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City leaders consider closing 3 fire stations

Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee also may cut early-voting sites, eliminate $7 from next year's pension contribution

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – City leaders continuing to look for ways to slash next year's budget on Friday discussed closing fire stations, cutting the number of early-voting sites in Duval County in half and making a one-time $7 million reduction in contribution to the pension fund.

After weeks of meetings looking for items to trim from Mayor Alvin Brown's $1 billion spending plan, the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee said they had whittled the deficit from $22 million to $11 million.

City County Finance Committee members said they'll likely recommend closing Fire Station 11 on Talleyrand Avenue, Station 12 in St. Nicholas and Station 14 in Avondale and eliminating 33 firefighter jobs. Those cuts would save the $3 million per year.

Fire Chief Martin Senteriff said that decision would increase response times, adding that fire stations should be the last place city leaders should look when trying to save money.

"Obviously in those areas, response times would go up and service would go down," Senterfitt. "Unfortunately though, in these tight economic times, any additional cuts will relate to service delivery cuts, and that's the simple reality of where we're at."

Committee members are also considering cutting nine of the 18 early voting sites, a move the Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland said could disenfranchise voters.

"In this state, in this primary, more than half the voters voted prior to Election Day, to go backward and reduce early voting sites would be devastating," Holland said.

The elections office is also facing elimination of two $26,000-per-year administrative jobs.

The Finance Committee is also trying to identify additional city employees whose jobs can be eliminated next year in order to balance the budget.

Committee members are also considering contributing $7 million less to the pension fund next year. City auditors said this move isn't guaranteed to work, but the committee is trying to find creative ways to save money.

"It may be short at the end of the year, but the pension fund has a stabilization account that's just for this purpose," Councilwoman Lori Boyer said.

The Mayor's office released a statement Friday.

"We're disappointed that the Finance Committee eliminated key investments in critical priorities like Downtown revitalization, job creation, parks, and quality of life. We're also disappointed in the tone of the process.  It was not the kind of collaborative effort that produces the best results for Jacksonville taxpayers."

The Finance Committee must have a balanced budget bill the full Council can vote on by the end of the month, as the city's new fiscal year begins Oct. 1


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