Council prepared for long night approving Jacksonville's budget, setting tax rate

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

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville's City Council was still debating its 2014 budget late into Tuesday night and it's expected to go well into the morning hours. The debate has been going on since 5:00 p.m. Tuesday evening over the $1 billion budget for Jacksonville and a property tax hike of up to 15 percent to pay for it.

Despite weeks of budget hearings that restored much of the $51 million in city services that were cut when the proposal arrived from Mayor Alvin Brown, the proposal on the table Tuesday night faces more than 40 floor amendments.

Those amendments did not even begin to be discussed until after the public hearing portion of the meeting was over after 9 p.m.

WATCH LIVE: City Council budget, tax debate

One thing the council voted on was a plan to cut several positions from Jacksonville Human Rights Commission. The council also approved an amendment pushed by Councilman Richard Clark to fund the completion of construction of Kernan Boulevard to JTB.

The public will also have one more chance to speak up before the final vote that is likely to raise property taxes by at least 10 percent, which would cost the owner of a primary residence worth $200,000 about $225 more each year.

While councilmen deferred comments until after the meeting, most told Channel 4 that a tax increase was inevitable.

The council meeting starts at 5 p.m., and some members anticipate it will last into the wee hours of Wednesday morning.  News4Jax will stream the meeting in its entirety.

Taxpayers divided on need for higher taxes

Brown's original budget included layoffs of police officers, closing of fire stations and libraries and cutbacks across all city departments.

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."

While the tax is only on property owners, Wendell Davis of Watson Realty says renters will ultimately pay more, as well, as landlords pass the increase on to their tenants.

"Very likely there will be an attempt to raise the rent everywhere you can, even it 's $10, $15 a month," Davis said. "It may not seem like much, but it may be tight, and be the straw that breaks the camel's back."

Davis said the tax hike could also have an indirect affect on other charges, like property insurance rates.

"I personally already think I pay too much," said renter Kimberly Green. "I live near the beach, but when you think about how much your paying, it definitely adds up."

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