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Mayor Curry calls for more spending; no new taxes

New administration proposes $1.14 billion budget for Jacksonville

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JACKSONVILLE, FLa. – One month after he was elected, Jacksonville's new mayor appeared before City Council Monday morning to lay out his $1.14 billion spending plan for the coming year. The plan calls for more police officers and firefighters, plus money for roads, bridges, sidewalks and libraries.

Mayor Lenny Curry began his budget address by telling about a dream he had after celebrating his birthday Sunday. It was about presenting the plan to Council.

"I walked in, you all stood up and said, 'Happy birthday. Your gift is we accept your budget as is,'" Curry said.

UNCUT: Budget address to City Council
 Mayor Lenny Curry speaks about budget

Curry is calling for $402 million to fund the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, which includes 32 administrative employees, 897 corrections personnel, 389 working in investigations and homeland security and more than 1,200 patrol and enforcement officers.

The addition of 40 sworn police officers would be funded by a combination of federal and state grant.

Jacksonville Fire-Rescue will receive $210 million next year. That includes 910 employees in fire operations and another 316 in the rescue division.

Curry discussed additional benefits for other city employees, but no raises proposed for next year.

"There is money set aside so, when we go back to collective-bargaining, there is the opportunity and potential for that," Curry said when asked about raises. "We are not going to walk in snap our fingers and say 'across-the-board pay increases.'"

The budget does call for the city to borrow money to replace an aging fleet of police cars and other city vehicles, but Curry said his plan will reduce the city's current debt load by $75 million.

"Unlike recent years, this budget, there are no slight of hands, no gimmicks, no unfunded personnel positions or unattainable salary lapse factors. Gone are the days of little to no budget discipline and sloppy accounting. Gone are the days of those that failed to show you, the taxpayer  the value of the hard work and sweat that you put into every single tax dollar that comes into this government," Curry said. "The budget is balanced and it has the funds to do the projects we proposed. What's important is that overall -- even though there's some new debt in this -- we are reducing debt by $75 million."

Budget ordinances introduced to City Council: General spending | Capital improvement projects

City Council President Greg Anderson said Curry can fund more public safety and other new spending because property values have increased, as well as higher sales tax revenues anticipated from the state over the next year.

The initial reactions from Council are mostly positive.

"First of all, I've heard it, and it appears to be truly balanced," City Councilwoman Lori Boyer said. "No great extraordinary lapse. Nothing out of whack, which means that our work becomes very different."

Councilman Reggie Brown said the council will be hotly debating where the money for capital improvement projects will go.

"We can take care of downtown. We can take care of the shipyard area, but the excitement will only last for a short period of time," Brown said. "Because when they go back to their neighborhoods, if their neighborhoods are not fixed, I assure you that excitement goes away." 

The mayor's capital improvement plan for the next five years includes funding for five new fire stations, replacing four others and relocating another fire station.

The budget also calls for more money for infrastructure, which includes millions to repair Liberty Street and Coast Line Drive, which have been closed since a collapse in February, and $900 to fund the Mayport Ferry.

"The budget before you increases funding for litter, pickup and grass mowing," Curry said. "It invests in parks, bridges, roads, our sports complex, sidewalks and building improvements,  many of which have been neglected. I am proposing $70 million in new capital projects."

The city still has to come up with a dedicated funding source to bring down the deficit from the police and fire pensions.

The council has to pass the city budget before the fiscal year begins Oct. 1


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