Jacksonville, FL - Jacksonville city services have not just been restored, but brought to a new level.
Several weeks ago, city council first considered legislation that would restore about $1.3 million in funding to many departments that had faced cuts, and restore some of the right-of-way mowings that had been cut to meet the budget. As debate continued, councilmen considered adding funding to turn streetlights back on. Three weeks ago, more money was uncovered from the budget closeout and that was proposed for streetlights, even more mowing, and FOP tuition reimbursements, totaling about $3.06 million.
Yet another addition brings that total even higher.
“It goes beyond what we have become accustomed to, which I think is the right thing to do,” says Councilman John Crescimbeni.
With only one dissenting vote, Council passed a more than $3.5 million plan to restore funding, turn lights back on, increase mowing and- something that hasn’t been done in the city recently- add in right-of-way edging and blowing away the mowing clippings. They moved the tuition reimbursements “below the line”, meaning it will not be spent at this time.
If the vote is not a clear enough indicator, there was a lot of support for restoring what the council members call vital city services. Some cited public safety, but many focused on the need to present the city neatly especially with big events coming in.
“It’s the city’s responsibility to take care of neighborhoods, not private development,” says Councilwoman E. Denise Lee.
Councilman Richard Clark was the only nay vote. He was concerned about any city spending given the expected tight budget negotiations coming up as well as repeated warnings from the Council Auditor’s office that there may not be enough money in reserve.
“Our revenues are still dropping, our bills are still going up, and yet we’re continuing to appropriate dollars when- in fact- we should be saving for next year,” he says.
He likened the new services approved with buying a big screen TV with money that was found, a comparison that drew a lot of criticism from other councilmen. Clark was also concerned with using one-time money for services that need to be permanently funded, therefore setting expectations for area residents that may not be maintained. It was a concern many others shared.
“We are creating an unrealistic expectation if we’re not going to make sure adequate funding is placed in the budget next year,” says Councilman Reggie Brown.
Councilman Bill Gulliford supported the legislation, but echoed the concerns of expectations. Because the council is not just restoring services, but adding in new ones to mowing, several members are worried residents will come to expect that level of service to continue. In fact, Gulliford directly questioned Jacksonville CFO Ronnie Belton on whether there will be a budget to continue that. Belton did not answer directly, but maintained the city continues to look at creative and innovative ways to fund projects.
Council wanted to make sure it wasn’t just a hope, but an actual plan.
“I hope we’re sending a clear message to the administration for next year’s budget process, that these are important services that we provide and they need to be put in a priority ranking,” says Councilwoman Lori Boyer.
With the vote, the mowing is expected to begin right away. The city will also work with JEA about turning the street lights back on.