JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Mayor Lenny Curry begins his second term planning with a budget that promises to stay the course: Spend millions more on public safety without raising taxes.
His proposed $1.37 million 2019-20 budget, presented to Jacksonville City Council on Monday morning, increases public safety funding by $70 million. This funding will allow Sheriff's Office to expand the Shot Spotter program, used to alert police to gunshots in crime-ridden neighborhoods for faster response, NIBIN, the national database of bullets and shell casings found at crime scenes, and Cure Violence, the new program using public health strategies to combat the causes of violence
The budget also allocates money into school resource officers and programs to combat violence in Duval County's public schools. The budget includes a $2.6 million increase to the budget of the Kid's Hope Alliance, where the city and the State Attorney's Office are focusing efforts to help the city's under-served youth.
"I've held too many grieving mothers and I've spoken to too many young people that are facing real challenges every day for us to not take this seriously," Curry said. "We must demonstrate to our at-hope youth there is another way forward toward prosperity and a place away from danger. We must do more to ensure that every child in Jacksonville has access to quality education and the resources that they need to succeed."
For the Jacksonville Fire Department, Curry wants everything from a $5 million new firehouse in the Arlington area and another $5 million to upgrade and renovate fire stations across the city.
Randy Wyse, president of the Jacksonville Firefighters Association, said the city has grown over the last few years, and the Fire Department now has 60 stations, many needing some TLC.
"A lot of these stations were built in the '30s and '40s, and our apparatuses are much bigger and become more advanced. A lot more electrical needs, so some of these upgrades are needed," Wyse said.
The budget includes three new rescue units for Talleyrand, St. Nicholas and Mayport. It'll also provide funding to expand Fire Station 10, hoping to reduce call times and saving lives.
"Minutes matter. It saves lives, so anything that the city can do to enhance that response time," said Wyse.
When re-elected earlier this year, Curry told citizens to expect Downtown to look very different when he leaves office in four years.
"I'm 100% committed to make Downtown the heart of this city and the heart of Northeast Florida," Curry said. "We're going to continue to take bold actions this year and in the years ahead that will develop and reshare our Urban Core."
Among the items funding in the coming year: $1 million in matching funds as part of a five-year agreement for improvements at the Florida Theater, $1 million for improvements at the Ritz theater and Prime Osborn Convention Center and more than $2 million in drainage improvements in Brooklyn.
Sidewalks are also one of the top budget items on Curry's budget list, allocating $11 million to make neighborhoods more pedestrian-friendly. There's also $3 million set aside for upgrades and maintenance to parks and $500,000 for pool maintenance and upgrades.
He hopes to pump money into major historic buildings like the Ritz and Florida theatres, $2.5 million into drainage improvements in Brooklyn and dock development in Mayport.
The budget also allocates $5 million for capital improvements at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens and $1.5 million for dock development in Mayport.
The coming year's budget commits $20 million to capital upgrades at UF Health Jacksonville and millions to bring sidewalks and public buildings into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Curry said rising property values and tax revenues allow the city's budget to expand to without raising taxes.
One thing that wasn’t touched on in Monday's speech was the half-cent sales tax proposal to fund public schools building repairs and replacements. The Duval County School Board wants to have a decision on getting it on the ballot this year, but the mayor said he needs more specifics before he can fully support it.
"I am not telling the school board to put the brakes on what they want to do with their projects," Curry told News4Jax after the speech. "I have been very clear that we need to invest in our schools. They have infrastructure needs, but what they need is, very specifically, their priorities."
The mayor's budget proposal will get two public hearings and reviews by the Finance Committee, beginning Aug 7. The final budget must be approved by the full City Council prior to Oct. 1.