City Panel to Weigh Pension Fix; HIT HARD Jacksonville's Pension Funds Have Lost Millions. THE FUTURE the Goal Is a Good, but Sustainable, Plan

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Byline: DAVID HUNT

How to boost Jacksonville's beleaguered city pension funds - which have lost hundreds of millions of dollars in recent months - without leaning on taxpayers is the goal of a new, City Council-appointed task force.

Council President Ronnie Fussell announced the special committee on pension reform Monday. It's made up of council members, city finance and pension managers, and others.

The goal is to develop a new strategy for the pension funds by June.

"This isn't a committee that's going to do a bunch of reports and stack them in a box," Fussell said. "This is an action item."

The police and fire pension fund dropped in value in 2008 by nearly 23 percent; the general employee fund shed more than 26 percent of its assets, according to financial reports obtained from the city.

Mayor John Peyton, who has consistently called the retirement funds "unsustainable," said Monday he commends Fussell's efforts.

Peyton said the coming budget cycle will likely be just as tough if not tougher than the last, when a dismal economy and statewide tax reform held spending growth to its lowest percentage since 1991.

Pensions, which syphon millions of dollars before Peyton's budget team can begin planning for other expenses, will be a major piece of the puzzle.

"Men and women in uniform deserve a good plan," Peyton said, "but the taxpayers deserve something that's sustainable."

In today's market, that's a tough balance. The Dow Jones Industrials closed Monday at 6,763 - nearly 5,500 points below where it was a year ago.

As a result, the pensions have taken a hit.

A Times-Union analysis of the two funds published in early January found that, together, they'd lost more than $700 million since September 2007, when the Dow was coasting above 13,000 points. …