Mayor unveils $953 million budget plan

New budget includes 'catastrophic' cuts police, fire department

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Mayor Alvin Brown unveiled his 2013-2014 budget plan to Jacksonville City Council Monday morning, calling for $61 million in cuts. He urged the council to approve a pending pension agreement with police and firefighters to avoid adopting a budget requiring deep cuts to public safety, libraries, parks and just about every other city agency.

Brown said this is the third year in a row he has faced a significant budget deficit, and the third year he has presented a balanced budget while keeping his commitment to not raising taxes. But the $953 million budget he unveiled -- which calls for a 14-percent cut to every department -- would close three fire stations, lay off police officers, and close six libraries, three-quarters of the city's community centers and half the city's swimming pools.

Brown admits that Fire Chief Marty Senterfitt calls these cuts catastrophic and Sheriff John Rutherford calls the budget a violation of public safety.

"I don't want to make these cuts. You don't want to make these cuts. They are unacceptable or the long-term good of our city and our neighborhoods," Brown told Council. "The solution is reform.  We must reform the city retirement system. This is our biggest challenge."

DOCUMENT: Read mayor's proposed 2013-14 budget

Brown says the pension agreement would save the city $45 million in the coming year and $1.2 billion over 30 years.

After hearing the speech, Councilman Richard Clark blasted the mayor's budget.

"We don't even know where the cuts are going. They don't even know where the cuts are going," Clark said. "It's the epitome of a combination of complete laziness and total incompetence. It's a ridiculous excuse for a budget."

Other council members have said it wants to consider the pension agreement on its own merits and not be forced into a decision based on this year's budget concerns.

Council President Bill Gulliford said this budget just cuts without thinking.

"Think about your personal budget," he said. "Do you cut your grocery bill the same amount as you cut your entertainment budget if you saw your revenue shrink? Of course not. You prioritize."

Brown reiterated he will not raises taxes to get out of the budget crisis.

"When I hear the call to raise taxes, I think of senior citizens on fixed incomes who struggle to pay electricity bills each month," he said. "I think about the families that need every dollar in the struggle to make ends met. "Let me be clear: I will not add to their struggle by asking them to bare the burden of higher taxes."

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office stands to lose about $30 million. Rutherford said last week he will not lay off officers, so he has to come up with some plan to deal with the shortfall. He won't say what that is.

"You can't be a great city and cut all of your resources for your community," Rutherford said. "So I'm sure there are options out too that need to be investigated to resolve this situation."

Senterfitt said this is just the start, and in the past there's been a totally different budget when council gets through reviewing it.

"Allow the process to work," he said. "To get into any panic or emotional state this stage of the game is really too early."

It will be up to councilman Greg Anderson, the chair of the finance committee, to lead the discussions on the budget cuts this summer. He said he sees some problems.

"There are some issue with the budget that we are going to have to tackle, namely some very large extraordinary lapses, which are holes in the budget, which has been allocated primarily to the Sheriff's Office," Anderson said.

The city has to pass a budget prior to Oct. 1, the beginning of the 2013-2014 fiscal year.

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