City Council members begin to scrutinize budget

Jacksonville Mayor Brown dealt two blows at Tuesday night's council meeting


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A line-by-line review of the Jacksonville's nearly $1 billion budget by Jacksonville City Council members began Thursday. The tedious and likely contentious process will likely take more than a month and could result in layoffs, cuts in city services and a property tax increase.

As the Finance Committee's process began, the mayor's office came under fire for not addressing possible cuts until late in the process. Under Mayor Alvin Brown's proposed budget, 77 city employees would lose there jobs, mostly in the parks department and libraries. The plan also called for an 18-percent cut to Jacksonville Fire-Rescue, which could be forced to close fire stations, and a 13-percent cut for the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.

Councilman John Crescimbeni said someone is not doing their job.

"A lack of management skill requiring all the folks that work for them comply to their request," he said. "I cannot fathom the chief financial officer making that request and not everyone complying with it. I don't get that. I would not tolerate that for one second that the sense I am getting from lots of letters, emails and calls, etc. Because what do you want to be as a community?"

"Well, this is not a reward and punishment situation that we are in, councilman (John) Crescimbeni," Ronnie Belton, the city's chief financial officer, said minutes into the budget hearing. "What we are trying to do at the end of the day is balance this budget."

"I understand that, Mr. Belton, but that is not the question," Crescimbeni said.

Last month, City Council voted to raise the cap on property taxes 15 percent and reject a negotiated settlement with the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund -- both defeats for the Brown administration.

The council faces a budget shortfall of $61 million for next year, which some say could grow over the coming months. City auditors say if the full 15 percent rate hike is implemented, it would generate around $65 million in revenue an cost the owner of a home with taxable value of $100,000 about $75.

When the budget is finalized prior to Oct. 1 -- the beginning of the 2013-2014 fiscal year -- the actual tax rate may be lower.

"I think where this is going is framing a debate in our community," council President Bill Gulliford said. "You can be cheap, but cheap is not the same as being frugal, and how do you end up being a first-rate city with second-rate service or no service?"