Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Pension Task Force Adds New Members; Group's Chairman Wants to Have Report for Mayor in January

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Pension Task Force Adds New Members; Group's Chairman Wants to Have Report for Mayor in January

Article excerpt

Byline: David Bauerlein

The path forward for changing Jacksonville's pension system will run through a citizen panel that is growing by six new members and appears set to get expert advice from The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Task force Chairman Bill Scheu said he wants the task force to make its recommendations by mid-January to Mayor Alvin Brown and the City Council.

"What we're starting to see is signs of the community coming together," he said.

Of the six new members announced Monday by Scheu, three have affiliations with the Jacksonville Civic Council, a group of corporate leaders that put forward its own pension blueprint last week.

They will join 11 original members on the task force.

Scheu announced the expanded membership during a special meeting Monday that featured a presentation by The Pew Charitable Trusts, which volunteered to assist the task force for free.

Pew, which has provided similar advice to state lawmakers in Kentucky and Montana, did not make any specific recommendations and said there is no "one size fits all" solution.

David Draine, lead researcher for Pew, said in general, cities should be wary of borrowing money to bolster pension funds, a strategy proposed by the Jacksonville Civic Council. Draine said issuing bonds to reduce pension fund liabilities can "look good on paper" but increase a city's exposure to financial downturns.

"They are a tool that should be used rarely and only as part of a comprehensive solution," he said.

The Civic Council's proposal would wring out most of its savings by making changes in what police and firefighters pay toward their pensions and receive in retirement benefits.

But the Civic Council also proposes borrowing up to $1 billion so the police and fire pension fund has more money to invest, with a "calculated risk" that investment earnings will exceed the interest rates for paying off the debt. …

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