The Jacksonville City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a budget for next year that boosts spending on streets and other infrastructure to its highest level in years and increases the size of the city’s police force.
The budget includes all of the key priorities proposed by Mayor Lenny Curry, like a $131 million capital project list and authorization for the Sheriff’s Office to hire 100 new police officers.
The $1.2 billion budget keeps the city’s property tax rate at 11.4419 mills. It goes into effect on Oct. 1.
Earlier this summer, Curry pitched a stimulus-style budget that spread money across the city, which was made possible by a stronger economy, growing property values and a new-found financial flexibility stemming from a series of reforms to the city’s pension plans.
For the third consecutive year since taking office, Mayor Lenny Curry faced little resistance from the council in setting the city’s spending priorities.
The council didn’t significantly alter Curry’s proposed budget during their preliminary reviews last month. They added a list of enhancements to the budget, including an 11 percent increase to their yearly salaries, $850,000 to purchase library materials and $1.2 million to mow parks and other city properties that residents often complain of being unkempt and blighted.
Curry again this year made public safety a top priority in his budget. After adding 65 new police officers during the last two years, Curry this year proposed adding 100 new officers.
The budget increases the Sheriff’s Office employee cap by 100 police officers and gives the department enough money to hire as many as 80 new officers next year.
It will likely take several years for the 100 new officers to hit the street. The department expects to graduate 136 new officers from its training program over the next year, and more than half of those positions would fill existing vacancies.
The budget’s $131 million capital spending plan would pour millions into roads and other infrastructure across the city, as well as additional millions to help prepare city-owned downtown properties for private development.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Councilman Danny Becton challenged Curry’s plan to spend $8.4 million on improvements to Edward Waters College, arguing it wasn’t appropriate for the city to spend millions on a private institution while neighborhoods still lacked access to water lines or adequate drainage.
“We have many priorities in our communities that have been neglected for years and are in need of our attention,” he said.
Becton called for the money to instead be spent on water and sewer projects, but his idea didn’t earn enough support to be debated.
The council’s pay increase came after the group voted last month to reverse a 2010 decision that set their salaries below the maximum allowed under city law, which is half of the amount set by the state of Florida. Council members lowered their pay after rank-and-file city employees took a pay cut.
The raise brings the annual salary of council members from $44,000 to $49,000, while the council president’s salary rose from $58,800 to $65,500.
Councilman Al Ferarro proposed eliminating the raise and freezing the council’s salary to its current level. His proposal failed in a 3 to 14 vote. Councilmen Greg Anderson and Jim Love joined Ferarro in voting yes.
Curry must sign the budget before it goes into effect. He has the ability to veto individual spending items, which could be exercised on the council’s raise.
“I want to make clear that I do not support pay raises for elected officials,” Curry said in a written statement. “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.”
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