JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry on Wednesday laid out his upcoming budget to the City Council, and right now, it does not call for a tax or fee increase.
But that may not be the mayor’s call. Some Jacksonville City Council members are already saying it’s a possibility.
It was Curry’s sixth budget presentation, and this one was unique in many ways. It comes in the middle of a pandemic and social unrest. The economy is slow because of the coronavirus shutdown.
“Despite the many challenges this year has brought us, I still have a bunch of optimism and faith in the people of the city,” Curry said.
The mayor is proposing a $1.34 billion budget, which is about $100 million more than the budget approved last year.
“With this budget, I maintain the top spending priority for public safety,” stated Curry, who said it includes funding for renovations for fire stations.
“But this budget also includes prevention and inner intervention programs like Cure Violence.”
Of the budget, $250 million is for capital improvements -- city projects like a new library in Oceanway. Of that, $100 million is targeted to go to Northwest Jacksonville, where promises made during consolidation more than 50 years ago were never kept. There will be an emphasis on road, sewer and drainage projects.
“I can tell you this area has been neglected,” said Northwest Jacksonville resident James Evans Muhammad. “There is not a commercial attraction to this community. People are moving out. Young people who are getting educated are moving out They see this community has a sore eye. They don’t see an opportunity over here. This is the only grocery store within a 5-mile radius.”
Curry was vague about funding. He left the meeting before City Council members could ask about that. City Councilman Garrett Dennis questioned the mayor’s second-in-command, Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes, about that.
“The mayor did not talk about how much debt we are taking on with this $1.3 billion budget. Are there any tax increases? Are there any fees that are being increased, disguised tax increases being disguised as fee increases?” Dennis said. “We need to know that.”
Hughes responded: " There are no tax increases in this budget. City Council would certainly have the ability to change that if they like.”
City Council President Tommy Hazouri and others talked about that possibility.
“I think we need the flexibility depending on what the pandemic does between now and Oct. 1,” Hazouri said.
News4Jax asked City Councilwoman Brenda Priestly Jackson, who represents the Northwest Jacksonville area, whether she believes the City Council might include a possible tax or fee increase to take care of some of the issues that need to be addressed.
“I think it’s a real possibility,” she said. “This blanket assertion that we’re not gonna have any new taxes in the middle of a pandemic recession, lay it on top of unfilled promises of well over almost 60 years now, that doesn’t seem to me like an open and engaging way to approach this. I don’t know.”
The budget is now in the hands of the City Council. Members will debate this though the summer and vote on it at the end of September.
Last year’s budget
Last year, the mayor proposed a $1.37 billion budget. It included a $70 million increase in public safety spending. ShotSpotter technology, the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network (NIBIN) and Cure Violence sites were purchased or funded.
The budget approved by the City Council was $1.2 billion.
The property tax rate did not change for that budget.
Last year’s budget also began a three-year $2.25 million funding plan for the Jacksonville Landing.