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JSO budget hole tentatively eliminated, your tax rate set to rise
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JSO budget hole tentatively eliminated, your tax rate set to rise

JSO budget hole tentatively eliminated, your tax rate set to rise
Photo Credit: Stephanie Brown

JSO budget hole tentatively eliminated, your tax rate set to rise

They were given a budget lapse that the Council Auditor and City Councilmen best described as impossible to meet, but now it’s on the way out.

The Mayor’s Office gave the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office a nearly $30 million extraordinary lapse in its budget proposal. That means they were told to make cuts, but given little guidance on how to achieve that.

Handouts provided by the Sheriff’s Office show that with the budget lapse, they would have needed to delete 381 police officer positions, 62 corrections positions and 13 civilian positions and closed the Community Transition Center- which was on the chopping block last year as well.

“We can’t cut anymore,” Rutherford says.

The Finance committee started by restoring about $1.8 million to go towards the extraordinary lapse through several recommendations out of the Council Auditor’s Office which mostly reflect disagreements with budget projections, vacant positions, etc.

It didn’t take long after for Councilman Clay Yarborough to offer up a motion restoring the remaining $27.75 million using council contingency, which is essentially a pot the council can spend from to plug budget holes or deal with other expenses through the year.   After some debate, Councilman Richard Clark put through a motion instead that rolled over an estimated $7 million in savings by the Sheriff’s Office from this year to next year, and took the remaining nearly $21 through contingency. That is ultimately what Finance decided to do.

The council voted several weeks ago to allow a possible 15% property  tax hike that made roughly $65 million available for the city to use in contingency- and it is certain now that at least some of that will be drawn on, meaning your property tax rate will rise.

“The can’s been kicked down the road, it’s finally landed at our feet- what are we supposed to do,” says Council President Bill Gulliford.

Gulliford says the proposal they received from the Mayor’s Office didn’t show any budget priorities, and made sacrifices from public safety that were too severe.

“Just totally unrealistic. You can’t leave the city unprotected,” he says.

Rutherford says he has still had to make some layoffs as part of the $6 million in cuts he initially offered in his proposed budget.  He says anything further would have absolutely affected the ability of JSO to keep you safe.

“I didn’t get what I wanted, I got what I needed to keep this community safe,” he says.

And while the council is on a definite path to need money generated from a higher tax rate, they do not believe it will be the full 15% hike allocated.  But Councilman John Crescimbeni tells me, among his constituents, the hike was more accepted this year than years passed.  He says people are getting a hands on feel for what happens to city services when there is no tax hike, and they’re not liking it.

Despite the ability of the committee to apparently stave off the worst of the service impacts this year, Crescimbeni says they have to now address a greater issue that will continue to be a problem.

“In the absence of dealing with this pension albatross- we cannot keep taking tens of millions of dollars off the table each year and giving it as extra money to the pension obligation to police and fire without affecting services,” he says.

There is no pension reform proposal currently on the table since city council voted down the agreement between the Mayor’s Office, Jacksonville Association of Fire Fighters, Fraternal Order of Police Jacksonville and Police and Fire Pension Fund.

While the Finance committee has voted in favor of allocating the money for these items, the money will not be appropriated until a vote by the full City Council which takes place with the entire budget next month.

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