New officers, firefighters, downtown spending in Curry's $1.27B budget

Jacksonville mayor calls for new officers, new police, fire equipment

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Mayor Lenny Curry called for increased spending on police, fire, children, infrastructure and downtown as he presented highlights of the $1.27 billion budget he proposed Monday to Jacksonville City Council.

"Over the last two years, while investing in infrastructure, public safety and children, we solved the biggest single threat to our city. We did all that without raising taxes," Curry said he enters the second half of his four-year term. "(We) put an end to pension debt, budgets without priorities and neglect of public safety and our children."

Curry's budget funds 100 new officers for the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, 42 additional firefighters, plus money for overtime, new equipment for both police and firefighters, $150 million for Safer Neighborhoods capital projects and $50 million on Safer Neighborhoods programs. Included is money to retrofit five city swimming pools and keep some open year-round for drowning prevention and additional lifeguards, and $131 million in capital infrastructure improvements across the city, including $8 million to demolish the old riverfront courthouse and city hall to prepare for redevelopment.

Addressing the need to invest in downtown development, Curry said, "You cannot be a suburb of nowhere."

The rat-infested abandoned county courthouse and vacant high-rise city hall, situated on potentially valuable Northbank property have been a sore spot for the city since Curry took office. Those buildings could be gone and the adjoining riverfront completely rebuilt by next year.

"Then, the game is on for private investment," Curry said. "Look, if private capital is going to invest in downtown, they have to know we are serious about downtown."

There's also $1 million in the budget for downtown landscaping and $1.2 million to get Friendship Fountain working correctly.

"It would be nice to see some updates down here and start moving toward that vision everyone is talking about," said downtown resident Taylor Lloyd.

The mayor also announced plans to increase the city's emergency fund and create a pension reserve, provide dedicated funding to the Jacksonville Journey and Children's Commission and fund the completion of recovery from Hurricane Matthew.

DOCUMENT: Proposed city of Jacksonville 2017-2018 budget
UNCUT: Mayor Curry's entire budget address

The proposed budget is $66 million higher than the 2016-17 year's budget, but with savings resulting from the shift of pension debt to the dedicated half-cent sales tax passed by the voters last August and rising property values, the increased spending requires no tax increase.

It's the first time in years the city is expanding programs, rather than threatening to cut services. But citizens will not see additional officers or other changes right away.

"It takes 11 months from the time we hire to put somebody on the streets, so we lag behind in any of these benefits for about a year," Sheriff Mike Williams said. "But we are looking at creative ways to try to impact that (timeline)."

A new 911 communications center is also in the works at Cecil Field. The $12 million facility would be a backup for the center inside the Police Memorial Building.

"This administration and this City Council are committed to every neighborhood, even though we have finite resources," Curry said. "So we're going to stay with the high ideal, pursue the best that we can be for the people of Jacksonville. Not for us, but for the people, the families, the neighborhoods and the people of this city," Curry said, concluding the 15-minute address by repeating the slogan he announced during his inaugural address: "One city, One Jacksonville."

Residents of Durkeeville, in Northwest Jacksonville, were happy to hear that the mayor wants to add 100 additional officers.

"A lot of people would feel more safe if they see police presence around," Antijuan Thornton said. "I think it would make a lot of people more at ease."

City Council will review the budget request over the next two months, first in committees, then in the full council, which must pass a balanced budget by late September.

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