Jacksonville, FL - Even the best case scenario right now for Jacksonville’s preliminary budget legislation shows cuts will be necessary, and we’re digging deeper to learn what that could mean for services to you.
Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown continues to work on sticking to a promise of no new taxes for you, and the proposal so far seems to deliver that. The property tax rate will hold steady under this proposal which, given declining property values means you may actually pay less in property tax next year.
“We are keeping it solid, not touching reserves,” says Mayor’s Office Communications Director David DeCamp.
But the city is expecting revenue from other taxes to rise. For example, the Mayor’s Office tells me they’re projecting more revenue to come in from the state sales tax money as people start spending more money. When that increase is added to other revenue boosts or state shared revenue projections, it accounts for the $7.5 million increase in “other taxes” listed under city revenue.
Chief Financial Officer Ronnie Belton tells WOKV they will stick by the frozen property tax rate, even if the Sheriff disagrees like last year. Sheriff John Rutherford asked the City Council to raise the property tax rate which, given declining property values, would have had you pay out the same amount of money as the year before. The City Council ultimately sided with the Mayor, however, in allowing the rate to go unchanged and your payout to fall.
But will that lower payout come at a price to what you’ve come to expect?
“Without retirement reform, there are significant service reductions that would have to be considered,” DeCamp says.
The current proposal is in two forms- one with police and fire retirement reform passed and one without. If the current plan for reform is passed this budget year, the Mayor’s Office projects that will leave a nearly $19 million deficit to make up. If across-the-board cuts were applied, that would mean about 4% cut from each department.
Without reform, that deficit grows to $64 million, requiring a nearly 14% cut if evenly distributed.
“Poses a potential for significant reductions in services and potentially personnel,” DeCamp says.
It’s not likely that six weeks down the road when the Mayor makes his formal budget presentation that the cuts will in fact be across-the-board. DeCamp says they look at the cuts strategically and craft different priorities when drafting the final proposal.
We got a look at the priorities of the Mayor’s Office and City Council last year. Services like mowing were reduced until the community clamored in protest. When unused funds were found during post-budget review, that was quickly pushed toward not just restoring but improving mowing services.
DeCamp wouldn’t single out any of the priorities at this stage, because there is still a lot of change that can happen before that final proposal. He hopes that through using savings, finding efficiencies, and hopefully seeing pension reform to balance the budget, those cuts will ultimately be minimal.