JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Even though the city of Jacksonville's budget is balanced, the problems are far from over.
Dr. Michael Hallett, a professor of Criminology at UNF, has been researching the pension issue plaguing the city for a decade. He says unless significant change is made, things will get worse.
"We're in a real crisis here," he said of the situation.
The city of Jacksonville's pension problem has been decades in the making.
"They haven't been paying what they should have been paying knowing that the debt on the pension is mounting since the 70's."
Hallett says it's no secret the police and fire pension is just about wiped out.
"The challenge we're facing is as the interest payment on the pension payment mounts to the tune of $150 million next year, it's cutting into the available resources just to pay for officers."
While Hallett says JSO is bearing the brunt of the budget mess, he isn't pointing the finger at Sheriff John Rutherford.
"This is not the sheriff's fault. This is the city of Jacksonville's fault."
He says Sheriff Rutherford really has no choice but to cut services and lay off officers. But at the same time, Action News has learned 700 JSO employees have recently received raises.
"Probably not a good idea," Hallett said. "But the sheriff wouldn't be alone on that. Look at JEA, look at the pension board itself. Lots of honchos in the city are getting pay raises and what are the politics of that? Probably not good."
So how does the city fix the problem? Hallett says no option will be easy.
"The city's either going to have to bargain with the pension board, get control of the pension board through a J-bill or raise taxes. Pay the piper."
Action News also asked Hallett whether he thought crime would go up with the layoff of officers. He says not initially because arrests are way down right now. But he says Jacksonville has twice the state's average of violent gun crimes, so he says there is the potential for things to get really bad really quickly.