill, though Gulliford said Monday he was still against the idea.
Schellenberg said a Friday vote by the fund board and his legislation are linked.
The fund board voted Friday to move the investment rate of return from 7 percent to 7.4 percent beginning Oct. 1. That would mean the city would pay up to $10 million to $12 million less.
Schellenberg says if the city can find $30 million in real estate to transfer (such as the properties in his bill) the city could apply at least $40 million to reduce the millage rate.
Council increased the rate by 1.5 mills during its budget review to restore cuts to services and programs that were in Mayor Alvin Brown’s proposal.
Schellenberg said he talked to fund administrator John Keane about the idea ahead of time, but the fund board only meets once a month.
He said the timing between the two caused confusion and people didn’t understand how his bill and the board’s vote would combine to address the pension liability and
“This is a solution to move it forward and get people on board about what the opportunities are,” he said.
Gulliford said last week if he has any say, the transfer legislation won’t be voted on because it needs more debate.
He had the same stance Monday morning after hearing the tie to the pension board move.
“I can’t,” Gulliford said. “I am sorry. I like him a lot and many times he certainly goes in the right direction but I can’t be supportive.”
Gulliford said “even if it was the greatest idea in the world,” a short-term gain by surrendering properties “pivotal” to Downtown development is not an idea he can favor.
In addition, he said, the value of the properties should be based on appraisals rather than assessments.
Brown’s administration has come out against Schellenberg’s transfer bill, saying the Jacksonville Retirement Reform Task Force was created by the mayor to review pension challenges, including the unfunded liability issue.
“Any legislation should come after the task force finishes its work, not before,” Chris Hand, Brown’s chief of staff, said in a statement last week.
On Friday, Hand told the task force about the legislation but said he would not speak to it.
The task force formally invited the Pew Charitable Trusts to study Jacksonville’s pension issues.
With Pew officials in the audience, Hand told the board of Brown’s pension reform proposal that council rejected in July. Jacksonville Civic Council Chair Steve Halverson described his organization’s framework for reform, which included transferring real estate assets.
Both will be part of Pew’s overall analysis, David Draine, Pew senior researcher, said after the meeting.
The task force will hear Pew’s initial thoughts on Oct. 29, which will be followed by a meeting for the public to address the task force on Nov. 5.
It will reconvene Jan. 8 to hear Pew’s recommendations before its final meeting Jan. 21.