JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Despite a $58 million budget shortfall, Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown keeps a campaign promise to not raise taxes and on Monday morning outlined a 2012-2013 budget that includes hundreds of layoffs of city workers.
In a $945 million spending plan outlined to City Council at a special meeting Monday morning, Brown said reducing spending by 1.3 percent over the current year represents the lowest level of city spending since 2008.
"Once again I have the honor of delivering a budget that my administration balanced without raising taxes or fees or tapping into the city's reserve," Brown said. "Together, we have stared down a tremendous challenge."
According to the mayor's office, there will be a reduction of 490 city positions through attrition and layoffs. Of those positions, 221 will be layoffs, mostly affect the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and Public Works Department.
The Brown administration said it worked closely with department heads, employees and constitutional officers throughout city government to reduce general fund expenses by $68.7 million despite more than $150 million going to fund pension contributions -- a $46.5 million increase and representing 16 percent of all general fund spending.
"That's double what we're spending on the Children's Commission, our seniors, our parks and our libraries combined," Brown said. "We must reform pensions. That is not an option."
While this budget does not have a specific plan to change pension funding, he promised a "fair and substantial" plan before the end of the year.
Joe Krier, a financial expert, said taxpayers are paying the price with pensions.
"Taxes are down, the economy is in a slump, and essentially there's not enough money without some help to go ahead and pay those pensions," said Krier.
High pensions have left three cities in California to file bankruptcy. Brown hopes Jacksonville will avoid that same fate.
UNCUT VIDEO: Mayor Alvin Brown's budget address to City Council
Sheriff John Rutherford has been a vocal critical of the the mayor's plan to balance the budget by laying off public safety workers and is asking that City Council to consider increasing the tax rate to that would make up for lower property values.
"I want the public to go into this eyes wide open," Rutherford said. "If this $42 million in cuts stands and if people don't pay the same taxes as they did last year, they are not going to have the same service they had last year. Services are going to go down."
Brown has dismissed Rutherford's suggestion, saying that a increase tax will not be considered. While some council members expressed concern about laying off police officers, none supported the sheriff's call for higher taxes.
"I want to go out and find other programs that I don't think have as high as a priority as public safety and see if I can restore some of those dollars," said Councilman Stephen Joost.
The city plans to make up some of its lost revenue by increased sales tax collection, raising the charge for Jacksonville Fire-Rescue ambulance services and revenues from red light camera enforcement at area intersections.
The proposed budget is now subject to City Council's review.
Initial reaction by council members was positive.
"The one problem area that I see in this particular budget that there is no money for capital improvement, let alone building new things, but maintenance as well," Council President Bill Bishop said. "You can't do that too long before there is going to be real problems."
Committee debate on the budget proposal will begin right away and the millage rate must be set by the end of the month. By law, the city's spending plan must be passed by the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1.
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