JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Sheriff John Rutherford's request to restore some 80 law enforcement jobs was denied by the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee Thursday. Councilmembers took a hard line on funding requests throughout a day of hearings on Mayor Alvin Brown's 2014-15 budget, including the 40 uniformed officers and 40 Community Service Officers that the sheriff wanted.
In tough words after the committee vote, Rutherford faulted Mayor Alvin Brown for failing to properly fund his proposed budget. He said that the council did "the heavy lifting" for the mayor last year, by raising the ad valorem tax rate to pay for some projects, but their decision not to repeat that this year sealed his budget request. Rutherford observed he was disappointed but not surprised by the vote, which he anticipated "when the council passed on doing his job."
But Rutherford will continue to make his case and search for funding sources until the final budget vote in September. "Safety is either the number one priority in the community or it's not," he said. Absent that, he added, he "will rob Peter to pay Paul. And some of those councilmembers in there are Peter, and some are Paul."
City Council Auditor Kirk Sherman offered a dire view of the proposed budget, saying that based on growth rates, the city would be hard pressed to keep even existing services funded at their current level.
"I don't know how else to say it," he told the committee. "You're using half of your savings to get through next year and hoping on a wing and a prayer that something magical will come up. I don't know how that's going to happen." But by the end of the day, the council reduced the budget hole from $19.8 million to $5.5 million.
Sherman congratulated the council but noted, "There are still many challenges ahead."
The council also voted Thursday to deny a funding increase to Jacksonville Area Legal Aid of $440,000 and $2.5 million for UF Health.
Spokesperson for Mayor Alvin Brown, David Decamp, issued this statement following the news:
The money to support additional 80 personnel in the Sheriff's Office budget comes from the same source -- excess money in the JSO budget, or fund balance -- that Council approved for use at the JSO request in its budget the past two years. The Sheriff's Office also agreed the budget proposal prior to Mayor Brown's July 14 submittal.