Jacksonville, FL - In just about two weeks, Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown will present his recommendation for the City’s budget, which topped one billion dollars this fiscal year. But for the past three months, a special committee created under Jacksonville’s City Council has been working on where to find savings in that price tag.
And while there are some options for new efficiencies, there are also needs for big spending.
WOKV spoke with the Chair of the Special Budget Analysis Committee Final Report and new Council President Clay Yarborough for your first look in to this report.
Many of the recommendations on financial savings come from unused inventory in the City that could be sold or put to a better use, according to the committee.
One option currently being discussed between the Budget Officer and Mosquito Control is selling unused aircraft and the site where the planes are stored. There is no estimate given on how much this could save.
The amount of vacant or underutilized real estate in Jacksonville is also back in the spotlight. Public Works says of the 2,547 properties owned by the City of Jacksonville, 391 are mostly unused and have a high potential for better use.
“Do we sell then and put that money in to the City, or if there’s a building on them do we utilize that and rent the space out,” says Committee Chair Clay Yarborough
The process for determining how best to manage this property is still ongoing.
The Jacksonville Public Library system is offering both savings and expenses for the upcoming budget. The main savings would be generated by closing the Maxville Branch because of underutilization. That would save about $93,520.
Jacksonville Fire and Rescue identified nearly a dozen future challenges. Those directly tied to funding include replacing equipment, adding four new stations in quick growing areas and identifying alternative water supply sources for areas that don’t have easy hydrant access. They’re also working on reducing response times- the Fire Chief told the committee it currently takes between 9 and more than 20 minutes to respond, and they hope to cut that to 8-12 minutes.
“It basically becomes we can still put this [new population] on the stations that are already there, but we’re going to have longer response times and greater needs,” Yarborough says.
Another funding concern is staffing that’s tied to grants which will eventually run out. The Committee is specifically concerned about a $5 million grant that is dated.
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has already informed the Committee it intends to ask for an additional $8 million to hire 40 police officers and 40 community service officers. Sheriff John Rutherford told the Committee there are fewer officers per citizen in Jacksonville than in many other large cities and that more people are needed to help combat a rise in crime. Rutherford says a firing range also needs significant repairs, with one trailer uninhabitable because of black mold.
The Department of Corrections has actually seen a decline in recidivism as a result of prevention and intervention programs. The Director told the Committee, however, that the rising cost of prescription medication is a future challenge, along with protocols for infectious disease control and the aging inmate population.
The Council Auditor’s Office says it doesn’t have enough staff to do everything needed, and that the starting salaries are not enough to recruit and retail talent to the office.
Fleet Management tells the committee that vehicles and facilities are aging and in need of upgrades. They’re expected to submit a detailed list of needs to the Public Works Department.
Equipment is also a chief concern for Public Works overall. The department told the Committee that some of their mechanical equipment is down for months at a time and is expensive to maintain. They also cite a need to expand operations in some areas.
“We need to make sure we are justifying every expense, and that we are only spending in those areas where we absolutely have to in order to fund core city services,” Yarborough says.
In addition to the above-mentioned savings opportunity, the Jacksonville Public Library system has a list of potential expenses needed in the upcoming budget. Among those are more money for weekly service hours, more access in Northeast Jacksonville at $250,000, renovation at the Beaches Branch at $2,054,930, automated dispensers at $930,000 and more. JPL says it has $5.3 million in capital maintenance needs which have been deferred at 21 locations, and also needs more security funding.
JPL is also looking to expand in Oceanway. While they have requested $500,000 to buy land, Yarborough says this is an opportunity to “think outside the box” and consider some of the land that’s already on City rolls and sitting vacant.
Security funding is also a request from the Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department. They’re asking for staffing and community mapping to help keep parks safe. Further, the department told the committee there is a greater need for athletic facilities, especially along with the increased effort to secure new sporting events.
Opportunities for efficiencies
Fee collection is a concern, according to the Finance Department. The Committee recommends the City reassess its work with outside vendors in collecting some fees that currently lag or go unrecovered. The report cites ambulance fee collection as a specific problem- with fees sometimes taking up to two years to bring in.
The Public Parking Division has also seen a shortfall of about $100,000 this year. The division believes that is the result of a lack of downtown development and uncollected citations. The Committee recommends the City look at funding for upgraded parking meters and creating a parking meter sensor phone app. To address the need to more events downtown, the Committee recommends looking at creating a Florida Sports Hall of Fame.
Overall budget conclusions
It’s not expected there will be any significant savings from refinancing this year because of refinancing last year, which saved several million dollars.
There has been an increase in property value in Duval County this year, according to preliminary findings from the Property Appraiser’s Office. This could create additional money for the general fund if the City holds the tax rate the same as what you’re paying this year.
“That puts us in a better position for the coming year,” Yarborough says.
The final rate will be set by City Council as part of the budget talks, but the current outline is being created under the assumption that the rate will stay the same. Holding the rate steady with the increasing property values means your property tax payout would ultimately be more money.
The ongoing pension debate also remains a big question mark. There is legislation pending in front of the Council detailing the latest reform plan crafted by the Mayor’s Office and Police and Fire Pension Fund. If this is enacted before the final budget is approved, it could mean big savings. Without reform, the pension cost will continue to climb.