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Jacksonville City Council committee still faces $30 million of budget decisions

Posted: August 28, 2014 - 8:52pm

After weeks of budget-scrubbing workshops, the Jacksonville Council Finance Committee still faces a $30 million hole in its attempt to avoid using reserves or one-time money sources in the 2014-15 budget.

To close that roughly $30 million gap, the Finance Committee would have to make cuts in existing services, or dip into the city’s reserves, or some combination of both.

Finance Committee Chairman Richard Clark told colleagues Thursday that the hardest stage is about to begin.

“I only ask that you stay strong with the decisions that we’ve made,” Clark said after the committee finished striking various items from Mayor Alvin Brown’s proposed 2014-15 budget. “It will get more difficult.”

The City Council has already ruled out a property tax increase. Some City Council members have criticized Brown’s proposed budget for using one-time money, such as reserves and a $13.4 million settlement from the former developer of the Shipyards property downtown. But that option is still on the table.

David DeCamp, spokesman for the mayor, said the administration will continue to tout the merits of individual items in Brown’s budget proposal, which Brown cast as investments making Jacksonville a “City of Opportunity.”

“We feel like we have a compelling case to make that this year is an appropriate time,” he said, adding that the council’s budget review is still a “work in progress.”

One target eyed by council for further budget cuts is a list of 112 positions that have been vacant for at least 150 days, which would save a few million dollars if those are eliminated from next year’s budget. Some have been vacant for more than two years.

The long-term vacancies raise doubts about whether the positions are really needed, Councilman Bill Gulliford said. “That’s what we’re going to get to the bottom of.”

However, in a rare instance of endorsing expansion of a city service, the Finance Committee voted Thursday to support creating 18 new positions at a cost of about $620,000 in the Mowing and Landscape Maintenance Division, which is part of the city’s effort to crack down on neighborhood blight.

But most of the day’s action rolled back parts of Brown’s proposals to boost spending on services, such as his calls to expand the summer youth jobs program and bolster city support for Downtown Vision’s activities. Downtown Vision officials said they would have to reduce the “ambassador” program that assists downtown visitors if the Finance Committee’s version of the budget takes effect.

The committee voted to eliminate a Jacksonville Children’s Commission position that the council had approved creating just two months ago.

The committee also reduced the city’s current support for the Alternative to Out of School Suspension program — called ATOSS for short — by about $200,000, which would bring the city’s spending down to around $620,000 for ATOSS.

Combined with about $200,000 from the Duval County School Board, there will be enough money to have four ATOSS centers open over the next year, compared to five centers in the past, school officials said.

ATOSS was created to curb juvenile crime by providing supervision for students who are suspended from school. The school district is striving to handle more students through in-school suspensions.

The Finance Committee sought to cut the Police and Fire Pension Fund board’s proposed 2014-15 budget by eliminating a new deputy director position and a “media management” contract. It’s not clear whether the council can determine the fund’s budget, however, since the fund says its board has sole control of its spending.

David Bauerlein: (904) 359-4581

 
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