Jacksonville's $1 billion city budget goes to mayor

Mayor Alvin Brown has until Friday to exercise line-item veto

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After a meeting that spanned two days and 17 hours, the Jacksonville City Council Wednesday night voted 16-2 to pass a $1 billion budget for the next fiscal year.

City Council members say a 14 percent property tax increase they passed to fund the budget was necessary to fund essential city services. Mayor Alvin Brown, who vowed to avoid any sales tax, may veto some of the spending items.

"I can ... line by line, look at the budget," Brown said Thursday. "I can't veto the whole budget, but I can look at the budget and I do have veto power."

Caught in the middle are Duval County taxpayers.  City officials say owner of a $150,000 home who claims the $50,000 homestead exemption would pay $113 more in property taxes next year.

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

"Given what we've gone through, I would hope that the mayor would not veto any of those items and the budget will stay intact. I think we've done a good job," said Councilman Warren Jones.

The budget Brown proposed in July budget included a $61 million cut in services with no increase in taxes for property owners, but the City Council went with something much different.

Instead of reducing city services -- cuts that would have including layoffs of police officers and closing libraries and parks -- Council decided to bring in more tax revenue by having property owners pay a higher millage rate.

"My payment on my house is going to go up, I got my notice like everybody else. Mine is going to go up about $500," said City Council President Bill Gulliford. "Do I like that? Not a bit; not a bit. I can think of other things, including grandkids, that I'd rather spend that 500 bucks on."

Gulliford said Council had no choice but to raise the tax rate in order to avoid having to cut police officers and/or closing fire stations and libraries.

Councilman John Crescimbeni said the budget and taxes necessary to pay for it became "a political football."

"I would like to hear what the mayor has to say about it," Crescimbeni said. "If he is not interested in vetoing it, he may want to forgo calls from concerned citizens. If he is interested in voting it I would like to hear it from him."

Randy Wyse, head of the union that represents Jacksonville's firefighters, was pleased with the final budget.

"I think it was a good signal that public safety is important," Wyse said. "That pools libraries and senior citizens centers are all important. So I think the leaders of this city decided, 'You know it's important and we are going to fund it correctly.'"

Looking forward to next year, Gulliford said he's worried that if they don't resolve the police and fire pension fund issue, there will be an even bigger financial hole.

Councilman Jones is optimistic about the future.

"We're doing more with less. And we are trying to be more efficient. And I think we've cut all of the fat out of the budget, and we did that years ago, and we are treading water hoping the economy will turn around and the market - the property values will increase again," said Councilman Jones.

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