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Jax Council approves billion dollar budget, includes 14.4% property tax rate hike for you
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Jax Council approves billion dollar budget, includes 14.4% property tax rate hike for you

Jax Council approves billion dollar budget, includes 14.4% property tax rate hike for you
Photo Credit: Stephanie Brown
Jacksonville's City Council approved a billion dollar budget for FY 13-14 by a 16-2 vote on 9/25/13

Jax Council approves billion dollar budget, includes 14.4% property tax rate hike for you

After about 13 hours of final debate, Jacksonville’s City Council has approved a billion dollar budget.

They also acted on a new millage rate, increasing your property tax rate 14.4%- or about $140 more next year on a $150,000 home.  The rate is about 12.06% more than what the rollback rate would have been. The rollback is a higher tax rate that would have had you keep the same payout as last year.  So essentially, your payout is 12.06% higher than last year at a rate that’s 14.4% higher.

In exchange for the increase, funding was restored to many city services including police and libraries.

Six hours of debate which started Tuesday ended around 2 AM Wednesday, at which point council recessed until 2 PM.  Members said they had reached the point where they were no longer productive and there was still a long way to go.  Debate began Wednesday afternoon on the 24th amendment that was submitted to the council before the Tuesday meeting- there were 40 submitted in total.  About 4 additional amendments were brought forward before the final vote.

In total, 25 of those amendments were approved and a handful withdrawn.  It was enough spending to knock the budget up from $953 million to around $1 billion. Only two councilmen voted against the budget, Matt Schellenberg and Don Redman. Councilman Ray Holt was excused.

Amendments

Despite Council President Bill Gulliford starting the meeting by talking about the need to move at a steady pace and keep to time limits outlined by the council rules, the first amendment drew significant debate.  Councilman Warren Jones sought to allocate just over $200,000 to keep three senior centers open. Concerns focused on whether the centers were underutilized or the temporary leadership in place. Additionally, those who opposed the funding tried to say closing the centers would truly be consolidating the existing centers in to other- more utilized- ones.  Proponents of the funding, however, were concerned about taking any resources away from seniors.  The amendment passed.

One which gained a quick “no” vote was an amendment for $25,000 for Jacksonville Beach’s 4th of July fireworks. Gulliford, who sponsored the amendments, wasn’t even very passionate about it himself.  He told council members this didn’t come as a request from Jax Beach but was his way of extending an olive branch of sorts. Concerns over the precedent that could be set for what Jacksonville would be expected to fund as well as whether a partnership that didn’t deal with funding would be better won out in the end.

The Jacksonville Children’s Commission has been fighting for funding through the entire budget process, and Wednesday was no different. An amendment looked to add $630,000 back to their budget to use for Early Learning Centers.  Supporters hailed that as an investment in to the community because the centers combat illiteracy, reduce crime and provide a community network for children. Others, however, were concerned to give even more funding back to the JCC, considering so much was restored through the Finance Committee.  A majority agreed the body needed to be given more time to get things going because the leadership was newly installed.

Systemic questions were raised by the bid for money from Meals on Wheels. Because the organization gets money through a competitive grant process, many councilmen questioned whether giving them an additional $181,000 would essentially override that process. That drew still others to question if the grant program itself functioned as it should, because Meals on Wheels has to compete against other programs which provide very different services.  Councilwoman Lori Boyer told council that if they allowed themselves to be open to “lobbying” by one grant program, it would leave them open to countless others as well. The funding failed, with only 7 voting in support.

Gasps of excitement rang around the chamber when Councilman Stephen Joost withdrew his amendment to take nearly $450,000 from the Mayport ferry.  Ferry advocates told me that would have essentially defunded the ferry and hurt the area’s transportation and economy.

There was also a lot of discussion and debate relating to the Police and Fire Pension Fund, with several amendments relating in some way.  The only amendment submitted ahead of time would have authorized the PFPF to invest in a more diverse way, allowing the council to take the projected savings from that to use toward lowering the millage rate. Another would have transferred the $9.8 million Water Street garage from the city to the PFPF and used that money to lessen the millage increase.  Ultimately, both those amendments were defeated because councilmen feared they hadn’t had enough time to research the potential implications. There were also legal questions surrounding each of the  proposals- too many to hammer out as floor amendments.

Mayor’s response

A statement issued from Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown’s office says Brown plans to “carefully review” the budget to determine if he wants to make any line item vetoes.  He is not able to impact the approved tax rate in any way, so even if he cuts some spending items, that money will not reduce the property tax hike. The statement further says Brown is now looking forward to continuing to work on retirement reform, job creation, Downtown development and more.

If Brown does make any line-item vetoes, the City Council will meet on Friday to consider whether to override them.

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