Talk of tax increase comes with budget mess

Mayor adamant about not raising taxes

Author: Jim Piggott, General assignment reporter, jpiggott@wjxt.com
Published On: Jul 11 2013 02:27:07 PM EDT   Updated On: Jul 11 2013 09:02:54 PM EDT
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

The Jacksonville city budget mess has some talking about a tax increase to clean it up.

Sheriff John Rutherford says the City Council needs to pass pension reform or face massive layoffs in public safety. He says more money is needed, and without reform, raising taxes may be the only solution.

The last time Jacksonville raised taxes was a small increase in 2010 under Mayor John Peyton.

Mayor Alvin Brown is adamant about not raising taxes, even to get out of the current budget mess.

DOCUMENTS: Fire proposed cuts | Sheriff's Office proposed budget

"I am very supportive of the sheriff and I am very happy he supports the retirement plan," Brown said. "It's fair to hard-working taxpayers and city employees. He knows it's a fair plan. He knows it's a plan where we don't have to do those kind of reductions."

Rutherford said the mayor not being willing to raise taxes is what's getting him in trouble now and why the sheriff is being forced to cut $29 million from his office's budget, which could lead to hundreds of layoffs.

"That is the risk you run when you make promises like that," Rutherford said. "'I am not going to raise taxes.' When he made that promise, he did not see this coming down the road. Who did?"

But this situation has some unlikely people thinking maybe a tax increase isn't so bad. John Winkler, the head of Concerned Taxpayers of Duval County, suggests a bond or new funding source that would only go to pay for pension reform.

"My personal view -- not speaking on behalf of the concerned taxpayers -- my personal view is I might be in favor of such a referendum," Winkler said. "We need to take dramatic action in order to prevent the city from possibly facing bankruptcy. In order to do that, we have to come up with additional revenue."

Councilman Warren Jones won't rule out a property tax increase.

"We have to accept the pension reform the mayor has placed before us or we have to look at possibly increasing taxes," Jones said in a phone interview.

Council President Bill Gulliford said he would not rule out talking taxes, but he said council is being pulled at from both ends.

"Pressure from the sheriff's comments, constant pressure from the mayor's office; pass this thing, pass this thing," Gulliford said. "The difficulties I see with that is we have difficulties from other pressure situations where council knee-jerked and didn't look at longterm consequences. And now we are paying the price for it."

The mayor is still working on his budget plan and will present his budget address at 9 a.m. Monday. It will be carried live on News4Jax.com.