The Jacksonville City Council has authorized 100 new police officers to be added to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
The beefed up force was one of Mayor Lenny Curry’s biggest priorities in the $1.27 billion budget, which the City Council unanimously passed Tuesday night.
Police and Fire
The budget includes money for 80 of the officers to be hired this upcoming fiscal year.
Over the past two years, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office has hired 80 officers, as well as 80 community service officers, who handle minor calls. The new hires would bring the force up to 1,780 officers.
Curry said before he became mayor that JSO had 1,600 police officers.
Some public commenters at past meetings had called for the council not to fund the additional officers, and instead focus on better police training, but discussion surrounding that viewpoint didn’t come up Tuesday.
The budget also funds 42 new firefighters. Roughly $23 million would go toward replacing fire and JSO vehicles.
‘Safer Neighborhoods’ Plan
Curry’s $50 million “safer neighborhoods” plan is also in the budget, which includes a $8.4 million investment in Edward Waters College.
That money will fund a new community athletic field and refurbish dormitories.
Councilman Danny Becton wasn’t happy with funding for the private college. He said the dollars would be better used for water projects, including hooking households up to city water.
“It is decisions like this that overlook the needs of our community,” he said.
Becton had said during an August Finance Committee meeting he might vote against the budget if this matter was approved. But Tuesday, despite his colleagues not supporting his amendment to halt the Edward Waters dollars or another of his amendments to pay more toward the city’s pension debt, he voted in favor of the budget.
“While these issues are very important to me, I find the good that this budget provides to outweigh the concerns that I’ve expressed,” Becton said.
The mayor’s safer neighborhoods plan also includes funding for JSO and Jacksonville Fire and Rescue equipment as well as year-round drowning prevention lessons for about 12,000 children over a three-year period.
About $131 million was approved for capital improvements, $8 million of which would be used to demolish the old courthouse and city hall to prepare for future development.
Other capital dollars would be invested in road resurfacing, sidewalks, senior centers and parks.
A million dollars would be invested in landscaping and lighting downtown.
The Jacksonville Public Library had asked for a nearly $2 million increase in the mayor’s proposed budget, which was half a million less than what had been approved the previous year.
City Council approved a $850,000 increase for library materials Tuesday, which includes everything from books—hard copy, electronic and audio — to online research databases.
However, library supporters and staff spoke Tuesday night saying the full $2 million was still needed to allow libraries to be open more days.
Councilman Garrett Dennis asked his colleagues to amend Public Works’ budget to designate $25,000 for sandbags to be provided to Jacksonville residents during storms, but he withdrew the measure.
Dennis said he received calls from his constituents asking for sandbags during hurricanes Irma and Matthew.
“We can get 50,000 bags for $10,000,” Dennis said. “This is just a small thing we can do to provide some life safety for our residents.”
Jacksonville Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa said the city’s executive branch is planning a Hurricane Irma debrief and will discuss sandbags then. He said after the discussion the administration might have a recommendation for the council regarding them.
“I have questions myself, with regards, is $25,000 the right number? How many bags are we going to buy?” Mousa said.
Other councilmembers, including Lori Boyer, said they weren’t sure if sandbags were very effective. She said many flooded San Marco residents used the bags but they didn’t help.
But Councilman Reggie Brown said he wasn’t comfortable with surrounding counties offering the bags, and Duval not doing the same.
Dennis withdrew the amendment with the administration's commitment to have a serious conversation about sandbags.
Council members voted to up their salaries to what they would have been paid before 2010, when council voted to reduce its own pay.
Council made the decision to lower its salaries after other city employees took a pay cut that year.
Now that other city employees have had their salaries restored, council members upped theirs.
Mayor Lenny Curry sent a memo out before Tuesday’s meeting saying he does not support pay raises for elected officials.
“I have asked Council to consider an amendment to the budget tonight that ensures my salary as mayor will not be increased one cent more than it was on the day I took office,” he said.
Council members passed that amendment to clarify Curry would not be getting a raise, as they would.
Councilman Al Ferraro introduced an amendment to also prohibit council members from getting the raises, but that amendment failed.
The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at email@example.com, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride