Public hearing hearing held on Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown's budget

City-funded drug rehabilitation among programs in jeopardy

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Person after person took to the podium for their three minutes of public comment Tuesday night, the first time the full Jacksonville City Council discussing Mayor Alvin Brown's budget for the fiscal year that begins in just over two weeks.

This was their first chance for the public to make their opinions known about the city's new budget, and each of them had an idea how the city should be spending money.

"I've been looking at your bill and as far as I'm concerned you're not getting a free ride from me," said Jacksonville resident, Tom Thomas.

Some lamented the deep cuts from the library budget where 75 employees are being demoted and 33 people are being laid off. Others complained to the council about the sheriff's office cuts.

"The only thing I can say is I've never seen anything like this in my life," said Jacksonville resident, Joseph Strasser.

The biggest group in attendance Tuesday night was from the Matrix House -- a city-funded and sheriff-run drug rehabilitation for prisoners in Jacksonville. The award-winning program is at risk of shutting down if the council doesn't allow the sheriff's office to keep money its saved from this fiscal year.

"I feel like a pawn, I feel like we are being used as a pawn. But all that said and done the bottom line is we are a light," said Felicia Willis, with the Matrix House.

Despite pleas from the public, Mayor Brown did not sign a bill that would allow extra funding for the program. It will pass because he didn't veto the bill, but Brown wrote the following letter to the council explaining why he cannot support it:

"I asked JSO to make budget reductions that were, in percentage terms, significantly smaller than agencies like the Jacksonville Fire Rescue Department, Jacksonville Public Library and Public Works Department. It is unfair to those critical city agencies that have absorbed deep cuts to allow one agency to use one-time money rather than engage in necessary budget tightening."

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