FL Mayor Proposes Eliminating Fire, Police Pensions

Jacksonville police patch

Jacksonville police, firefighters and corrections officers hired in the future would not be offered pensions under a plan unveiled Friday by Mayor Lenny Curry.

Curry’s pitch for ending pensions of public safety workers means he wants the city to get out of offering pensions for all future city employees, a position that would make Jacksonville among the few cities of any size in Florida taking that approach.

While Curry would end pensions for future hires across the board, he is proposing bigger city-funded contributions for individual investment accounts for public safety workers than for general employees.

The city’s match to 401(k) style accounts would start at 12 percent of a police or firefighter’s pay and rise in a series of steps to 20 percent after the employee works 20 years.

“I’m going to put an offer on the table today that recognizes the risk that you face every day when you go to work,” Curry said in a Friday morning sit-down with the International Association of Fire Fighters.

Union leaders gave no immediate response and will be making their own offers at future meetings.

The collective bargaining talks come after voters supported an Aug. 30 referendum for a half-cent sales tax that would help pay down Jacksonville’s $2.85 billion pension debt.

Before the city can levy that sales tax, it must close at least one of the three pension plans — police and fire, general employees, and corrections officers — to new hires. The negotiations are about the new retirement plan, which could be a 401(k) style version or a different kind of pension plan from what the city offers now.

Fraternal Order of Police local President Steve Zona said union negotiators need more information about how Curry’s proposal would affect Jacksonville’s ability to attract top-quality employees.

He asked for a side-by-side comparison of what police officers would stand to receive based on current pensions compared to what new hires could expect to bank in their investment accounts in Curry’s plan.

“When the mayor says it’s competitive, show us how it’s competitive compared to what we have right now,” Zona said.

Chief Financial Officer Mike Weinstein said the city would provide whatever information it could.

Randy Wyse, local president for the International Association of Fire Fighters, told Curry the union’s goal in negotiations will be to ensure the fire department is a “great department. It’s never just been all about what we can put into our own pockets.”

He said after the meeting that ending pensions for new hires “can be problematic” in recruiting talented people and keeping them in Jacksonville.

“It’s unheard of in the public safety world to hear something like that be put on the table, so that’s something we’ll have to look at,” Wyse said.

When John Rutherford was sheriff and a Jacksonville task force discussed moving away from pensions in 2014, Rutherford came out strongly in favor of retaining the pension plan, calling it an “essential tool for law enforcement.”

Rutherford said even a hybrid plan combining features of a pension with individual investment accounts would put Jacksonville at a “serious competitive disadvantage in hiring and maintaining police officers.”

Sheriff Mike Williams, who succeeded Rutherford, is taking a hands-off stance on the current negotiations.

“The sheriff will refrain from commenting as the collective bargaining process occurs,” his spokeswoman Lauri-Ellen Smith said. “He has no role in those negotiations and prefers not to comment in deference to the mayor’s activities with the unions.”

In Curry’s proposal, future hires for police, firefighters and corrections officer positions would get their retirement nest eggs from individual investment accounts. The employees would contribute 8 percent of pay toward the accounts.

The city’s match for police and firefighters would start at 12 percent in the first five years of employment,then increase to 14 percent in the next five years, followed by a 16 percent in years 11 through 15, an 18 percent match in years 16 through 20 and finally a 20 percent match after that point.

The city’s match for corrections officers would start at 10 percent, go to 12 percent in years six through 10, then 14 percent in years 11 through 15, followed by a 16 percent match during years 16 through 20 and then an 18 percent match after 20 years of service.

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