A national financial watchdog group finds Jacksonville taxpayers would have to fork over more than $6,000 each to fully pay off the city’s debt.
Chicago-based Truth In Accounting is calling on city officials to be more transparent with their finances.
According to Truth in Accounting CEO Sheila Weinberg, Jacksonville would need to have $5 billion on hand to pay off all its obligations. But the city only has $3.5 billion in assets available, which leaves the River City with a more than $1 billion shortfall.
Mayor Lenny Curry is pushing forward with a plan to pay down the city’s more than $2 billion pension debt through renegotiating city retirement plans and the passage of a sales tax extension.
But Weinberg said Jacksonville’s leaders could be doing a better job of relaying the full scope of the city’s debt.
“The citizens in Jacksonville and other areas do not have the financial information about their governments to be a knowledgeable participants in the democratic process,” she said.
Weinberg said Jacksonville financial audits show the city is more financially transparent than some, mainly because it includes the pension debt on its balance sheet, but that there’s still room for improvement.
Weinberg said she focused on the 20 most populous American cities. And according to the Financial State of Cities report, Jacksonville has the 11th highest individual taxpayer burden at $6,100.
Weinberg does not offer any remedies, though. She said whether cities should curtail obligations or raise taxes isn't in the purview of Truth in Accounting.
“What we want is for the government to be truthful and transparent with their numbers,” she said. “If you’re going to have a balanced budget requirement, if the elected officials are going to come out and say ‘we balanced the budget,’ then we want them to be truly balancing the budget.”
Request for comment from the mayor’s office were not immediately returned.
Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at (904) 358 6319 or on Twitter @RyanMichaelBenk