Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Mayor Curry's Austere Budget Reflects Jacksonville's Pension Woes

Jessica Palombo

Updated at 2:20 p.m.:   

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry unveiled an austere city budget Monday that “reflects the constraints that we face due to increasing pension costs.”

Many services are remaining at minimum levels, while nearly a third of the whole budget is going toward pension costs.

The roughly $1 billion budget doesn’t raise taxes and focuses heavily on public safety, calling for hiring more police officers. Twenty-seven percent of spending is on pension costs, with $14.8 million going to pay down debts.

One of the hardest decisions, Curry says, was to not increase funding for Jax Journey at-risk youth intervention programs. Funding remains at about $5 million, including about $600,000 from a special fund set aside last year.

“By investing in our kids, they need to know that we’re not just trying to solve a problem so that the business community can thrive,” Curry said Monday. “They need to know that we care about them, that we love them. So in short, I wish that we had unlimited resources to take care of our young people.”

Among the No’s in his budget are:

  • $500,000 for the Friends of Hemming Park. Instead, $250,000 would go to manage the park in monthly installments.
  • Downtown development projects including the Shipyards and the Laura Street Trio
  • Increasing library hours
  • Building new fire stations
  • Hiring 120 fire personnel
  • Increasing grass mowing above the eight times per year the county currently does
  • Code enforcement officers to fight blight
  • Road resurfacing and sidewalk projects above minimum mandates

Items funded in Curry’s budget include:

  • 40 new police officers and 40 new community service officers
  • $14 million for police vehicles
  • $7.5 million for fire vehicles
  • Mosquito control helicopter
  • $3 million for ash pollution remediation
  • $11.5 to expand the Trail Ridge Landfill
  • $5.5 million for Americans with Disability Act compliance on curbs and ramps

Curry says services have been cut for years as a result of the pension debt, and unless voters approve County Referendum 1 on the August 30 ballot, the percent of spending on pension costs will only continue to rise, while other services like grass cutting, continue to suffer.
“We don’t mow enough. Our city looks horrible. It’s an embarrassment," Curry said. "There are number of these things that have been cut over the years that we will simply not be able to do in the years ahead.”

Credit Jessica Palombo / WJCT News
Pastor Gary Williams speaks alongside (left to right) Pastor John Newman, Mayor Lenny Curry, Bishop John Guns and Edward Waters College President Nathaniel Glover.

A handful of black community leaders joined Curry at City Hall in support of the sales-tax referendum to pay down pension debt. Hopewell Church’s Gary Williams was among them.

“I did not vote for the mayor, but he has my vote pertaining to where we are in the plight of our city,” Williams said. 

A recent University of North Florida poll showed black voters were about equally likely as white voters to support the pension tax referendum. But just 2 percent of black voters identified the pension crisis as the city's top problem, compared with 18 percent of white voters. 

Curry says he knows some ZIP codes and neighborhoods have been neglected in past city budgets. He’s pledging to meet regularly with the pastors to keep talking about their communities’ needs.

View Curry's entire budget proposal here

Jessica Palombo supervises local news gathering and production, podcasts and web editorial content for WJCT News, ADAPT and Jacksonville Today. She is an award-winning writer and journalist with bylines including NPR, Experience Magazine, and The Gainesville Sun. She has a master’s degree in broadcast and digital journalism from Syracuse University and is an alumna of the University of Florida. A nearly lifelong resident of Jacksonville, she considers herself lucky to be raising her own children in her hometown. Follow Jessica Palombo on Twitter: @JaxJessicaP