JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Amid much fanfare, Mayor Alvin Brown announced a new pension reform deal Wednesday afternoon at city hall with pension, fire, and police union officials alongside him.
Mayor Brown called it a great day for the city.
"We have an agreement that not only represents a fair deal, but an agreement that will also save taxpayers nearly $1.1 billion over the next the next 30 years ... Let me repeat that, that is $1.1 billion dollars with a 'B,' and that saving starts right now," Brown said, followed by applause.
The pension plans for police officers and firefighters have been costing millions more and more of taxpayer dollars each year. Four years ago, the city contributed $65 million to pensions, 7% of the city budget. Without this deal, next year it would cost the city $148 million dollars, 16 percent of the budget.
The new deal will mean $48 million more for the city budget next year, or twice the budget of the city parks department. That money equals the combined budgets of the Jacksonville Public Libraries and the City Planning and Development Department.
There is little change in pensions for current employees, but as of October 1, new employees will contribute 10 percent of their pay to retirement, up from the current 7 percent. New employees won't be able to retire until they have worked 30 years. Currently, it is 20 years.
There is a cap on retirement at $99,999.99. The cost of living increase is limited to 1.5 percent It is currently 3 percent.
Firefighters union president Randy Wyse said his members are satisfied with the deal, and glad it is over.
"It gives our guys some security, for the future, knowing where they are at. There is a lot of uncertainty out there. Police and firefighters are concerned about what their future holds you know. When they signed up, they had a deal and they want to make sure it stays, and it stays. That is mainly what the men and women out there protecting the citizens are worried about, and it gives them some security," Wyse said.
Brown went on to say he appreciated the sacrifice of police and fire employees the last 3 years in which they took pay cuts.
"This agreement is a product of a partnership between the city and public safety professionals. Together we have achieved retirement reform that will help ensure financial stability for both taxpayers and employees."
The City Council must now approve the deal. Councilman John Crescimbeni said it will be difficult to vote against it since everyone is on board.
"But we need to dig into the details and make sure it is a solution to the problem, way past the next elections. We as a city in the past have kicked the can down the road for the next mayor or city council to deal with," Crescimbeni said.
City officials said the pension plans had to be fixed because they were not sustainable. Other cities like Stockton, California and Central Falls, Rhode Island have declared bankruptcy over pension funding issues.
The city must still negotiate pension reform deals with several other unions representing city workers.