Jacksonville City Council will vote this month on the proposed spending plan for the upcoming year. Council is set to discuss the budget Sept. 14 and finalize it Sept. 28 before the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1.
After seven hearings last month when members heard from various department staff, the Sept. 14 meeting will be one of the first times public input is being solicited on the mayor’s $1.4 billion dollar general fund budget proposal.
The largest share of the operating budget is going to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office — about 36%. The sheriff’s office would see a $17 million increase, with funding to add 49 positions in investigations and homeland security, while cutting back 41 patrol officer positions. Mayor Lenny Curry said the expanded sheriff’s office budget represents what he views as most important.
“This budget continues to invest in my top priority, and what should be the top priority of any government at any level, and that is public safety,” Curry told Council when he introduced the budget in July.
The city is also proposing adding 70 Fire and Rescue Department employees. The fire department is set to get the largest budget increase of any city agency, a 12.5% bump from last year’s budget, totaling $314.5 million in total proposed expenditures.
And for the first time, City Council is not giving itself automatic raises in the city’s budget. A bill passed in March required the Council to pass a separate bill to give themselves raises, rather than including them in the annual budget.
Community organizer with Jacksonville’s Community Action Committee, Maria Garcia, said she was disappointed by the increased police budget.
“Just the fact that there’s not even a little bit of pushback on approving such a huge budget is always disappointing,” Garcia said.
Her progressive advocacy organization creates an alternative budget proposal, which they call the People’s Budget, advocating for reallocating a large portion of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office budget into community services.The group develops its alternative budget proposal using community feedback collected, in part, through an online survey. Garcia said giving input on the city’s budget should be more accessible.
“A lot of these meetings are during working hours,” Garcia said. “So obviously it's really hard for working-class people to get out and be at these meetings.
It’s been six weeks since Curry presented his proposed budget. Members were tasked with holding meetings throughout the city in August to gather community input, according to the city’s budget timeline. However, the city’s public meeting calendar shows just two publicly advertised opportunities outside of City Hall: a District 1 town hall meeting on Aug. 23, and a District 4 meeting that was meant to be held in early August but was ultimately cancelled.
“Often, council members will seek input from citizens in a variety of ways as well,” which could include by email and phone, a city spokesperson told WJCT News.
Besides the general fund budget, the Council will also consider the five-year capital improvement projects (CIP) budget, which funds infrastructure projects, at its meetings this month. One of the biggest investments in the proposed CIP budget is $50 million for septic tank phase-outs, the largest city allocation toward sewer hookups in the last five years.
“It’s time the city lives up to its promises and begins rebuilding trust in our communities, and this is a first step toward that goal,” Mayor Curry said of the long-delayed septic tank investment project.
According to JEA, which is tasked with replacing the old septic systems, the only neighborhood septic phase-out that’s begun so far is in Northwest Jacksonville’s Biltmore neighborhood. The next neighborhood on deck for the hookups is Beverly Hills.
To weigh in on the budget during the Sept. 14 City Council meeting, residents must be at the meeting in person, at City Hall, 117 W Duval St., and fill out a speaker’s card within the first hour of the meeting. The city’s virtual public comment option ended when the city stopped Zoom streaming meetings July 1. You can also email city council members to comment on the budget.
The city will live stream the meeting here.
WJCT’s Ray Tronosco contributed to this report.