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Local
Business leaders call for more taxes, Mayor says no
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Business leaders call for more taxes, Mayor says no

Business leaders call for more taxes, Mayor says no
Photo Credit: Matt Augustine
City councilman Don Redman (left) looks on as Mayor Alvin Brown presents his FY 2012 budget to other council members and the public on Monday, July 16, 2012

Business leaders call for more taxes, Mayor says no

A group of Jacksonville’s most influential business leaders is calling on the current pension reform proposal with police and fire unions to be voted down, and for you to get a bigger share of the “sacrifice”.

The Jacksonville Civic Council sent Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown and City Council President-Elect Bill Gulliford a letter outlining the recommendation and reasoning behind it. The letter we obtained says the opinion of the group was sought out, but past-Chair Peter Rummell tells me it’s likely an issue the Civic Council would have wanted to tackle regardless.

“Financially, there’s no issue bigger than this facing the city,” he says.

The letter, penned by Civic Council member Steve Halverson on behalf of the entire Council, says the deal struck between the city, Fraternal Order of Police, Jacksonville Association of Fire Fighters, and Police and Fire Pension Union is “substantial progress” but doesn’t go far enough.

One of the themes echoed in the six-page letter include a shared sacrifice needed by the taxpayers, city, pension participants and beneficiaries.  The way to achieve that is through considering “new revenue”.

But, speaking exclusively to WOKV, Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown says that’s one thing he has decidedly ruled out for the budget he will present in a few weeks.

“I’m gunna present it balanced without raising taxes,” he tells me.

Brown says the current proposal is fair to tax payers and city employees.  He says the best way to create new revenue is through economic development that would eventually mean higher property values, and that the city also needs to spend within its means.

When I asked whether the current proposal would achieve that, Brown says that’s something the City Council will now have to discuss and debate.

Rummell says ruling anything out, especially tax hikes, is not the right move.

“To say you can’t even look at additional revenue to solve that big a problem is unrealistic, in our opinion,” he says.

Brown says the “broad” report will be considered moving forward, and that he appreciates the continued partnership between the city and the Civic Council.

The letter, however, is not the only time questions have been cast over the pension proposal.  Several City Council members have expressed concern that this plan just kicks the can down the road once again, and doesn’t have a real immediate impact.  Ultimately, it is up to council to vote the bill up or down.

I asked Brown what it would mean to return to the bargaining table at this stage in the game.  He says there will be a vote on way or the other, and they will deal with it when it happens, he just hopes the council keeps what’s best for tax payers in mind.

The Civic Council doesn’t expect the letter to be taken up in full. In fact, members are aware some of the recommendations are not popular.

“We are acutely aware of the consequences of these recommendations. They will put real stress on the City budget. They will not be popular,” the letter from Halverson says.

But he says they’re important issues to address , nonetheless, in order to get a comprehensive and lasting solution to the city’s pension system.

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