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Tax rate hike in place, pension deal gone: What's next?
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Tax rate hike in place, pension deal gone: What's next?

Tax rate hike in place, pension deal gone: What's next?
Photo Credit: Kevin Rincon
City Council Meeting 2011

Tax rate hike in place, pension deal gone: What's next?

Jacksonville’s City Council is standing by the vote to temporarily raise the property tax rate for next year.

“Finance Committee needs to have the opportunity to do its work, and do its work without a gun to its head,” says Finance Chair Greg Anderson.

Anderson tells me Tuesday night’s vote, which raises the rate by 15%, or about $6/month on a $100,000 home, gives them flexibility to really dive in to the budget. The final rate won’t be set until the budget process is further along.

Mayor Alvin Brown tells me council has a right to make the choice they did, but he is absolutely against it.

“I don’t think it’s fair for the city to be raising taxes when we’re still struggling in this economy,” Brown says.

Brown had pushed to hold the tax rate steady which, with declining property values, means your property tax payout would have fallen. Not a single councilman, however, stood to speak in support of that idea during Tuesday’s meeting.

Anderson says in no way is council taking that money for granted. The boost is expected to make an additional $65 million available, but Anderson says before any of that is allocated, the Finance Committee will be taking a close look at every single line in the budget.

“We’re gunna be asking the departments how they can better serve our community for less cost,” he says.

But ultimately, he says the budget Council was presented had serious problems that forced council to take a serious look at what’s in store. His biggest concerns include the extraordinary lapses put in the budget and the lack of funding for roadway maintenance.  After reviewing the Mayor’s budget proposal with the Council Auditor, Anderson says they came to the conclusion that the budget was not balanced to begin with.

“There was just no way that these lapses were really attainable,” he says.

Council had questions last year as well on whether the budget was in balance, although the General Counsel tells Anderson the budget is now in the council’s hands to deal with.  As such, he says they had to make tough decisions, including voting down the pension reform proposal.

Brown says the budget he presented was balanced, and that he plans to work with council on any concerns they have. Chief among those right now is that pension deal.

“City Council didn’t have a chance to debate the issue and look at the retirement reform,” Brown says.

He tells WOKV council was wrong to push the plan up for a vote Tuesday night, without letting it go through all the committee meetings that a typical bill would see.

Several councilmen, however, said they didn’t need another study or more debate to know how they felt about the bill.  Anderson says the proposal didn’t go far enough, and voting it down gave them the ability to move forward without thinking it could help balance the budget.

He says now, the ball is in the Mayor’s court.

“We can do more, we are willing to do more, we want to reach across the aisle and help,” he says.

Anderson thinks there hasn’t been enough collaboration between the Council and the Mayor on these key issues. He was the only councilman appointed to the Mayor’s special commission on pension reform and, while he says their work moving forward now is unclear because this deal is off the table, he says Council as a whole wants a bigger say in the process.

“We realize this is an anchor keeping Jacksonville from moving forward, and we’re committed to addressing that,” he says.

With the budget showing extraordinary lapses instead of the cuts the administration would want to see, several councilmen say there is a lack of leadership in this budget on behalf of the Mayor. It was a call renewed by the two votes yesterday, because both taxes and retirement reform are Brown’s key platform issues.

“I inherited the pension situation, and on taxes, I made a commitment,” he says.

Brown tells me he has given leadership to the city by putting forward the plans and proposals he did. He welcomes them to a bigger role in bargaining moving forward.

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