Money, money, money: New mayor weighs budget

City Council meets with mayor, participates in training session for new members

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The city's budget was the focus for new Mayor Lenny Curry on his first full day in office Thursday.

As expected, he plans to ask for funds for more police and firefighters, but he said he is also going to make fixing the Liberty Street collapse a priority. He also plans to ask to borrow money to fund more police cars for the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.

Curry met with the newly sworn in Jacksonville City Council for an informal luncheon. He must present his budget to the City Council in 18 days, and Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa laid the budget priorities out for the City Council.

Council members said they were glad to hear early what to expect from the mayor's budget.

"We have to hit the ground running, especially with the budget dropping soon, so just having the opportunity to have dialogue certainly meeting sunshine requirements in what the mayor is trying to accomplish," Councilwoman Anna Lopez Brosche said. "And doing our role to make sure we are in support of that."

Mousa told the council there will be an additional $25.6 million to work with this year, because property values have increased and more tax money will be coming into the city. He also pointed out that new police officers and firefighters will likely be paid for with government grants.

Curry also talked Thursday about funding the city's $1.7 billion pension deficit outside of the city budget.

He said they will budget what is required by law for this year, but that after the budget is done, they will consider another idea that could help pay down the huge deficit.

"There's still a lot of work that's got to be done to know if it's even a reality, so it's way premature," Curry said. "It's an idea that is simply a possibility. And after we get through budget, we will spend time deciding whether or not it's something we can sell, package and present."

Curry also told the council they had to something about the huge hole still sitting in the middle of Liberty Street after a portion of the road collapsed five months ago.

"This is ridiculous," Curry said. "Now that we are in office, we are going to move on that quickly."

Curry said city employees won't be getting pay raises and didn't rule out that some city employees could be laid off.

"We are going to evaluate the employees of the city," Curry said. "I think we've got really good employees here. We just need to know who they are and what they do, and we are going to be doing that in the weeks and months ahead."

Curry will present his budget to the council July 20. The council will have hearings on it through the summer and will vote on it in September.

"He understands the urgency of things that we haven't seen in the last four years. He gets things done, makes people accountable," Councilman Bill Gulliford said. "All the things you see in the private side because you've got to have that in the private side. If he imposes that in the city, we will be a much better run city."

Along with Gulliford and other veteran council members, the 11 new City Council members conducted a training session Thursday for new council member Joyce Morgan, who will take on a high-profile position for her first term on the council.

"I am going to be floor leader, so it's going to be a little different than being the regular council member who is sitting there and just voting," Morgan said.

The training sessions allowed Morgan to practice the procedures required by law and get to know the council.

Another new council member, Tommy Hazouri, is an old pro with Jacksonville government. Hazouri is a former Jacksonville mayor and school board member. Hazouri, like the mayor and most of the council, said public safety is No. 1 and some changes need to be made. But Hazouri said there are other big issues as well.

"After that, you've got Downtown, the (Human Rights Ordinance) that needs to be addressed in the fall and hopefully will be addressed sooner than later," Hazouri said. "If you're going to have one city and one people, then you better have your act together and make sure nobody is left behind in Jacksonville." 

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