Sarasota News Leader

09/21/12

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Sarasota News Leader September 21, 2012 Some citizens who were outraged suggested the property owner had waited until he was confident of three votes on the commission before asking for the lease extension, a leg- islative version of "judge shopping." A vote in favor of the super-majority amend- ment would require the affirmative vote of at least four city commissioners to approve any lease of city property for longer than 10 years. The amendment also requires a super-ma- jority to approve any change to city pen- sion plans which increases "the actuarially accrued liability of the plan …." In today's environment, this provision takes on added weight. Six of the seven amendments were crafted two years ago, when city pensions were just starting to enter a crisis stage. Today the "unfunded liability" of the city's three pension plans – for firefighters, police officers and general employees – could top $100 million. City commissioners are al- ready talking about raising property taxes to cover the amount. The amendment's language is a bit ambig- uous, because the City Commission does not make changes in pension plans. Three independent pension boards administer those plans. However, the commissioners are responsible for making sure the plans are sufficiently funded. The language reads: "The affirmative vote of four (4) city commissioners shall be re- quired to approve any change in the terms Page 35 of the city's pension plan which has the ef- fect of increasing the actuarially accrued liability of the plan, as calculated by the plan's actuary." The amendment was written before city pensions began to receive serious scrutiny from commissioners, pension boards, attor- neys and rating agencies. For example, the amendment says, "pension plan" when in reality, the city has three pension plans. On Monday, Sept. 17, the City Commission passed a resolution "recommending" the three independent pension boards consid- er reducing their projected rates of return (which haven't been achieved for several years), which will increase the plans' un- funded liabilities. The commission vote satisfied the terms of the proposed charter amendment, passing 4-1, with Commissioner Paul Caragiulo in the minority. Some of the proposed charter amendments have single topics. Others, like this "super majority" amendment cover two or more topics. Voters who favor stricter control of long-term leases and a higher standard of approval for pension changes will favor this amendment. Voters who think a regular 3-2 majority is sufficient for approval of any lease longer than 10 years, or approval of changes to city pension plans, will vote against this amendment.

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