Unlike many cities around the state of Florida, budget negotiations in Jacksonville Beach are shaping up well.
The city, like others around Northeast Florida, is currently digging in to the details to find out what to spend, where to spend it and how long that spending should last. The difference with Jacksonville Beach’s budget is, they have a bigger question looming around funding public safety.
“Our responsibility as a city council and a city staff is to make sure we properly fund and outfit everybody that comes in and puts on a badge or puts on a fire helmet to protect our interests every day, and we’re working really hard to do that,” says Jacksonville Mayor Charlie Latham.
He tells me the city has been amping up public safety efforts ever since the Memorial Day beach brawl, but they haven’t yet decided if funding should be boosted along with that.
It’s a question we took straight to Beach residents, with mixed results.
“If you’re not feeling safe, you’re not going to come out, you’re not going to enjoy yourself, you’re not going to do things,” says Jerry Brant, with the local American Legion.
He sees how important community volunteers are in Jacksonville Beach and tells me one day he plans to join with them. Until that day he says they’re still serving an important role on the streets- and at no cost to you.
Some, like long-time Jax Beach resident Ann Simmons, tell me the tight-knit community helps them feel safe with things the way they are.
“Everybody sort of knows each other, a lot of familiar faces all the time on the beach,” she says.
Jennifer Leil says she always sees quick responses from police if there are any problems, and she’s never felt unsafe walking around with her small child. Despite that, she hopes the city will continue to boost resources given to public safety.
“What I see going on, it looks great, but I think there could always be more,” Leil says.
And then there are some who want to not just see the city put more money to public safety, but they would be willing to increase their contribution to see it happen.
“It was brought up that if we could raise our taxes to put more people on the street, would you do it, and I certainly would,” says Celeste Ayers.
She volunteers with a new grassroots movement called Respect Jacksonville Beach that is focused on crime prevention, specifically among youth. She says she was not the only one who felt that way when the idea was brought up in a town hall recently, and believes that only through accountability- owning up to the potential problem of crime and what it will take to fix it- can there really be a solution.
Latham couldn’t discuss many details at this time, citing ongoing negotiations with labor unions, but he says safety is absolutely a priority for the city. He hopes property values will soon start rising once again in order to start generating some more money that can be used for areas like this. Until then, however, he says the city has to spend within its means and, only by doing that, can they continue moving on the economic path they are on.