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Finance committee finalizing deep budget cuts

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville's finance committee will meet again Tuesday to finalize deep budget cuts that will affect every department in the city.

Committee members are also recommending eliminating capital improvement projects to balance the budget, including the $11 million proposal to renovate the Jacksonville Landing.

Built in 1987, the Landing is the River City's landmark, one business owners say is long overdue for renovations after two decades of wear and tear. But finance committee members say that money just isn't in the budget, even though downtown redevelopment is a top priority.

"I think everyone thinks the Landing needs to be renovated, I truly do," said Sherry Lyford, who's owned a business at the Landing for the last three years. "It's just an old building now."

Lyford said she's deeply disappointed to learn no new changes are on the way.

"I think renovations would help with the convention center and would look better for a our city here," Lyford said.

She's not the only one feeling the budget pinch. Every department in the city is facing 2.5 percent cuts across the board, including the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department.

"Pain and suffering. It's hard," Councilman Bill Gulliford said.

He said difficult conversations were held behind closed doors at City Hall on Monday about where those cuts are coming from. Some of them are likely to be city jobs.

"I feel badly about anything that affects somebody's life," Gulliford said. "I feel bad we had to cut money for social services targeting people in need. But first and foremost, we have to be fiscally responsible."

Gulliford said the committee started out $50 million in the hole, proposing cuts to the budget of more than 70 city departments, including Public Works, pension, fire and police, and dozens more. Gulliford said the cuts won't only affect local jobs but also the quality of service, including officers who patrol the streets.

"The main impact is going to be with slower response time, fewer officers to respond to call, and a possible increase in violent crimes," said News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith.

He said the cuts would also hurt police morale.

"They'll probably have fewer breaks, fewer officers can take off vacation time, leave, and that wears on an officer over a period of time," Smith said. "They can become irritable. You never know what they're attitude could be like over a long period of time."

The finance committee will meet at 1 p.m. Tuesday to iron out the details of the budget, and then the full City Council will meet Tuesday evening for a public hearing and tentative vote. The budget must be completed by the end of the month.