City council prepares to vote on budget, tax hike

Finance committee restored $51 million for services cut by Mayor Brown


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After months of wrangling over funding city services and balancing the budget for the new year that begins next week, Jacksonville City Council faces a vote Tuesday night on raising property taxes.

Mayor Alvin Brown proposed a budget that would not require a tax increase, but called for layoffs of police officers, closing of fire stations and libraries and cutbacks across all city departments.

Over the course of weeks of hearings, the finance committee restored $51 million to the nearly $1 billion budget -- but that will require a property tax increase of roughly 10 percent.

Interests representing other city programs that still face cuts are expected to make last minute appear to restore funding, and some budget amendments may be filed from the floor Tuesday night.

The anticipated increase would cost the owner of a primary residence worth $200,000 about $225 more each year. Council must determine the exact amount of the increase this week.

North Arlington resident Marsha Merritt feels that paying taxes are money well spent, and increased revenue will benefit her community.

"I'm all for it," said Merritt. "You get what you pay for, if you want to live in a nice city with nice amenities."

Merritt says keeping 381 police officers on the job is imperative. So is keeping all Jacksonville fire stations and libraries open.

But not all property owners agree. Merritt's neighbor is tired of the cost of everything going up.

"That's disheartening to me," said Iris Preston. "I'm trying to put a child through college; I'm paying the normal bills. We're paying a lot of property tax as it is, in my opinion, everything is already going up."

Businesses who own property will also have to pay higher taxes.

Ken Hodges, who owns a handyman business, worries about how it would affect his customers, as well as his own family.

"The only cuts I think I could make in my life: not go out of eat," Hodges said. "We've already made a lot of cuts, so we would definitely have to make a few more."

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