Mayor details $1 billion spending plan

By Jim Piggott - Reporter, Elizabeth Campbell - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Mayor Alvin Brown on Monday unveiled plan for spending just over $1 billion in tax revenue next year.

The budget proposal as presented to City Council contains no new taxes and calls for no employees to be laid off. Plus, there will be an additional $18.8 million in revenue next due to rising property values.

"We are a city blessed with new energy that's driving us forward to a better and more prosperous future," Brown said.

In his 30-minute address, the mayor said this budget will sustain and build Jacksonville's momentum with strategic investments to expand opportunity and achieve a more prosperous future for the city.

"I am honored to present council with the budget that is balanced, with no increase in our property tax rate," Brown said. "This is a budget that recognizes we still live in difficult financial time. But it also recognizes that we must make essential investments for Jacksonville to become a true city of opportunity."

While Brown's budget calls for no tax increase, his budget includes revenues from the tax rate that was raised over his objections last year. Asked by a council member if, by not lowering the rate, he now approves of last year's tax increase, the mayor said, "No."

DOCUMENT: Proposed fiscal year 2014-2014 budget
MAYOR'S BUDGET ADDRESS:  Uncut video | Full transcript

The budget calls for a $22 million increase in the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office budget, enough to hire 40 new officers and rehire 40 community service officers who were let go during leaner budgets over the last few years.

"The mayor and I are in agreement that public safety is a high priority for the city of Jacksonville, and I think you'll see that in the budget when we finalize it," said Rutherford.

Rutherford said he may see some minor spending cuts, but not for personnel.

"I can tell you crime is ticking up in our community. Particularly violent crime. That's why it's important," said Rutherford.

The budget proposal also dedicates capital funds to help raise private funds to redevelop the Jacksonville Landing.  There is also money to tear down the old riverfront Duval County Courthouse, clean up the shipyards property to prepare it for private development and redesign Metropolitan Park. Other downtown priorities are to convert some one-way streets for two-way traffic and improve signage and lighting.

The mayor also addressed the increasing cost of pension contributions (up $11 million), worker's compensation (up $4.5 million) election administration ($3.1 million), as well as utility costs, juvenile detention and health care costs.

Brown urged City Council approval of the agreement he reached with the Police and Fire Pension Fund earlier this year to "achieve pension reform once and for all."

The mayor included an additional 5 percent in his budget for community groups in next year's budget, as well as committing money in water quality, restoring service hours at the main library cut last year, as well as increasing funding for books and materials.

Brown also proposed creating an Office of International Trade to be operated in conjunction with the Jacksonville Port Authority that should help attract new jobs to Jacksonville.

Initial reaction from council was the fact they were not provide budget books Monday morning, although electronic copies were provided within a few hours. There was also concern about plans to use reserve funds to pay recurring operating expenses.

"We have increased property revenues but we are hearing there is a $16 million deficit that needs funding from reserve," said Clay Yarborough, the new council president. "It will be very interesting to hash into that."

Other council members have more questions.

"With our revenue increase in Jacksonville, the numbers don't match," Councilman Bill Bishop said. "So I am curious how they are going to work that out."

The mayor's budget proposal will be scrutinized and likely modified by City Counci over the next two months.  Once a final budget is passed, it will go into effect on October 1.

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