Jacksonville mayor again calls public safety No. 1 priority

Lenny Curry proposes $1.3 billion budget for 2018-19 budget year

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Mayor Lenny Curry presented an expensive to-do list to Jacksonville City Council Monday as he laid out his budget for upcoming year.

The mayor's $1.3 billion proposed budget includes everything from road repairs to zoo improvements and fixing Friendship Fountain, but topping his list for a third year in a row: public safety.

"We must break the cycle of violence and hopelessness," Curry said. "One violent crime is one too many."

The biggest piece of the city's budget pie goes to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, with the mayor requesting a $30 million increase to fund 20 additional officers and a central crime center. That's a larger increase than Sheriff Mike Williams requested during budget meetings last month.

READ: JSO highlights proposed budget

Williams said the new budget would also fund a body camera program that would eventually outfit every officer with a camera. The Sheriff's Office is also opening a new communication center at Cecil Commerce Center as a backup 911 call system.

The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department's budget gets a $17 million increase, adding firefighters, a new fire station and four additional rescue units right away with more at the end of the year -- enough for one rescue unit at every station in the city.

The city has already reached a purchase agreement to buy land along Gate Parkway near Baymeadows Road for Station 63, which will take 24 months to complete. The fire chief says this would allow residents to see marked improvements in response times if the current stations covering the area aren't stretched so thin.

BUDGET DETAIL: Breakdown of proposed 2017-18 spending plan

More than $12 million would be spent on paving roads, $6 million on improving drainage and $120 million will go to UF Health to improve medical services.

"We’re extremely grateful for the mayor for including UF Health in the budget for this year," said Dr. Leon Haley, CEO of UF Health Jacksonville. "We believe we’re part of the fabric of the community and we deliver health care for all walks of life. We’re the region’s Level-1 trauma center. And this infrastructure budget will help us upgrade our facilities to meet the needs of the patients."

Curry also wants $41 million to fund children's programs. Of that, $1.7 million would pay for 60 new school therapists.

Curry put in money to increase branch library days and hours, including adding Mondays at Argyle, Beaches, Murray Hill, San Marco, South Mandarin, West and Willowbranch, and Fridays at Mandarin and Maxville. A new branch in Oceanway is also funded in this budget.

$161 million in capital improvement funding includes:

  • $12.5 million to remove, relocate Hart Bridge ramps
  • $12.3 million for repaving
  • $10.8 million to clean up black cemeteries
  • $6 million for drainage projects
  • $2.7 million for pedestrian crossings

"We restored what they requested," Curry said of the libraries. "It just demonstrates that Jacksonville is moving forward and a demonstrates what I said: (That) without pension reform, there would be no restoration of library hours. Without pension reform there would be no heavy investment in (capital improvement) and investment in public safety."

The budget also includes $10.8  million to clean up six neglected, predominantly black cemeteries.

"Now, being able to have the funding to implement it and do something where our constituents can be proud of where their loved ones are able to go there and have an opportunity without going through weeds," said newly appointed District 8 Councilwoman Ju’Coby Pittman. "It’s a place of history as well. I’m on top of it and I’m ready to work."

Pittman also described the mayor's budget proposal as "very diverse" and "inclusive." 

Also in the mayor's budget is a request for money to demolish the ramp off the Hart Bridge in front of TIAA Bank Field. The federal government has already refused to fund the project, but the mayor's office has recommended partnering with the state to spend $25 million on the project.

The  mayor believes tearing down the ramp is key to opening up development of the Shipyards and an entertainment district at the stadium. 

"We believe the $25 million take us a long way and getting the first phase done," Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa said.

District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer, former council president, said was was "really pleased" about the reinvestment in capital improvement and infrastructure. 

The city is also going to spend $500,000 to begin the process of building a new Medical Examiner’s Office.

City Council will be begin reviewing the proposed budget. It must be approved by the end of September, as the fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

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