Jacksonville, FL - It’s a plan that comes in at $1.27 billion.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is again pushing to invest in public safety, with his new City budget proposal asking for 100 more JSO officers and 42 more JFRD firefighter positions, in addition to $24.5 million for their vehicles.
“This is an investment that we have to make as a community,” Curry says.
The prior two budgets have each authorized more Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office hires and rebuilt the Community Service Officer program. If the proposed hires are approved, it would put JSO back near where it used to be during peak staffing, when Jacksonville was making gains on fighting violent crime. There’s no clear timeline yet for how quickly the officers would be recruited, trained, and put on the streets, if Curry’s recommendations are approved.
“We hear a lot of talk about police officers being able to get out and engage the community. Friends, when you’re at dangerously low levels, they’re strained, they’re running from call to call. The overtime is putting stress on the police officers and their families,” Curry says.
A focus for Curry is his $50 million “Safer Neighborhoods” investment plan, which puts money toward some of these public safety elements, like fire mobile data terminals, fire bunker gear, JSO equipment, a backup 911 call system, and small capital equipment for JFRD that wasn’t being replaced in a timely manner.
“As our City grows, we must also be willing to invest in the men and women who are willing to run in to burning buildings any given day,” Curry says.
The investment plan has other projects as well, like $4 million to develop a community field at Edward Waters College and $4.4 million to refurbish EWC dorms. Additionally, it would retrofit five City pools and enable seven pools to provide year-round drowning prevention lessons. Curry estimates 12,000 children can benefit from the lessons over the next three years.
The “Safer Neighborhoods” investment plan would be funded through a $50 million debt offering, according to Curry. He says the Capital Improvement Plan overall authorizes the borrowing of about $100 million. He stressed, however, that the Administration is also paying down debt and looking at other steps to put the City in a better fiscal position- like refinancing bonds at a lower rate.
Among the projects in the CIP is $8 million to demolish the old County Courthouse and City Hall, with the hope the properties draw interest from the private sector.
“If private capital is going to invest in Downtown, they need to know that we’re serious about Downtown. And when you have old dilapidated buildings that we sit there and talk about for years and years and years- what does that say to the investment community? It says the City’s not serious. This says we’re serious,” Curry says.
He is also proposing funding the final $8 million to rebuild the area where Liberty Street and Coastline Drive collapsed, $1 million for Downtown landscaping and lighting, and $600,000 to renovate the interior of the Snyder Memorial Building. City-wide, Curry is pitching $12 million for road resurfacing, $13.5 million for parks and community senior centers, $24 million in sidewalk repairs and ADA compliance, and millions in other areas like ash remediation and stormwater improvements.
“While infrastructure is our backbone, our people- our children- are the heat beat of Jacksonville, Florida,” Curry says.
To that end, Curry is promising a reorganization of the Jacksonville Children’s Commission and Jacksonville Journey, to focus more on at-risk children- who he calls “at hope”. He’s moving programs that don’t deal with children, like ex-offender re-entry programs- out of Journey and the JCC, in order to better focus the dollars and attention on his priorities with children. He says the funding is in his budget proposal, but the greater reorganization plan will come out in the weeks ahead.
The Administration had some more money to work with this year, in part because of a rise in property values, and subsequently more property tax dollars collected. The second- and more substantial- reason is the recently approved pension reform plan.
“Before pension reform, our future was built on a foundation of sand, susceptible to the tides and potentially dangerous. Now, we have a foundation of solid rock. Its strength means that we are positioned to realize our full potential for every person in Jacksonville and every single neighborhood,” he says.
Curry’s plan- which ultimately passed through Tallahassee, Jacksonville voters, and the City Council- extends the “Better Jacksonville Plan” half-cent sales tax past its 2030 expiration date, authorizing up to 30 more years, with the tax going specifically toward paying down the City’s more than $2.8 billion pension debt. The heft of the annual contributions toward pensions is pushed to future years, allowing the tax to pay for that while freeing up more present dollars for other purposes. According to the Mayor’s Office projections, instead of the annual contribution rising from $290 million this year to $360 million in the next budget, it drops to $221 million.
This budget proposal will now face weeks of vetting and tweaking by the City Council and its Auditor, before the final version takes effect October 1st.
While the Mayor has now laid out his goals and vision with this budget plan, WOKV will work through the entire proposal itself to see exactly how the City is looking at spending your tax dollars. Stay with us for continuing coverage as we break down the full proposal.