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Jacksonville council committee turns cold shoulder to hiring new police, other spending boosts in mayor's plan

Posted: August 7, 2014 - 10:17pm  |  Updated: August 7, 2014 - 11:04pm
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Alvin Brown  The Times-Union
The Times-Union
Alvin Brown

Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford won’t get 40 new police officers next year.

Financially strapped UF Health Jacksonville hospital won’t get a penny more from the city than it did last year.

Nor will a long list of other organizations.

That’s the tough reality envisioned by the City Council Finance Committee, which kicked off the budgeting season on Thursday by slashing a bevy of spending boosts touted by Mayor Alvin Brown as much-needed improvements to the city.

The cuts aren’t final. But the nine-member panel, which has an influential role in the budgeting process, displayed a unanimous resolve to pick apart Brown’s budget.

Council members have criticized Brown’s budget as an election-year ploy, saying he promised to bolster various departments and programs without finding a sustainable way to pay for it. Council members, along with Council Auditor Kirk Sherman, have also criticized his plan to use $37.7 million in one-time cash savings to balance the budget.

Brown’s office rejects any notion that his budget is unbalanced and said using that money will allow the city to make crucial investments, like beefing up the police department to combat a recent spike in violent crime.

Still, committee members believe Brown has again placed them in a difficult situation similar to last year, when the council raised taxes 14 percent to prevent budget cuts and sweeping layoffs.

“We’re going to live within our bank account like every other person, business and family has to,” Chairman Richard Clark said. “That means there’s a lot of stuff we’ll have to cut.”

The panel began the day by heeding Sherman’s advice to take out about
$12.5 million out of the budget, the combination of $4 million in overestimated revenue and an increased $8.5 million in contributions to pensions.

That, combined with last year’s spending of one-time money to balance the budget, led Clark to set a roughly $19 million target in reductions. By the end of the day, Clark said that number had been whittled down to $5.5 million.

One by one, the spending increases fell as the committee moved through Brown’s proposed budget.

They rejected plans to hire 40 new police officers and 40 community service officers, despite a spike in violent crime since this spring.

Rutherford appeared before the committee and calmly accepted the cuts during the meeting.

Afterward, he criticized Brown, saying he did “nothing” to include the money necessary to make the hires.

“In the budget, you can give me 40 officers and 40 community service officers, but if you haven’t created a funding mechanism, it’s all smoke and mirrors,” Rutherford said. “This is exactly what I expected.”

David DeCamp, the mayor’s spokesman, said Brown’s budget had the money for the new hires and that Rutherford signed off on the plan weeks ago.

But despite the committee’s cuts, he said it’s too early to rule anything out.

“We’re at the beginning,” DeCamp said. “Council is doing its job; we’re trying to do our job. We have more meetings to go before this is decided.”

The committee had difficulty making some of the cuts, like a $2.5 million increased payment to the ailing UF Health Jacksonville, formerly Shands Jacksonville, to help treat poor patients.

Council members John Crescimbeni, Matt Schellenberg and Kimberly Daniels discussed the hospital’s financial struggles.

Clark reminded the committee that making the cuts would be difficult, and that if there were any increases they wanted for next year, they’d need to find money somewhere else in the budget.

And so they unanimously approved cutting the hospital’s extra money proposed in the budget along with other programs, including a $669,000 bump to the city’s public service grant program, $443,000 to Jacksonville Area Legal Aid and $208,000 to the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville.

Clark said more were likely on the way.

“Hopefully we can continue on this track,” he said. “There are still many challenges ahead.”

PENSION DEBATE

Sherman and Brown’s administration continued to debate how much the city must contribute to pensions next year. The committee ultimately sided with Sherman by increasing the pension payments by roughly
$8.5 million.

Sherman originally said the shortfall was around $11 million, but that included the hiring of 40 new police officers next year. The panel said it does not plan on adding any new positions next year, and so the pension amount was reduced.

Chris Hand, Brown’s chief of staff, maintained his stance that the budget’s original contribution amount was correct. He later sent council members documents from both the city’s and the Police and Fire Pension Fund’s actuary, which he said supports the budget’s amount.

The committee’s changes are not final, as they still must work through the second half of the budget over the next several weeks. Once the review is completed, the full council will vote, and possibly change, the amended budget in September.

Committee members will meet again on Friday at 9 a.m. They plan on discussing the library’s budget and plans to renew the city’s vehicle fleet.

 

Christopher Hong: (904) 359-4272

Comments (11)

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Bottomline
1133
Points
Bottomline 08/08/14 - 04:45 pm
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0
Premium Member

When school grades go down,

When school grades go down, the majority of people complain about the poor management of the schools. When the crime rates go up, the standard answer is to give the Sheriff more officers. Why is the Sheriff immune to criticism? I applaud the Board for tightening the budget belt and taking steps to get the city back on solid financial footing. The Sheriff needs to review his department and its procedures to use the resources he has to fight crime. If that means concentrating more officers in high crime areas so be it. He has shown little management ability and his constant call for more funds has turned me off. The Peter Principle has taken affect for him. He is already in a position too high for his abilities. He can forget about being Mayor. We need to change the Sheriff to an appointed position, by the Board not the Mayor, where we can recruit highly qualified Chiefs from other cities.

Mockingjay
1683
Points
Mockingjay 08/08/14 - 03:13 pm
0
0
Premium Member

If the mayor wasnt handing

If the mayor wasnt handing out tens of thousands of dollars in pay raises to his appointees there would be more money for operations including police and the required amenities to get him/her out on the road

plus for those that didnt know JSO is acquiring over 300 new vehicles. much, not all of those purchases were long over due. the JSO didnt gain any officers but at least there were no cuts to personnel so thats a good thing.

side note...red light cameras are not bringing in the revenue as projected, they never have. so that among many other things added as a loss of revenue we still have to cover in the current years budget on top of bloated proposed budget and and debt pretty much maxed out this city is hurting because payrolls are not keeping up with an ever growing government

HAPPY JACK
1577
Points
HAPPY JACK 08/08/14 - 10:34 am
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0
Premium Member

I DO NOT WANT TO HEAR THE

I DO NOT WANT TO HEAR THE MAYOR OR THE CITY COUNCIL WHINE ABOUT THE CRIME RATE!!! Yes the caps were intentional. Maybe with the savings they can afford two more pools at Everbank Stadium.

AntiGator
208
Points
AntiGator 08/08/14 - 10:03 am
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0

Awesome, they had all that

Awesome, they had all that money to spend on Everbank field, but in the mean time, bullets are whizzing by our heads.

Good job City Council!

Mockingjay
1683
Points
Mockingjay 08/08/14 - 09:23 am
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0
Premium Member

Jag your immaturity is

Jag your immaturity is showing again and also part of the problem the TU is targeting on blogging.

If your incapable of carrying on an adult conversation that adds to the discussion then why not go away until youve grown up enough to do so.

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