Council's actions spark leadership battle

Stage set for possible tax increase, no pension reform after Tuesday night votes


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Action by the Jacksonville City Council on Tuesday night has set the stage for a possible tax increase and no chance for pension reform this year.

Both measures took many by surprise as the city is gearing up for a feisty budget battle.

It's also become a battle on city leadership. It seems odd to some that Republicans are asking for a tax increase and Democrats are wanting to hold the line.

The possibility of raising taxes is raising interesting comments.

"Clearly we need one," Joanne Tredenick said. "We have been on the cheap too long and our city needs services, infrastructure, and we have to pay for it."

"There is nothing we can do about it, so either way we got to accept it," Miss Bloneva Harvey said.

The head of the state Republican Party has weighed in on the council's action. In a written statement, Lenny Curry said the actions show problems with the mayor's leadership.

"A loss of this magnitude may happen once or twice in a mayor's term," Curry said. "Twice on one night demonstrates Mayor Alvin Brown's abject failure in persuasion, leadership and governing."

Brown was all smiles as he talked Wednesday about the council's actions, despite the criticism he's taking. Even many of the Democratic members voted against the mayor on taxes.

"I am not angry, I'm optimistic," he said.

The mayor said he will never work for a tax increase and is still hopeful pension reform will pass.

"First, I got to say I am always going to work with City Council," he said.

Council President Bill Gulliford isn't so sure. He surprised many Tuesday night when he put pension reform up for a vote, forgoing long weeks of discussion.

"I think it sends (a message that) while the pension reform he proposed was a first step to start, it certainly was not enough, nearly enough," Gulliford said.

As for a possible tax increase, Gulliford said the budget the mayor presented had too many holes and created problems.

"That's irresponsible, as far as I am concerned," he said. "So we had big problems. We have huge problems."

The head of Duval County's Democratic Party says the real blame goes the other way and that it's a failure of the council, not the mayor.

"Well, it's a Republican City Council president who is pushing for a tax increase for the citizens of Jacksonville," Neil Henrichsen said. "It's a Republican City Council president who defeated pension reform. So simply put, taking defeated pension reform, raising taxes, that's an epic failure for the citizens of Jacksonville."

Work on the budget starts in August, and Gulliford knows he will take criticism on the possible tax increase.

"I think we are trying to be as honest as we can be with the taxpayers," he said. "Hey, I pay taxes, too. I don't like increases, I don't one bit. And I know I have the potential to be hammered by that action, too."

"I'm an optimistic person," Brown said. "I believe there is no problem we cannot solve if we work together. It takes all of that and we will get it done."

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