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.”


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