- 2013 - December - 17th -

‘Big one’ still to be settled

By David Chapman, Staff Writer

Six months in, six months to go.

At about the halfway mark, City Council President Bill Gulliford said he still has a list of items he'd like to accomplish or at least make headway on them.

"Everything I can," he said.

Specifically, "the big one" is pension.

He said his hope is that once the Jacksonville Retirement Reform Task Force makes its recommendations, there at least will be meaningful movement toward a solution.

Gulliford told the Former Council Presidents group on Monday he believes the resolution will involve "shared pain." That means changes to benefits and contributions of current employees in addition to taxpayers' dollars and service level funds — and later said any solution has to address the combined $2.4 billion in unfunded liability.

"It's got to come from somewhere and there's no magic in the world. Unless somebody hits the lottery," he told the group.

Another item on his to-do list involves extending the county gas tax. Legislation he filed last week would extend the 6-cent levy on motor fuel, with another bill he is working on for January changing how the tax is distributed. Under his plan, 5 cents would be for the Jacksonville Transportation Authority for infrastructure projects, while the last cent is for the city to use on road projects and bike and pedestrian improvements.

"Realistically, this is almost a no-brainer," he said.

But, Mayor Alvin Brown doesn't favor the extension and the measure still must be debated by council.

Gulliford also will facilitate a larger discussion about the port that will include Jacksonville Port Authority CEO Brian Taylor, state Rep. Lake Ray, council members and others who are interested in the harbor deepening project. Environmental impacts and the millions needed for investment would be part of the "out in the open" discussion.

Two finance-related subcommittees also begin work early next year. One will deal with reviewing the city's incentives program for business and job creation, while the other will focus on the city's budget.

Gulliford thinks the latter could help the budget process by providing a more in-depth review earlier instead of during the 60-70 hours the council Finance Committee spends during August and September.

The group is led Council Vice President Clay Yarborough.

"There are some cities that do an ongoing, around-the-clock budget review committee," he said. "Maybe we end up doing that."

And, there's the consolidation task force that Gulliford established within his first weeks as president. That group has broken into subcommittees to make recommendations on topics that could lead to overall recommendations on how to improve the consolidated form of government. Council member Lori Boyer is leading that task force.

While Gulliford's term ends June 30, he could be re-elected by his peers. He said he won't pursue it.

"No, I wouldn't do that. That's up to council," he said.

As for bigger aspirations — namely seeking the mayor's office — he was even quicker to answer.

"No comment," he said.


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