Mayor, City Council president talk budget

Sides at odds over using money from city's reserve funds and borrowing

By Jennifer Waugh - The Morning Show anchor, I-Team reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Mayor Alvin Brown and City Council President Clay Yarborough appeared together on "The Morning Show" Tuesday to talk about how taxpayers' dollars will be spent during the next fiscal year.

Among the highlights in the 416-page budget proposal presented to the council Monday by the mayor are the following:

Public Safety: Adding $22 million to Sheriff John Rutherford's budget to add 40 more officers and rehire 40 community service officers. The CSO program was stopped when the sheriff's budget was cut in 2012.

Spending on downtown: $11.8 million in public infrastructure through a Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) to support the first phase of improvements to the Jacksonville Landing. That includes a wider plaza along the Northbank Riverwalk, public space and broader access at Hogan Street.

The Shipyards: Initial investment through CIP of $1.25 million.

Former county courthouse: It will be demolished. CIP invests $4.2 million.

Metropolitan Park: CIP invests $250,000 to begin design of a new Metro Park.

Downtown streets: $1 million through CIP to design the transition from one way streets to more user-friendly two-way streets.

Northbank Riverwalk: $3 million through the CIP.

Main Library: The general fund budget, $302,000, would restore hours at the Main Library in downtown Jacksonville and $500,000 to help libraries acquire updated materials. The CIP would invest in public spaces at the Main Library.

Jacksonville Children's Commission (JCC): $665 million to provide more opportunities for summer camps, summer jobs and programs for young people.

Septic Tanks: Proposed CIP budget would increase the city's investment in phasing out septic tanks by 50 percent.

UF Health: City's only public hospital would receive an additional $2.5 million from the general fund budget.

The mayor's budget also proposes using $16.8 million from the city's financial reserves.

That part of the budget may not sit well with the city council. Yarborough said it's one of two concerns he has about the mayor's budget.

"The budget section of our ordinance suggests that we stay at least 5-7 percent in that reserve of what our general fund is, which puts us at the low end of where it sits today," Yarborough said when asked about whether the council would approve taking $16.8 million from the city's reserve accounts.

The mayor responded by saying, "When I came into office, there was $107.7 million in reserve. Today this is at $145.3 million. We basically saved money since I've been in office. The threshold for the city is 10 percent, so $16.8 million that we'd take out would leave about $128 million. That's more than the money we had when I came in, in the reserve."

Brown said if the council does not approve the money from the reserve accounts, the council will have to figure out where to cut.

Yarborough also expressed concern about how much money the city would have to borrow to support the mayor's budget proposal.

"The other concern that we see is on the banking fund portion we see an increase in borrowing of $187 million," Yarborough said. "That's a pretty big price to pay for future generations of our city."

Yarborough went on to say that's a 439 percent increase over the current year.

"I think at the end of the day, when the finance committee looks at the budget, these are the right investments," Brown said.

Yarborough said he does agree with the mayor's move to add to the Sheriff's Office budget.

"I can't speak for the rest of the council, but it would surprise me if we weren't able to give the sheriff much, if not all, of what the sheriff is asking for," Yarborough said.

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