Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis held a public meeting Monday to discuss an amendment he plans to propose during the approval of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office’s 2020-21 budget.
The amendment would slash the approval of the $484.6 million dollar JSO budget in half to about $234 million, accounting for $16.5 million in revenue.
JSO would get the first half of the money, and then would need to come to the council two more times to get the remaining 50%.
During the meeting, Dennis said the amendment is not intended to “defund” the police, which has become an oft-used term during national protests against police brutality.
“My proposal is about one thing, and one thing only. It's about accountability. It's about transparency, and it's about communication to the council, and to the community,” Dennis said.
Dennis said this will make JSO lay out in more detail what it is spending its money on, and if there is any money that isn’t spent, it can be reallocated to other programs and needs in the community.
The other 50% would come in 25% increments, with JSO returning to the council to ask for the funds in January and May of 2021.
Dennis said this process would not be new for JSO.
“In the 2017-2018 budget, we put a significant amount of the JSO budget below the line,” Dennis said. “And the sheriff’s office had to come back to receive that money. So again, it's not defunding, it's putting the money below the line.”
“There could be a significant cost savings and opportunity to do some other things, but that's not the intent of putting half of the budget below the line,” Dennis said. “Again, it's about accountability. It's about transparency of their budget.”
Last weekend, activist groups like the Northside Coalition and Jacksonville Community Action Committee (JCAC) took to City Hall to protest the $484 million dollar budget and call for the City Council to instead pass the people’s budget, which was created by JCAC.
The people’s budget give’s 20% of the city’s budget to JSO, as opposed to the current budget, which gives the department roughly 40% of the city’s funds. Some of the money taken away from JSO would go to the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, neighborhoods, libraries and public works.
Dennis said when the City Council’s Finance Committee met to discuss the JSO budget, it was impossible to properly vet in just a few hours.
Councilman Matt Carlucci, who is chair of the Finance Committee, disagreed.
“I did not take this lightly, nor did the rest of our Finance Committee,” Carlucci said. “Our Finance Committee was ready for a lot of speakers, and I was quite surprised that we did not have much public input.”
Carlucci also said that although the budget totals $484 million, $392 million is just for payroll expenses.
“If the bill passes, and there's an expectation that we would cut the budget, it would result in a cut of manpower, and that's something that I'm just not willing to do,” Carlucci said.
But Dennis said he felt it wasn’t possible to properly evaluate the budget in the time given.
“How can you go through a half a billion dollars in three hours?” Dennis sasked. “Or what you're saying, two hours? Or [if] the Sheriff presented an hour? You can't.”
After Monday’s meeting, Councilman Rory Diamond tweeted out his disapproval of the amendment.
Tomorrow, I’m voting to fully fund our Jacksonville Sheriffs Office. I’m ready to fight any effort to defund our police. #BackTheBlue
— Rory Diamond (@RoryDiamond) September 21, 2020
Members of the public chimed into Monday’s meeting and voiced their support and concerns, which included people saying the amendment wasn’t doing enough to create change to the JSO budget and allocating that money out to other programs.
“I just am not hearing more concrete things as to when we're talking about transparency, when we're talking about accountability, I know those are the words that we're looking for,” said Meredith Corey-Disch. “But I want to hear concrete things as to how we will actually enact those.”
“People are dying now, people need a ‘now’, which is why we need to immediately take action to see funds reallocated,” said Neal Jefferson. “To see all this community revitalization, we need to put this money in other places now because we can't arrest our way out of the problems that we're seeing in our community.”
WJCT News reached out to JSO for comment on the amendment. If a response is received, the story will be updated.
Dennis’ amendment is one of six total amendments being considered tomorrow regarding the city’s and JSO’s budget.
Two are proposed by Councilman Rory Diamond and would take $86,500 in funding from the new Social Justice and Community Investment Special Committee, which is supposed to talk about issues and solutions regarding racial and economic inequalities. The money would go to “programs and activities” for the multi-county Fire Watch and for engraving on the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Wall Trust.
Sky Lebron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.