Council members reluctant about mayor's proposed budgets

One budget includes pension reform, other does not

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Less than 24 hours after Mayor Alvin Brown released two versions of his preliminary budget to City Council, some council members are saying hold on.

The mayor's plans include a version with pension reform that saves the city millions, but council members say that has not been approved and they need a budget with real numbers.

Some say those numbers show a nearly $64 million deficit.

Brown says he hopes that version won't have to be used.

"We have six weeks to work throughout it," Brown said Tuesday. "I am very optimistic that we can really move forward on retirement."

Others say they can't be so optimistic. Councilman John Crescimbeni, who heads the finance committee, says right now the city can't count on pension reform.

"Not knowing if that is going to happen or not, I prefer to use the other budget because that is the world we live in at the present," Crescimbeni said.

As for what's on the table now, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office faces a $29 million cut if pension reform is not approved. Sheriff John Rutherford says those cuts can't happen.

"I am already 147 policemen short and 92 community service officers," Rutherford said. "It's early in the process. It's we got to find a way to make the dollars and expenses and revenues match up."

The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department also faces big cuts -- $12 million if pension is not approved.

"That could be pretty impactful to public safety," said Randy Wyse, president of the firefighter union. "Again, I am not the fire chief. It could mean closing stations."

Much of that depends on City Council and what it does with pension reform. The council has its own attorney now looking into what the city is proposing, and members are reluctant to talk about how they feel. But they do know how they feel when they see the projection if reform is not approved.

"It's a big number and it causes me some concern," Councilman Greg Anderson said. "I can promise you and I can promise the citizens that we are going to go though the budget with a fine-tooth comb."

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