For the third year in a row, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is making public safety the focus of his proposed budget.
Curry presented the spending plan to City Council Monday morning.
Among the a changes, he’s calling for hiring more than double the number of police officers hired last year and a retooled Jax Journey crime initiative.
And in contrast to last year’s budget, there’s more money allocated for infrastructure improvement projects. Curry said that’s because voters and the Council last year approved extending the Better Jacksonville Plan sales tax to cover future pension debt, allowing for more money to be freed up now.
Police and Fire
Curry kicked off his budget presentation with the proposal to add 100 new police officers. Over the past two years, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office has hired 80, as well as 80 community service officers, who handle minor calls. The new hires would bring the force up to 1780 officers.
“We’ve got public safety issues that need to be solved,” Curry said. “The police force was gutted, gutted in previous years (to) dangerously low levels.”
Curry said before he became mayor, JSO had 1,600 police officers, at least 200 fewer than Sheriffs Mike Williams and John Rutherford said were needed.
The mayor is also asking Council to consider funding 42 new firefighters. And roughly $23 million would go toward replacing fire and JSO vehicles.
‘Safer Neighborhoods’ Plan
Curry has also developed a $50 million “safer neighborhoods” plan, which includes an $8 million investment in Edward Waters College.
A piece he’s calling the “Mayor’s Splash Squad” plan would retrofit five community pools for $1 million and allow for seven pools to be available year round for drowning prevention lessons. Curry said he estimates 12,000 children would be able to take lessons over a three-year period.
Curry is also calling for funding more lifeguard services at Huguenot and Hanna parks as well as raising wages for lifeguards at 34 city pools.
The plan also includes funding for JSO and Jacksonville Fire and Rescue equipment.
Curry also wants to reform the Children’s Commission, a city organization that directs funding toward children’s programs, and the Jax Journey, a crime-fighting initiative that invests in youth intervention programs.
Curry has yet to unveil the specifics, but he said he wants programs to focus on kids with the highest needs, often called “at-risk.” Curry calls them “at-hope” instead.
“We have kids that are destined to fall through the cracks if we don’t step in,” Curry said.
More than $36 million would be split between the Children’s Commission and Jax Journey.
In the past, Journey money has also funded ex-offender reentry programs, but that money would now come from elsewhere in the budget.
Curry is proposing around $131 million for capital improvements, $8 million of which would be used to demolish the old courthouse and city hall to prepare for developers.
“You cannot be a suburb of nowhere,” Curry said. “If we are going to attract private dollars downtown, we must prepare downtown for private investment.”
Other capital dollars would be invested in road resurfacing, sidewalks, senior centers and parks.
A million dollars would be invested in landscaping and lighting downtown.
Curry also wants to increase the emergency reserve and pension reform reserve funds.
Next, City Council will workshop and vote on the budget before it takes effect Oct. 1.