City Council approves 2015-16 budget

Jacksonville City Council passes Mayor Curry's budget with little opposition


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville City Council voted to approve a brand new city budget at its meeting Monday night, with Mayor Lenny Curry pushing capital improvements across the city as some of his top priorities.

The new mayor did not face much opposition from council members on his first budget plan since taking office. Overall, the vote went pretty smoothly for the mayor as the council approved the budget that Curry has said will focus on making Jacksonville a better place to live.

More police officers, crime prevention, capital improvements and extending library hours are all included in the $1.1 billion budget for the new year.

The priorities in Curry's first budget survived weeks of scrutiny by the Finance Committee and made it through the budget process relatively intact. Some are calling this the "honeymoon phase" between the new mayor and City Council, but increased revenues from both property and sales taxes also played a part in smoothing the budget process because it never required any discussion of tax increases.

Curry said that the first budget of his new administration was met with good reviews early on, a testament to some of the early decision he said he made early on.

"Well I put the right team in place that was committed to budget discipline and basically presenting a budget that balanced, reflected my priorities and it paid down debt. It invested in the city and it did all of that without a tax increase," Curry said. "We're watching every tax payer dollar now. We're committed to the tax payers. We're investing in things that have been neglected for years like roads, bridges, parks and I'm investing in police officers."

The latter was a major campaign issue during Curry's run for office, something he emphasized again Monday night.

"I believe that the most important function of government, at any level – federal, state, or local – is the safety of its people and this budget reflects making sure that Jacksonville is a safe city," Curry said. 

Some of the highlights from the budget include:

  • Over $1 million to hire 40 additional police officers and 40 community service officers
  • $37 million to repair the collapsed Liberty Street and some surrounding roads
  • $3 million extra to support the city's youth crime prevention program
  • $1 million to extend library hours

There were eight floor amendments to the budget filed by the noon Monday deadline, including restoring the positions of safety officers in Jacksonville Fire-Rescue, restoring the 2 percent cut from the salaries of City Council members in previous budgets and a $25,000 contribution to Jacksonville Beach's Fourth of July Celebration.

Though Curry was pleased and confident in his budget, there were some programs that local residents and groups in attendance were not happy would not be getting the funding they wanted.

One group's concern is that a day center for the homeless will no longer get city funding leaving many homeless people with nowhere to go, though Curry said there's more to the story.

"When you have a lot of people who are desperate they they're going to take a chance, and some of those chances are going to be vandalism to some of our properties, theft and other misdemeanor crimes," Terrance Jones, with the Springfield Preservation and Restoration Council, said.

Jones' concern comes from the de-funding of the Jacksonville Day Resource Center.

"The day center kind of helped us because before, we kind of had a problem with them coming to our community with no direction and nothing to do. Just lounging and loitering and panhandling, which affects our quality of life," Jones said.

But Curry's office said the center's funding was part of a two-year pilot program. It was put in place by the previous administration and was set to end this year.

Curry does say however that his administration plans to address the issue of homelessness in Jacksonville.

"I think any time that you have vulnerable folks, vulnerable families, military veterans, you have to take care of them and we're going to do that in the years ahead. There are good organizations in our city right now that do good work. We're going to support them and encourage them," Curry said.