, Fla. --
The city’s Retirement Reform Task Force recommended the city adopt a half-cent fire and rescue surtax to help pay down the unpaid liability to the Police and Fire Pension Fund.
The surtax would go toward fire and rescue operations. The intent is to free up money that can be used for pension purposes. The surtax, added to the city’s sales tax, would raise $68 million. The committee recommended that the council increase ad valorem taxes in the short-term, because it would be a year before the surtax revenue would be collected.
Voters would have to vote on the surtax in a referendum, perhaps as early as November.
“Essentially, what they would be saying is do they prefer an ad valorem tax or a sales tax?” said Bill Scheu, chairman of the task force.
The task force voted to recommend adding $50 million to the roughly $150 million the city pays each year toward the $1.75 billion liability. Experts with the Pew Charitable Trusts said paying more money upfront would save the city more in the long run.
Task force members seemed not to favor the mayor’s proposal of working with JEA to have the utility contribute more to the city each year. In the end, members decided not to formally recommend the proposal but list it as an option in the final report. Members rejected recommending budget cuts, saying the city couldn’t afford any more cuts to services.
A spokesperson for Mayor Alvin Brown told Action News the mayor is pleased the task force was making progress.
"He’s not in favor of a tax increase, he’s not in favor of raising fees on utilities,” said Dave DeCamp, communications director for the city. “However, we have always said that this task force has to have the time and ability to work out a solution on its own.”
The City Council would have to approve any changes recommended by the task force. At least one more meeting is scheduled before the final report is issued.