Jacksonville, FL — It’s another public safety-first budget proposal from Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, but there’s no shortage of spending on projects across the City pitched in the $1.2 billion plan.
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is looking at a roughly $30 million boost, and Curry says that includes funding for a “real time crime center”. While there are not many details available about the center at this point, he says it would continue to build on some investments the City has already made, like ShotSpotter, which detects gunfire and alerts police.
“Tools that prevent crime, and solve crimes that occur faster,” he says.
Jacksonville Fire and Rescue is up $17 million under the budget proposal, including more fire stations and rescue units.
“When we have call volumes in areas not served by rescues, they pull resources from other parts of the City, and it’s like a domino effect. As calls start firing off in this part that’s not serviced by rescues, it pulls from other areas. This fixes that problem,” says JFRD Chief Kurt Wilson.
Wilson tells WOKV this budget would make some resources more flexible by also bringing back Arson Investigators. Currently, he says fire crews have to wait on scene while the State responds to investigate an arson. While the State would still have to be called in certain circumstances, Wilson says JFRD Arson Investigators could handle the initial assessment and determination of cause, while also providing the on-scene presence that then allows fire crews to leave and potentially respond if there is another incident somewhere. Wilson says this budget proposes hiring and outfitting three people for this, and they would join in two others JFRD currently has who provide support to the State investigation.
Curry says investing in public safety also means investing in youth.
“We must continue our work with young people, we must help them see there are possibilities that are larger than what they currently see or believe. We must break the cycle of violence and hopelessness,” he says.
In addition to giving the Kid’s Hope Alliance a more than $41 million budget, Curry’s proposal would fund the City’s share of a partnership to bring more therapists to Duval County schools.
He is planning for the City to put up $1.7 million toward adding 60 therapists, in a partnership with DCPS and the United Way of Northeast Florida. DCPS says this allotment would let them expand mental health resources to reach all students, with only about half currently served. This falls under the “Full Service Schools” initiative, according to DCPS, which also brings in other mental health and social service providers. DCPS says they have budgeted $2.6 million toward this, as a passthrough of state funds for mental health.
“These additional therapists will dramatically increase the capacity for one-on-one and campus-wide opportunities for personal growth and positive mental health conversations,” Curry says.
Curry’s budget proposal would also expand library hours, increase staff, allocate $850,000 for new materials, and designate $2.5 million to buy the land to get a new Oceanway library underway. Parks and Recreation would get more maintenance personnel and a budget to upgrade docks, boat launches, and many other public facilities, including Friendship Fountain.
On the Capital projects side, Curry has laid out $161.4 million in spending.
He’s earmarking millions for road resurfacing, sidewalk repairs and new sidewalks, improved pedestrian crossings, and drainage rehabilitation. Curry is also pitching a five year-$25 million match for the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, meaning $50 million over five years between the two entities for technology and other improvements. Another City facility getting an infusion would be UF Health- $120 million over six years.
This budget launches new support for the Clara White Mission, allocating $1.5 million for that group’s Harvest Farms Project, which would include a farmer’s market, greenhouse, and educational facility. It also designates $10.8 million in funding for restoring African American cemeteries, which Curry says have been neglected to the point where they are in “shameful” condition. $60.3 million would be set aside for McCoy’s Creek and Emerald Necklace development.
Downtown Jacksonville development is never forgotten in funding conversations, and Curry's budget proposal aims for replenishing the Downtown Economic Development Fund with $2.5 million and adding some staff to the Downtown Investment Authority. He is also asking the City to commit to matching the State's $12.5 million to take down the Hart Bridge ramps- a move he says would "unleash billions of dollars in economic development". The aggregate $25 million would not fully fund the project, but Curry says they would start regardless, and he believes he would get the additional funding when it's needed.
“A vibrant urban core serves as a hub, pushing economic development outward to every neighborhood,” he says.
Removing the ramps has become a priority in recent years, with Jaguars owner Shad Khans- who is currently in negotiations with the City on the redevelopment of the Jacksonville Shipyards- saying that the ramps are an obstacle to developing that area. Khan recently pitched a massive redevelopment plan of the greater Sports Complex area, and that also envisioned the ramps being down.
Curry says when you consider the potential of those types of developments, along with the projects already underway like Berkman Plaza II, The District, and the Laura Street Trio, now is the time to act.
“We see a growing, vibrant Downtown for Jacksonville is possible, and it is now within our reach,” he says.
Despite all of this spending, Curry says there’s no need to raise your property tax rate.
He proposed holding the rate flat, which is something the City Council gave early support to as well. You should still expect to see a step up in your property tax bill, though, because of the overall rise in property values and new construction. The Duval County Property Appraiser tells WOKV that they expect the government to get a $46.4 million increase in revenue for the fiscal year, because of the rising value. For the average homeowner, that equates to just under $150 more on your bill, according to Property Appraiser Jerry Holland.
Curry says another important component is pension reform.
“Without pension reform, and without the effort to provide a long-term solution, we would not have the ability to make any of these vital investments in our City. Public safety personnel, infrastructure improvements, programs for our kids- millions and millions of dollars would have been diverted away from making our city better,” Curry says.
His office projects a $191 million savings in this proposed budget between what they’re paying since the reform plan passed and what they would have had to pay toward pension if change had not been achieved.
Curry’s budget rollout is far from the last step in the process. The City Council Finance Committee and the Council Auditor will now comb through the proposal to check the numbers and decide if the priorities laid out by the Mayor are what the City should be funding. Curry says he’s had a good partnership with the Council in the past, and he’s expecting that to continue.
“Jacksonville is a city on the rise, and if we keep doing the work, then the best is yet to come, always,” he says.
The City Council must pass the final budget ahead of the start of the next fiscal year, October 1st.
WOKV is working through the budget and gathering reactions from City Council members and other stakeholders. Stay with us as we gather more in the coming weeks.