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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Dec. 3, 201312:00 PM EST

Pension solutions should include current worker benefits

by: David Chapman

Kevin Hyde admits he doesn't have the answers to the city's pension problem.

That doesn't mean he didn't try, though.

Hyde, an attorney by profession, was a two-term City Council member and former council president before he joined Mayor Alvin Brown's team as chief administrative officer for $1 a year. In September 2012, Brown named him pension counselor to focus on pension reform.

The bigger problems are the current $1.7 billion unfunded liability from the police and fire pension fund and rising contributions consuming more of the city's annual budget. The solution, he says, will be painful for all involved, but now is the time to try.

"The political climate is ripe to make changes," he told the Meninak Club of Jacksonville on Monday. "People get (that) something has to be done."

He said he thinks changes to benefits of current employees will have to be part of the solution.

"Yes, you are affecting individuals. And, yes, you are affecting families. And, yes, you are affecting future planning. But, remember, in my opinion, if we don't make some of these changes, you are making empty promises," he said.

The idea to alter benefits wasn't part of the proposal Brown and the public safety unions came to an agreement on when they announced a deal in June, but were when Hyde was involved as pension counselor.

Under that proposal, current employees would pay an additional contribution.

The final proposal was later rejected by council and criticized by the Jacksonville Civic Council and JAX Chamber as not going "far enough."

"I think it needed to touch, unfortunately, current employees as well," Hyde said afterward.

That could mean increasing years of service needed to retire, overall age of retirement and other possibilities.

A pension reform task force led by Bill Scheu has "been doing good work" on reviewing the problem and is working on coming up with recommendations to the problem. It meets at 9 a.m. Thursday and Hyde says he thinks the group, which has assistance from Pew Charitable Trusts, will have recommendations in January.

Hyde says it's likely the mayor will adopt those recommendations and then would head to the bargaining table with the unions. He said the ideal situation would be for an agreement there, but, if not, then impasse could be declared.

It would then head to council, which could impose its choice of plan as the final arbiter.

"That's the most difficult vote they'll ever take," he said. "I've done it. It's a hard vote."

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