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Jacksonville City Council Passes Public-Safety Focused Budget

Ray Hollister

The Jacksonville City Council approved a budget of more than a billion dollars Tuesday evening.

The spending plan focuses on public safety and paying off pension debt.

The city will hire 40 new police officers and 40 new public safety officers and fund a Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office body camera pilot program.

The city’s anti-crime initiative, the Jax Journey, will be funded nearly the same last last year at about $5 million.

But its oversight committee is using more data-driven, targeted qualifying guidelinesfor programs to receive money under the Journey.

During last month’s Jax Journey finance meeting, project director Debbie Verges said over the past year the oversight committee examined and set new standards for the way Journey programs were to gather data.

Councilman Scott Wilson asked that Journey programs only be funded for six months until he’s givena better explanation how the 10 ZIP codes served by Journey programs are chosen.

He’s been recommending targeting smaller areas with high crime rather than entire zip codes. He said there are pockets of high crime in his Southside district that would benefit from the programs. However, council members voted against his proposal.

A last-minute tweak to the budget uses about $112,000 leftover from last year’s property appraiser’s budget for taking aerial pictures of the city. Appraiser Jerry Holland said they’re taken every couple years and they save his department time and money.

Since field appraisers are required to look at properties every five years, he said they can view the photos instead.

“We can actually see the size of the home, see if the size has changed, see if the homeowner has made any additions to it without a permit or taken any buildings down,” Holland said. “And actually part of this funding actually will be a computer process that will actually match aerials from one year to the other and tell us which ones have been changed.”

And Council members also approved amendments totaling $45,000 from the council’s contingency fund, which includes paying for a thousand kids to get swimming lessons and funding council member travel for participating in conferences dedicated to improving cities.

Councilman Aaron Bowman supported the amendments, but said “I just want the Council as a whole to realize that we haven’t started the fiscal year yet and we just cut our contingency almost in half and that’s the issue for me.”

Not all council priorities were able to be funded. More than a quarter of the budget is going toward paying down pension debt. Mayor Lenny Curry says that’s why more dollars can’t go toward sidewalks, downtown development or increased library hours.

The budget takes effect pending Curry’s signature.

Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at@lindskilbride

Lindsey Kilbride was WJCT's special projects producer until Aug. 28, 2020. She reported, hosted and produced podcasts like Odd Ball, for which she was honored with a statewide award from the Associated Press, as well as What It's Like. She also produced VOIDCAST, hosted by Void magazine's Matt Shaw, and the ADAPT podcast, hosted by WJCT's Brendan Rivers.