City has extra $17M for this year's budget

Increase in tax revenue marks first since 2009

By Jim Piggott - Reporter
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - In two weeks the mayor will present his budget for the city, and for the first time since 2009, the city is seeing an increase in tax revenue.

That means it looks like city services won't be cut and there could be some improvements.

Departments like the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office are already asking for more money to make up for cuts in the past, and the mayor is looking at his options.

It will take $1 billion to run the city next year, money that may not involve a tax increase. Property values have increased in Jacksonville, bringing in an additional $17 million.

"We feel good this year that we see economic growth in the community. So the tax base is stronger," said Dave DeCamp, of the Mayor's Office. "That allows us to make some strategic decisions, and that is what we are considering right now."

One department under consideration is the Sheriff's Office, which has a total budget of nearly $400 million, a $10 million increase over last year. The sheriff said Friday he could use $22 million more, which would allow him to hire 40 new officers and rehire 40 community service officers, plus replace his aging fleet of police cars.

"We are desperate. Our fleet is in a desperate place," Sheriff John Rutherford said. "It doesn't do any good to have officers if you can't put them in cars. Normally we like a 4- to 5-year-old fleet, but we're much older than that now."

Requests like that were turned down in years past. The administration is now taking a different approach.

"We are strongly considering what the sheriff has suggested, as well as other departments," DeCamp said. "So over the next two weeks we will be making those final decisions."

Contrary to previous years in recent history when there was a threat of closing fire stations, the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department's budget is about $204 million, with a $7.9 million increase.

Libraries have also been a problem in years past, with hours cut and threats of closing doors on the horizon. The library board is suggesting to close one branch, but there is talk of building a new library on the Northside. The library budget is at $32.1 million.

The mayor will present his budget on July 14. City Council, which is now on break, will then discuss it this summer. New committees were recently announced and Richard Clark will be over the finance committee, which focuses on the budget.

As for pensions, $190 million for the city this year is going toward that and will be in the budget. What won't be is pension reform, at least at this point. And the plans presented by the mayor, if approved by council, won't affect this budget.

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