Day 2: City Council budget battle continues
After meeting for 9 hours, council said to be halfway through amendments
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After Tuesday night's marathon meeting, City Council was back at it Wednesday afternoon, continuing to hear amendments to add more spending to a nearly $1 billion budget that will require at least a 13 percent property tax hike.
As of 5 p.m., Council has considered 30 of at least 43 expected amendments to restore services or funding that didn't make it into the budget passed out of the Finance Committee, which had already added millions of dollars to prevent police officer layoffs, keep fire stations and libraries open and save other programs that were left out of Mayor Alvin Brown's budget proposal.
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.
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"Yesterday's meeting started at 5, I think we left here at 2:15, 2:20 or something in the morning. We're back here now and it takes its toll. Sitting in one place, dealing with all this detail, monotonous debate. It's uh, it's tiring, it's frustrating," said Councilman, John Crescimbeni.
"We need to get done," Council President Bill Gulliford said as he graveled them back into session at 2 p.m.
Each member has his or her own priorities -- almost all saying they're working to make education, public safety and the economy strong points in our city.
"We should take care of babies and senior citizens. They're our most precious assets," said council member Johnny Gaffney.
With each budget amendment approved, the property tax rate goes up. In July, Council set a maximum increase of 1.5 mills. By Wednesday afternoon, the amount needed to balance the approved spending plan was 1.34.
Late in the afternoon, the council voted 8-10 on an amendment to restore $181,000 to the Meals On Wheels program.
"It seems like some on this council are turning a deaf ear to those who need and rely on city services," councilman Warren Jones said. "Helping the elderly is at the top of my list."
Other amendments that went down to defeat would have funded fireworks at Jacksonville Beach and restored jobs in behavioral health unit.
"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."
Items the council did sign off on were for $1 million on right-of-way cleanup and moving across the city and $500,000 to restore funding for all city pools.
"Imagine for a moment that you brought a visitor who has never been to the city of Jacksonville. And you brought him through Hemming Plaza on the way to our city Hall. Would he be impressed? Would you be embarrassed? This is an abomination as far as I'm concerned. So we have got to get this thing straightened out," said Guilliford.
The meeting will continue into Wednesday evening. Channel 4 will continue to report on the developments and update this article. There'll be a full report on The Local Station at 10 p.m.
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