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Jacksonville City Council Holding First Budget Hearings This Week

Councilman Ron Salem speaking to firefighters and JSO officers ahead of his election.
Ron Salem's City Council Facebook page
Finance Committee Chair Ron Salem talking with members of Jacksonville Fire and Rescue and Jacksonville Sheriff's Office

The Jacksonville City Council began the budget process for the upcoming fiscal year Thursday, with the Finance Committee meeting for its first of seven scheduled budget hearings. 

The hearing, which was scheduled for 7 hours and lasted 5, consisted of City Auditor Kim Taylor walking the Finance Committee through the Mayor’s Proposed budget, which included budget proposals from the Property Appraiser, Jacksonville Fire and Rescue, and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office; and budget ordinances including millage rates, the five year Capital Improvement Plan, and appropriating federal funds from the American Rescue Plan.

Finance Committee Chair, Councilman Ron Salem, at the onset of the meeting, expressed optimism for the city’s economy and future spending. 

“I’ve been very impressed by the financial status of the city,” Salem said. “What [Mayor Lenny Curry’s] administration walked into in terms of reserves and where the reserves are today is another great story for the city.”

Council members questioned JFRD Fire Chief Keith Powers and JSO Undersheriff Pat Ivey— filling in for Sheriff Mike Williams, who is recovering from COVID-19— on their budget proposals for the upcoming fiscal year.

The proposed JFRD budget calls for a $35 million increase from $279.5 million to $314.5 million. That represents a 12.5% increase and if approved would be the largest increase given to any city agency. The department is hiring for over 60 new positions as multiple council members noted JFRD is understaffed comparable to other fire departments that serve populations and land areas similar to Jacksonville.

Powers told the Finance Committee that after JFRD establishes two new stations along with the influx of personnel, the department would actually be more cost effective and efficient responding to fires and emergencies.

“We're required to put a minimum number of personnel on scene at a structure fire, once we get our minimum staffing levels up to what the [National Fire Protection Association]  recommendation is, then that will allow us to actually reduce the number of apparatus that have to respond to each structure fire,” he said.

The JSO budget would increase from $484 million to $502 million under Curry’s proposed budget. City Councilman Michael Boylan asked for the department’s budget to reflect a greater shift to positive neighborhood policing and community engagement.

“I mean, there's $10,000, that's .0019% of your budget, focused on community relations. So help me understand the ways the JSO is being proactive in building a relationship with the community, and where is that reflected in the budget?”

Ivey told Boylan that JSO engages extensively in community engagement, but that it might not necessarily be reflected in the budget as those actions go through several different departments and often use outside funds.

“I would encourage you to carve it out, quite honestly, you need to be able to demonstrate in black and white in a ledger that these people, this matters to you, it’s important to you, and I know it is,” Boylan said. 

“I think we need to be able to demonstrate in the budget JSO’s commitment to building on that and improving upon, quite honestly for many folks, that relationship with the community. You look at this budget and say, ‘What are they doing to try and build a community policing environment’ and the budget itself tells me it's $10,000, out of you know, half a million.”

The Finance Committee will be holding 7 budget hearings this month as part of City Council’s process for approving the budget ahead of the new fiscal year that starts October 1. The hearings will be held through the rest of August every Thursday and Friday, as well as Wednesday Aug. 25.

Raymon Troncoso can be reached at rtroncoso@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @RayTroncoso.

Reporter Raymon Troncoso joined WJCT News in June of 2021 after concluding his fellowship with Report For America, where he was embedded with Capitol News Illinois covering Illinois state government with a focus on policy and equity. You can reach him at (904) 358-6319 or Rtroncoso@wjct.org and follow him on Twitter @RayTroncoso.