What to know before city council votes on the budget this month

Jacksonville City Council will vote this month on the proposed spending plan for the coming year. Council is expected to discuss the budget on September 14 and finalize it on September 28 before the start of the new fiscal year on October 1.

After seven hearings last month where members heard from various department staff, the September 14 meeting will be one of the first times the public will be asked about the mayor’s $ 1.4 billion budget proposal for the general fund.

Most of the operating budget goes to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office – about 36%. The sheriff’s office would see an increase of $ 17 million, with funding to add 49 investigative and homeland security positions, while reducing 41 patrol officer positions. Mayor Lenny Curry said the sheriff’s office’s expanded budget is what he considers most important.

“This budget continues to invest in my top priority, and what should be the top priority of any government at any level, and that is public safety,” Curry told the Council when he presented the budget in July.

The city is also proposing to add 70 fire and rescue workers. The fire department is expected to get the largest budget increase of any municipal agency, a 12.5% ​​increase over last year’s budget, for a total of $ 314.5 million in total proposed spending .

And for the first time, the town hall does not grant itself automatic increases in the city’s budget. A bill passed in March required the council to pass a separate bill to give itself increases, rather than including them in the annual budget.

Jacksonville Community Action Committee community organizer Maria Garcia said she was disappointed with the increased police budget.

“The simple fact that there isn’t even a little hindsight in approving such a huge budget is always disappointing,” Garcia said.

His progressive rights organization is creating an alternative budget proposal, which they call the People’s Budget, calling for the reallocation of much of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office budget to community services. The group is developing its alternative budget proposal using community feedback gathered, in part, through an online survey. Garcia said giving his opinion on the city’s budget should be more accessible.

“A lot of these meetings take place during working hours,” Garcia said. “So obviously it’s really hard for working class people to go out and be at these meetings.

It’s been six weeks since Curry presented his budget proposal. Members were tasked with holding citywide meetings in August to gather community feedback, in accordance with the city’s budget calendar. However, the city’s public meeting schedule shows only two publicly announced opportunities outside of city hall: a District 1 town hall meeting on August 23, and a District 4 meeting that was scheduled to be held in early August but. was eventually canceled.

“Often, council members will also seek the advice of citizens in a variety of ways,” which could include by email and telephone, a city spokesperson told WJCT News.

In addition to the general fund budget, the council will also review the five-year capital improvement projects (CIP) budget, which funds infrastructure projects, at its meetings this month. One of the largest investments in the proposed CIP budget is $ 50 million for the phase-out of septic tanks, the city’s largest allocation for sewer hook-ups in the past five years.

“It’s time for the city to keep its promises and start rebuilding trust in our communities, and it’s a first step towards that goal,” Mayor Curry said of the long-delayed septic tank investment project. .

According to JEA, which is responsible for replacing the old septic tanks, the only septic tank disposal in the neighborhood that has started so far is in the Biltmore neighborhood of Northwest Jacksonville. The next area on the bridge for hookups is Beverly Hills.

To squeeze the budget at the September 14 city council meeting, residents should attend the meeting in person, at City Hall, 117 W Duval St., and complete a speaker card within the first hour. Of the reunion. The city’s virtual public commentary option ended when the city ceased Zoom streaming meetings on July 1. You can also email city council members to comment on the budget.

The city will be broadcasting the meeting live here.

Ray Tronosco of WJCT contributed to this report.

Contact Claire Heddles at [email protected], or on Twitter at @claireheddles.

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