Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Point of View; Scheu Urges a Yes Vote on Pension Tax

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Point of View; Scheu Urges a Yes Vote on Pension Tax

Article excerpt

Byline: Bill Scheu

Pension reform at the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund has been a long process, but the end is in sight.

Three mayors (John Peyton, Alvin Brown and Lenny Curry) have each worked hard for reform and our community has almost achieved the goal.

Peyton initiated the first reforms, but they were set aside when Brown was elected. However, many of the Peyton reforms were incorporated into Brown's reform proposals.

Brown appointed a pension reform task force that took a magnifying glass to the problems at the underfunded Police and Fire Pension Fund. With the help of the Pew Charitable Trusts, the task force made recommendations in four areas: governance, investment authority, pension design and funding.

The reforms proposed in three of those four areas are now in place.

Governance reforms include:

- A financial and investment advisory committee.

- Ethics certifications and disclosure requirements.

- Qualifications for City Council-appointed trustees.

- Improved actuarial standards and disclosure requirements.

- New standards of education, experience and competence for a new fund administrator (which the new administrator, Tim Johnson, fully embodies).

- Revisions of the so-called "30-Year Agreement" that was negotiated in 2000 and imposed significant burdens on the city.

- A return to collective bargaining for pension benefits and recognition that the Police and Fire Pension Fund must use the Office of General Counsel as its primary legal resource, just like other city boards and authorities.

The last of those reforms, legal representation, has been completed because of efforts of the Police and Fire Pension Fund and the Office of General Counsel.

Investment authority reforms have been adopted by the City Council and are in place. They give the pension fund additional authority in terms of investment vehicles but at the same time prohibit the use of "hedge funds" and similar investments.

Pensions for the dedicated public safety employees of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department have been significantly revised. Both Sheriff John Rutherford and Fire Chief Martin Senterfitt recommended that the pension design not be changed either to a 401(k) type program or to the Florida Retirement System program because in their opinions increased mobility and loss of experienced employees would result.

The task force looked at the economics of the different designs and concluded that for police and fire employees, a defined benefit program was preferable.

While constitutional and statutory restrictions limited pension design reforms for existing employees, substantial changes were made for new employees: elimination of the overly generous "DROP" program and its guaranteed 8. …

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