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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Jan. 6, 201512:00 PM EST

Changes made by pension board may be 'deal killer' for council

by: David Chapman

After more than two hours, the Police and Fire Pension board was at its last major hurdle for pension reform.

It earlier had ignored the changes City Council made to financial rates for Cost of Living Adjustments and the Deferred Retirement Option Plan for current employees. The five-member board instead opted to revert those parts back to what fund administrator John Keane and Mayor Alvin Brown had worked out over the summer.

All that was left was the length of the deal. The 10-year deal Keane and Brown agreed to was the preference. Council, though, effectively had made it a three-year deal that would allow it to impose benefits should there be future disagreements.

“If it’s not at least 10 years, I’m not voting for any of it,” said Lt. Richard Tuten III, the firefighter’s representative on the board.

Police representative Chief Larry Schmitt and fifth member Nat Glover also were leaning that way — a majority.

That vote would mean the meat of council’s decisions had been undone, a move board Chair Walt Bussells said might doom reform and leave it for a judge to decide.

So, he asked members to reconsider the benefit components. The board did and approved rates that weren’t what council passed, but did eliminate fixed guarantees.

It didn’t budge on the length of the deal, though. And that could be a “deal killer,” said council member Lori Boyer.

“If that’s the case, then that’s a real big problem for me,” she said.

Boyer maintains state law says such deals can’t extend beyond three years. And like the police and firefighters who uphold the law on a daily basis, she says she took an oath to do the same.

“We can’t start putting politics above the law,” she said.

She said she possibly could handle changes to the benefits side, but without the three-year term it’s a non-issue.

Council member Bill Gulliford authored the amendments to those benefit changes on cost-of-living adjustments and DROP. He said if the only issue had been the former, he probably could have lived with it. But all the tweaks?

“I can’t buy the changes, I’m sorry,” he said.

After council passed what he thinks was the best offer, he said he thought the board’s decisions rendered the deal “dead.”

“I think council pretty much spoke,” he said, referring to the 16-3 vote in December that passed the deal the pension board weighed in recent weeks.

Bussells and Brown, though, said after Monday’s board meeting they were optimistic about the progress. Compared to the current pension plan, Bussells said the deal is “far better for taxpayers” and represented shared sacrifice.

Whether council agrees could be determined in the next couple of weeks.

Tracking changes to pact

Cost of Living Adjustments

The board: Zero to 6 percent, mirroring Social Security

City Council: Zero to 4 percent, mirroring Social Security

Mayor Alvin Brown-John Keane agreement: Guaranteed 3 percent

What it is now: Guaranteed 3 percent

Deferred Retirement Option Plan return rate

The board: 2 percent to 14.4 percent, with plan receiving benefits

Council: Zero to 10 percent

Brown-Keane: 5 to 10 percent

What it is now: Guaranteed 8.4 percent

Length of the deal on benefits

The board: 10 years

Council: Three years

Brown-Keane agreement: 10 years

What it is now: 15 years

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