Mayor Curry presents $1.5B budget proposal to Jacksonville City Council

A property tax rollback, money for riverfront development downtown, a new fire station and more money stashes away for emergencies in the reserve fund -- those were just some of the things Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry highlighted Thursday morning in his budget address to City Council.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A property tax rollback, money for riverfront development downtown, a new fire station and more money stashes away for emergencies in the reserve fund -- those were just some of the things Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry highlighted Thursday morning in his budget address to City Council.

The mayor laid out how he wants to spend $1.5 billion of your taxes.

In his final budget before he leaves office, Curry focused on parks and development along the river and downtown, including the former site of The Jacksonville Landing. The now vacant lot could be Curry’s legacy mark on Jacksonville. As part of his final budget, the mayor proposed a $25 million investment for a new park at the site.

The plans for the park, particularly a “Jax” statue, have drawn some criticism (and comedy), but the mayor said it demonstrates his commitment to a series of river parks.

RELATED: Design plan featuring massive ‘Jax’ sculpture picked for former Jacksonville Landing site | Company pokes fun at new Jacksonville statue by creating ‘Lerp?’ socks

Curry is also budgeting $15 million for Metro Park renovations, $7 million for extending the Riverwalk to Metro Park and helping to relocate the Museum of Science and History -- MOSH -- to the new Kids Kampus being developed across from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office headquarters downtown where the Fire Museum has been moved and where the USS Orleck will eventually be docked.

“You can’t be a suburb of nowhere. That’s what I’ve been preaching. And it’s taken a long time to prepare downtown to where it is today, which is right for development all along the riverfront,” Curry said. “I expect the next mayor and the next council will be cutting a lot of ribbons over the next eight years that we laid the groundwork for, and I’ll be happy to see that.”

Curry argued that his budget is set apart from past administrations because it is investing in every corner of the city.

“I understand it’s good to have the glitzy projects and building buildings. We’re doing that stuff and the big signature things, but I’m talking to the people of Jacksonville right now. Your parks, your sidewalks, your roads, we are investing in every corner of the city. Finally, this administration,” Curry said.

The mayor has much more money to work with this year. With property values going up, the city is bringing in close to $100 million more to spend on various programs. That is why the mayor wants to roll back the property tax rate slightly.

Most were excited to hear about the property tax rollback. Although it really won’t be noticeable -- amounting to a little more than $18 for a $200,000 home -- it is a savings. News4JAX asked the mayor after his budget address why the tax rate wasn’t rolled back even more so people could see even more savings.

“It’s the first tax cut since 2007. We are financially sound right now. I talked about that in my budget address. With the guidance and advice of my financial folks -- my CFO and my CAO -- this was a responsible tax cut,” Curry said. “It will also allow us to continue to increase our reserve. We have lived through in Jacksonville an economic crisis where city government was squeezed and constrained, and they couldn’t provide services and they laid people off. We have set the city of Jacksonville up for the next mayor and the next council for whatever may come with them.”

We asked council members who will make the final decision on where the money will be spent if the mayor’s plan is where the city needs to be heading now and if the tax cut will help or hurt.

“We have to be sure that if we’re doing a cut like that, it’s really going to benefit the citizens and not be eaten up in inflationary, especially with inflation the way it is now, so I think we have a lot of work to do,” said City Councilwoman Joyce Morgan, a member of the finance committee.

City Council vice president Ron Salem said the budget takes on many of his concerns.

“Well my priorities are always public safety, and I was glad to hear the emphasis on new fire stations, bringing down people’s property insurance rates and that’s a good thing,” Salem said. “Adding to reserves is also very important to me because we don’t know what the future holds.”

As for the overall budget, council members say it’s heading in the right direction.

“It’s addressing infrastructure, riverfront parks, our disadvantaged population, the neighborhoods that need more public core, the streets, the drainage, the curbs and gutters,” City Councilman Matt Carlucci said.

But not everyone is happy. The Northside Coalition issued a statement Thursday, saying the weakest part of the mayor’s budget is the fact that it does not direct JSO to be more accountable for how its money is spent.

RELATED: $37M budget increase request for JSO won’t mean more officers on streets, interim sheriff says

It will now be up to City Council to decide where the budget will go and how the money will actually be spent. They will begin their reviews next month and decide if we will get the tax break, no matter how small.


About the Author:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.