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- 2014 - May - 16th -

'We are so close'; city and pension fund may resume talks Tuesday

By David Chapman, Staff Writer

The last day of scheduled public safety pension talks came and went without final agreement.

Yet, there’s enough optimism among those involved to clear calendars and resume talks next week with the hope of hammering out compromise.

It will require the city or Police and Fire Pension Fund — or both — to budge on two issues: cost-of-living adjustments and the rate of return for members in the Deferred Retirement Option Program.

“I just don’t want us to be this close and not get it done,” said moderator Rod Smith, a former state senator and state attorney.

The last proposals came in just before 5 p.m. Thursday, with some willingness to concede on both sides — small as it was, it was movement.

The city wants to bump the cost-of-living cap for current employees to 2 percent, down from the current 3 percent. It also wants to ditch the current 8.4 percent rate of return for employees in the DROP program in favor of a floating scale that reflect true market returns.

Under the latest city proposal, it would have a floor of 3.9 percent, up from a past proposal of 0 percent, with a cap of 10

percent.

Also new would be changing the length of the deal to 10 years, which would amend the so-called “30-Year Agreement” to end in 2024 instead of 2030. During that period the city would contribute an additional $40 million to its required payment to the pension plan if the fund pitches in its 4 percent worth of chapter funds along with an additional 4 percent.

Mayor Alvin Brown said shortening the agreement would ease concerns from critics, such as those on City Council, who said last year’s rejected plan was too long.

Fund administrator John Keane countered with different numbers.

He was willing to turn to the floating DROP plan, but the floor had to be 5 percent instead of 3.9 percent. It was the first time he offered anything but the change from the guaranteed 8.4 percent. But his latest ideas didn’t budge on cost-of-living — it stayed at 3 percent.

As for the additional chapter funds, 6 percent total was the max. And, the financing aspect of the deal could end in 2024, but the governance reform and other aspects of the deal stayed until 2030.

Both proposals called for the fund to give the city about $61 million from two fund reserve accounts and the fund would be able to partake in alternative investments. Hedge funds are explicitly excluded.

Benefits and contributions of new members were worked out earlier in the week, while governance issues have mostly been alleviated, including the fate of the fifth member of the pension board and who negotiates future pension benefits.

Under the current tentative agreement, the board’s four members elect the last, while public safety unions will negotiate benefits.

And while the two sides have agreed upon much to this point, not coming to terms on the rest could mean the work over the past two weeks unravels.

“We are so close,” said Smith at the end of Thursday’s meeting. “We cannot leave this

thing undone.”

The Gainesville attorney committed to returning to Jacksonville possibly Tuesday for what could be a final session, though another might be in order for both sides to review final language — if they come to an agreement.

dchapman@baileypub.com

@writerchapman

(904) 356-2466

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