City Council passes budget, 14% tax hike

2-day, 14-hour debate ends with $1 billion spending plan

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After a 14-hour debate spread over two days, the Jacksonville City Council approved a $1 billion spending plan that avoids deep cuts in services and layoffs, but will cost property owners 14 percent more in property taxes.

On a vote of 16-2, Council approved a millage rate of 11.4419 -- a 14 percent increase over the current tax rate.   City officials say owner of a $150,000 home who claims the $50,000 homestead exemption would pay $140 more in property taxes next year.

Duval County residents:  Look up your home's taxable value

After weeks of budget hearings on the budget proposal presented by Mayor Alvin Brown, the Finance Committee had restored funding to avoid layoffs of police officers and keep three fire stations and six libraries open.

When the full Council started the approval process Tuesday evening, they were facing more than 40 amendments to put other specific programs back into the budget.  

By the time Tuesday night's meeting recessed until 2:15 a.m., Council had restored $449,000 to keep public libraries open on Saturdays, added $2.5 million to fund health care of indigent patients at UF Health Jacksonville, restored funding to the Justice Coalition, Children's Commission and the Bob Hayes Track Meet, authorized the extension of Kernan Boulevard to J. Turner Butler Boulevard and reduced cuts to other public programs.

With each budget amendment approved, the property tax rate needed to balance the budget went up.

"We're looking at 15 percent or more tax increase, and to me, that's unacceptable," said Councilman Stephen Joost. "I have a saying that everyone is a conservative until their program gets cut, and everyone is a liberal until they have to pay for it."

When Council reconvened at 2 p.m. Wednesday, they continued voting up and down amendments -- approving $1 million on right-of-way cleanup, $200,00o for maintenance at Hemming Plaza, $500,000 to restore funding for all city pools and $450,000 to keep the Mayport Ferry running.  They voted down $181,000 to the Meals On Wheels program and $200,00 for Jacksonville Legal Aid

In the end -- at 10 p.m. Wednesday -- Council passed a $1.05 budget and approved the tax increase to support the spending plan.

The budget now goes to the mayor to sign.  He can exercise a line-item veto on any of the spending items, but he cannot veto the property tax bill.

Mayor Brown's office sent Channel 4 the following statement about the budget's approval:

"The Mayor respects the hard work of the City Council and City staff on the budget. Mayor Brown will carefully review the Council-approved budget to determine whether he will use his line-item veto authority. As always, the Mayor's goals are to protect hard working taxpayers and promote the most efficient and effective delivery of services to residents and businesses.

"While the City Charter does not allow Mayor Brown to veto the City Council's tax increase, the Mayor has consistently opposed raising taxes. He presented a savings option that would have prevented tax increases or deep spending cuts by reforming the city retirement system. Those pension reforms would have saved $45 million in next year's budget and more than $1 billion over the long-term had Council approved them.

"Now that the budget process is nearing an end, Mayor Brown looks forward to working closely with Council members to achieve retirement reform, create jobs, boost economic development at JAXPORT, revitalize Downtown, and protect our brave military personnel and veterans."