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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Jan. 21, 200912:00 PM EST

Finance Committee defers pension bill, FOP not happy

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by: Mike Sharkey

by Mike Sharkey

Staff Writer

The City Council Finance Committee Tuesday voted 3-2 to defer a bill that addresses the pension plan of the City’s corrections officers. The bill has been on the books since mid-November of last year. The full Council can approve the bill Tuesday night without the OK from Finance, but that will require a majority two-thirds vote.

Unless the full Council approves the legislation, Fraternal Order of Police President Nelson Cuba said after the vote he will pull out of current contract negotiations and may even pursue the matter legally. Cuba said he will spend the next week lobbying Council members in an effort to garner the necessary votes. But, if the bill doesn’t pass, Cuba said he’ll take action.

“They have a contractual obligation,” said Cuba. “I will postpone all meetings we have on collective bargaining. If I can’t trust them, why would I go into a meeting?”

The bill allows the City to amend the retirement plan despite the fact the current rate of return on investments is below what’s required in the City’s Ordinance Code. The bill also permits corrections officers to retire after 20 years, participate in the Deferred Retirement Option Plan after 20 years and receive a 3 percent Cost of Living Adjustment each Dec. 1.

The Finance Committee voted to defer the bill primarily thanks to issues raised by Finance member Stephen Joost, who repeatedly asked to know where the City would get the money to meet the stipulations of the amended retirement plan.

“Before we make a decision, I want a full accounting of where we are,” said Joost. “Revenues are down and expenses are up. I’d like the administration to tell me what programs we are going to cut next year. Revenues are not going up, but expenses are. By definition, the pie is getting smaller. What $20 million in programs are we cutting?”

Assistant General Counsel Steve Rohan said Council President Ronnie Fussell would like to vote on the bill at Tuesday’s full Council meeting regardless of the Finance Committee’s decision.

Cuba said the deferment is an insult to the corrections officers and the contract that everyone agreed to three years ago. At question is part three of that contract, which will now cost the City about $3.9 million, over $1 million more than it would have cost if the City had approved the contract as a whole when it was executed.

“I want a yea or a nay Tuesday night. If not, then I’ll sue,” said Cuba. “This is a collective bargaining agreement and the only way for the City to get out of it is to declare bankruptcy. If they cannot pay us, how can they pay any other contracts?”

Finance Chair Michael Corrigan said he cannot comment on any issues relating to collective bargaining, but did say the Council considers all contracts and makes its decisions based on the merits of those contracts.

Joost said he doesn’t intend to create a rift, but sees the deferment as being fiscally responsible at a time when the City is facing major budget issues.

“I am not trying to dodge my responsibility. I am trying to take up my responsibility,” he said. “To take two steps forward, sometimes you have to take one step back. I am not going to make promises we can’t keep.

“I want to support the men and women in uniform today and I want to be financially responsible. I can’t do both today. What the heck is the game plan financially?”

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