COVID-19 could mean less money in Jacksonville’s budget for projects

Thursday was 1st day of budget hearings

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As Jacksonville City Council members try to decide how to spend taxpayer dollars, they are learning that COVID-19 is having an effect on the amount of money available.

Thursday was the first day of budget hearings, which will go on all month, and there’s already a big divide.

In July, Mayor Lenny Curry presented a $1.3 billion budget to the City Council. There was no tax increase in his proposed budget. Now, council members are delving into it, and there are questions as to how much money Jacksonville will really have on hand to spend.

The council auditor is suggesting tax dollars that the city receives from the state and other revenue like gas tax dollars are going to be much less than what the mayor budgeted for. That means there could be a $2.5 million hole when it comes to money for some special projects.

Some council members say that could be a problem down the line with road projects and other projects in their district, and that is what they are worried about

The mayor’s office says its figures should work out in the end. Council member LeAnna Cumber agrees and says the city should trust the mayor. She says she does not want to see City Council cut that money from the budget

“I, for one, would like to keep all my projects in my district. I know everyone else would who are district council members,” Cumber said. “As you vote for this, I would think the district council members need to understand that we have to get the money from somewhere because it does not just materialize. We can’t just raise taxes because we put ourselves in a hole.”

But council member Randy DeFoor says that’s what they are there for — to examine the spending.

“This is what we are here to do. If this isn’t what you are here to do, maybe you are not on the right committee. This is what the purpose of the committee is to make sure we look at this budget with a critical eye,” DeFoor said.

Cumber said: “We are on day one and we’re putting ourselves in a big hole. I would take exception to another council member saying I should not be on a committee. Because I have a different viewpoint than you does not mean I should not be on the committee. I supposed you could take that up with the council president if you feel strongly about that. But my point is it’s really important to me to make sure I am very careful with our taxpayer dollars.”

Again, Thursday was just day one, and there is much more debate to be had over the budget. There is concern about possibly having to raise fees for garbage or other services. That will be taken up at a later date.

But the council is also looking to see how the coronavirus pandemic might also save some money — for example, the millions of dollars spent on the Gator Bowl and Florida-Georgia football games. Those could be scaled back, which would mean less spending by the city.

While seven council members are reviewing the budget, the full council will have the final word and must pass it by the end of September.

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