Council members take aim at Mayor's Office

Both sides at odds over budget process

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville's budget battle is turning into a budget war.

City Council members took shots at the mayor Friday, saying his plan will put the city in major debt. Council members met to talk about major city projects, but it went nowhere.

They said they didn't get updated information on the projects in time for the meeting.

Council member said they wanted to look over new information handed to them prior to Friday's meeting. They don't want to vote on something they just received.

Mayor Alvin Brown's budget calls for major improvements for downtown and other areas of Jacksonville. It also calls for the city to borrow up to $213 million to pay for it.

It's called the bank fund. It's like a credit card. And if the city agrees to everything the mayor wants, the balance of that fund will go up to $800 million.

Many council members said the city is over-spending and can hardly keep up with the minimum payment.

"You are not going to be able to afford the debt service and pay my policemen, my librarians and people mowing parks," said Councilman Richard Clark, chairman of the Finance Committee. "It's going to start dipping into the way we pay our bills."

The council was expected to debate those issues and some of the major items known as the Capital Improvement Projects, but the Mayor's Office made some revisions to those at the request of City Council, and many council members didn't get the updated list in time for the meeting. That set off a wave of sharp criticism for the mayor and his staff.

"It's been a completely frustrating day," said Councilman John Crescimbeni. "Something is terribly wrong with our budget assembly process. I don't know if it's ineptitude or lack of paying attention or what."

But the Mayor's Office said it is paying attention and is there to answer questions about the budget.

"We have tried to respond as quickly as possible," Mayor's Office spokesman David DeCamp said. "As you guys have noted, the department heads and senior staff have been down here to address concerns. When we get a question we try to answer it as quickly as possible. And there is no reason to believe this budget is not on course to be approved Sept. 23."

About the Author: