Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Pension Reform Will Carry into Next Week; 'We Are So Close,' Moderator Says, but at Least 1 More Session Will Be Needed

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Pension Reform Will Carry into Next Week; 'We Are So Close,' Moderator Says, but at Least 1 More Session Will Be Needed

Article excerpt

Byline: David Bauerlein

Like a baby being born, talks on comprehensive pension reform made painstaking progress Thursday toward delivering a final product, but it will take at least one more session to finalize pension benefits for current police and firefighters.

Former state Sen. Rod Smith, who is moderating the talks between Mayor Alvin Brown and the Police and Fire Pension Fund, made the birth comparison shortly after getting a text message showing a picture of his just-born grandchild.

"Speaking of going through labor as we return to this issue," Smith said as he pushed for more dialogue on Brown's proposal to cut pension benefits for current police and firefighters.

Smith had hoped the talks would wrap up Thursday, the sixth session in the past two weeks. He will schedule another round next week, possibly Tuesday.

"We are so close," he said. "We cannot leave this thing undone."

John Keane, executive director of the Police and Fire Pension Fund, signaled some willingness to change the guaranteed 8.4 percent interest earnings for Deferred Retirement Option Program accounts, which is a popular program for police and firefighters.

Brown proposed that the interest earnings should rise and fall based on the actual investment returns of the fund, within a range of 3.9 percent to 10 percent. Keane said the range could be 5 to 10 percent.

Keane continued to say he opposes lowering the 3 percent cost-of-living adjustments for pension benefits earned by current employees. Brown wants that dropped to 2 percent.

NEXT TIME, COLLECTIVE BARGAINING

On another front, the talks Thursday finalized a raft of changes in governance of the Police and Fire Pension Fund, which is an independent city agency.

Since the early 1990s, Keane has negotiated pension benefits in talks with city officials. City Council has approved those benefit increases, which are spelled out in an agreement that runs through 2030 between the city and the pension fund. …

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