Jacksonville City Council to take 1st tax rate vote

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - One week after Mayor Alvin Brown presented an austere budget and renewed his pledge not to raise taxes, City Council will take its first vote on the property tax rate for the coming year.

Council has two months to revise and approve a budget that has been widely criticized by Jacksonville's sheriff, fire chief and advocates for libraries, animal protection, parks, elderly and children's services and others.  But Tuesday night City Council must set the maximum millage rate -- the rate the city cannot exceed in the coming year.

If council accepts the mayor's request to keep the tax rate the same, it will have to find a way to balance the budget with no new revenue.  That would likely mean deep cuts to public safety, closing of libraries and other major cutbacks.

The council could give itself some breathing room and set the rate slightly higher, which could give an indication of where the council is headed in its budget negotiations.

"I can see someone advancing the idea of increasing the millage rate, but that in the form of an amendment," Councilman Bill Guliford said. "But it does not do anything but set the ceiling."

The taxable value of the average in Jacksonville is about $112,000.  In the current budget year, most homeowners saw a 4 percent drop in property taxes because the tax rate stayed flat and the value of their homes dropped. If council follows the mayors plan, that would happen again in the coming year.

The council may choose the option of the "rollback rate" -- a tax rate that would generate the same amount of revenue to the city.  Because property values are still dropping, that rate would actually increase the average homeowner's tax bill about $10 next year.

The council must legally set a maximum tax rate now so it can be mailed out to homeowners.

"If they set it low now and try to go higher later, we have to ... send the notices all again. That is about a $300,000 cost," said Duval County Property Appraiser Jim Overton.

Karen Robson, who lives in Murray Hill, says she would not mind paying a little more in taxes in order to keep parks libraries and other service available.

"Yeah, I think some creative moving of funds here and there is necessary in order for us to maintain our quality of life in Jacksonville," Robson said.

Daniel Montford, who also owns a home on the Westside, says a tax increase would hurt.  He would only support a slight tax hike if there's no other choice.

"I know there is a lot more thing you can do before raising the taxes on the people," Montford said.

Channel 4's Scott Johnson is attending the council meeting.  This story will be updated after they vote on the tax rate.

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