Councilman Doug Burlison shared a proposal with Mayor Jim O'Neal, his peers on the City Council and the City Manager's office this evening via email. He also cc'd a myself and another local blogger, along with other media and news outlets in Springfield.
Following is his proposal:
Four months have nearly passed since we, as a community, went to the polls to decide whether or not to approve a 1-cent sales tax to fix or Police and Fire pension fund. By a slim majority, the vote was against this proposal at that time. Disregarding the one-time funds that have been contributed, instead of just over $13 million being injected into the fund by a new tax, we've let the liability get almost $4.5 million deeper in debt without it. It is undeniable that this is the position that we, as a city, find ourselves in right now. We have created a Task Force to dive into this issue, to evaluate different approaches, and to make a final recommendation for City Council to act upon.
As the citizen who called for an audit of this city, and now as a member of it's governing council, I have gone through a cycle of skepticism, investigation, and evaluation of my own. I am very appreciative of having a resource like this Task Force available to take an in-depth, independent look at the various proposals offered, and in light of that, I would offer up another proposal to introduce to the table. I would ask the Task Force to analyze the impact of a new, one-time (5 year) 3/4-cent sales tax, plus one-half of the next potential renewal of the 1/4-cent Capital Improvements Projects tax to supplement the pension fund. Perhaps this, coupled with other factors that the Task Force will recommend, could get us to the once-and-for-all remedy the situation requires.
Beyond just crunching the numbers, I am also aware of the political considerations to keep in mind:
*This community has a very low appetite/capacity for new taxes.
*Job # 1 for any level of government around here is public safety, with citical public infrastructure coming in at a close second.
*We want to solve this pension problem, not just put a band-aid on it so our kids will have to take care of what we couldn't.
*We have to be competitive with other cities if we want to maximize our police/fire training dollars, and to increase the retention of qualified personnel.
I personally feel like the ladies and gentlemen of our public safety departments have their finger on the pulse of what it takes to actively compete with other municipalities for (and to keep) good quality police and fire officers. To affect a workable solution to this problem will require their input. To place their negotiated benefits under the microscope may stop a couple of minor fiscal leaks, of which the pension board has already made recommendations to repair, but it won't make a dent in the big picture. The overall problem, however, will take great fiscal effort, and perhaps the swallowing of some political pride to handle effectively. Simply satisfying the state statute is nowhere near a long-term fix, and the problem with not handling this completely now, will absolutely result in the price tag getting much higher. If we continue to not adequately address this problem, lawyers and judges are going to force a solution on us, and that price tag will be astronomical.
It is with these thoughts in mind that I respectfully request the Police and Fire Pension Task Force to consider this proposal.
Thank you for your consideration,