Priorities old & new form Curry’s $1.4B budget proposal

Public safety remains mayor’s top priority, but public health is now part of that

VIDEO: Mayor Lenny Curry presented a $1.4 billion budget proposal to the City Council, laying out a vision for Jacksonville that combines new priorities resulting from the pandemic and an effort to honor the city’s past commitments to invest in overlooked neighborhoods.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Mayor Lenny Curry presented a $1.4 billion budget proposal Tuesday to the City Council, laying out a vision for Jacksonville that combines new priorities resulting from the pandemic and an effort to honor the city’s past commitments to invest in overlooked neighborhoods.

The spending plan, Curry’s seventh since taking office in 2015, represents an increase over last year’s $1.3 billion budget. Besides setting aside more money for public health and efforts to combat sea-level rise, it calls for investments in the mayor’s top priority, public safety, with budget increases for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, as well as crime intervention.

“This budget is a demonstration of the administration’s commitment to sound stewardship of taxpayer dollars, while investing in priorities and initiatives to keep our community moving forward,” Curry told the Council and city employees gathered in the council chambers.

RELATED: Proposed budget includes $100M for Jacksonville parks, pools & libraries

Aside from the operating budget, the mayor promoted a $500 million capital improvement plan that includes tens of millions of dollars aimed at addressing critical infrastructure needs.

Among them: $50 million for a septic tank phase-out project; $54 million in drainage and resiliency projects; $24 million for countywide road resurfacing; and $50 million for parks, pools, libraries and quality-of-life upgrades.

Notably, there is no millage rate increase factored into the budget for capital projects. Instead, the city is counting on a blend of proceeds from the gas tax increase, reserves, pension reform savings and American Rescue Plan funding to overhaul its aging infrastructure.

The mayor singled out the long-overdue septic tank project, saying it was a promise made to local neighborhoods decades ago. Now, he said, thanks to the “Jobs For Jax” program funded by the city’s gas tax increase, the city can finally live up to that promise.

“Since taking office in 2015, I made it a priority to invest in communities and neighborhoods throughout all of Duval County,” Curry said. “And we’ve done that, but because of years of neglect and underinvestment, we are still not where we need to be. Last year, my team and I proposed a record-setting CIP to improve infrastructure and address critical needs. And because of the approval of Jobs For Jax, we’re now able to go even further with projects that improve conditions, enhance quality of life and create better environments where citizens and businesses thrive.”

Speaking to the continuing need for investments in public safety, the mayor discussed the importance of using a three-legged approach: enforcement, prevention and intervention. As News4Jax previously reported, JSO is requesting a $514 million budget, a $30 million increase that the sheriff says will shore up the corrections and patrol divisions.

While he did not discuss in detail how much JSO’s budget would grow or how that money would be spent, Curry said the city intends to invest more in diversion programs, like Cure Violence, which is set to receive funding for a third site.

Curry said the fire department, which is proposing a $313 budget, will be adding 70 new personnel, which includes firefighters, fire plan review employees and a physician who would provide support to the fire chief’s scholarship and apprentice program.

Like police, he said, pay increases are included in the budget for firefighters, saying first responders deserve raises because they “have persevered in a moment in history like no other.”

A new public safety priority identified during the COVID-19 pandemic is the need to invest in public health infrastructure, the mayor said. As a result, the city plans to ratchet up its contribution to UF Health Jacksonville by $5 million, bringing it up to $35 million with the goal of increasing it to $40 million the following year.

“One thing the pandemic has made clear is that wise communities invest in public health infrastructure,” the mayor said. “We’ve done that and we’re continuing and enhancing that practice this year by increasing our funding for UF Health by $5 million to support their work to serve those in need in our community.”

Aside from allocating more funding for public health, the mayor also spoke of the need for significant investment in efforts to make the city’s infrastructure more resilient to the consequences of sea-level rise, a growing threat for Florida’s low-lying communities.

He said the $54 million budgeted for drainage and resilience projects represents a “five-fold increase over last year and the start of a comprehensive, multi-year, transformative response to the effects of sea-level rise.”

As with first responders, Curry’s budget also includes pay raises for civilian employees.

“These agreements properly invest in our people and reward them for keeping this government running through a pandemic in the face of unknowns and supports them on a hard road ahead and continuing our path to recovery.”

The proposed budget still requires approval from the City Council, which is expected to take it up and vote on it by the end of September. If it passes muster, it would take effect beginning Oct. 1.

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