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Jax Sheriff Gets $27 Million Restored In City Budget

Kevin Meerschaert

The Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee has restored about $27 million to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office at the second of three hearings scheduled this week to wrap up annual city budget negotiations.

Sheriff John Rutherford said that had the funding not been restored 381 police officers, 60 corrections officers, the department’s in-house drug treatment program, and the Community Transition Center would have all been cut.  

Rutherford said his hat's off to the committee, to whom he had previously presented his budget line-by-line to show that the department could not function with additional cuts.

He said the restored funding will bring the department up to minimum service levels, noting that there are still fewer officers on the street now than when he took office in 2003.

While the budget process has been grueling at times – the committee met for 12 hours on Wednesday – debate on the sheriff’s budget went fairly smoothly. Council members said it was simply unacceptable to lay off any more officers.  

When Mayor Alvin Brown presented his budget to the city council in July it included an unspecified budget cut of over $29 million. The accounting procedure known as “extraordinary lapse” has been commonplace throughout the budget process.  

The council has been very critical of the mayor's use of extraordinary lapses, calling them nothing more than an accounting trick.

City Council President Bill Gulliford said the budget as it was presented was irresponsible and "grates (him) to no end."  He will introduce legislation that would ban the use of large scale lapses in future budgets.        

The mayor's office has said the budget hole could have been filled if city lawmakers had approved the mayor’s pension reform plan.

They voted down the pension plan earlier this year, instead approving a 1.5 mill maximum property tax increase.

With the funding restored to the sheriff, the committee has added about one mill worth of tax revenue to the budget.

The committee hopes to complete the budget at a hearing tomorrow, but they have tentatively scheduled hearings for Saturday and next Tuesday and Wednesday as a contingency.

Kevin Meerschaert has left WJCT for new pursuits. He was the producer of First Coast Connect until October of 2018.