Several Jacksonville City Council members on Thursday said they still have major problems with Mayor Alvin Brown’s proposed budget, even after giving their auditors extra time to answer questions raised last week when they delayed setting a tentative property tax rate.
Six council members met with city department heads and Brown’s Chief of Staff Chris Hand to help guide their decision making for Monday, when they will vote whether to give themselves the option to raise taxes next year.
However, council members received conflicting answers to their questions about Brown’s plan to spend reserve money, a possible pension contribution shortfall in the budget, and potentially overestimated tax collections. That’s led some council members to say they’ll need to find an additional $55 million by raising taxes or cutting spending.
Council members said they are opposed to Brown’s use of the proposed use of $16.8 million in reserve savings, along with the $13.4 million bankruptcy settlement from the Shipyards Development and a projected $7.5 million surplus from the Sheriff’s Office.
Council Auditor Kirk Sherman said using that money will bring the city’s cash savings below a healthy level, and some council members said they will not support using one-time savings to fund the city’s regular operations.
Sherman has also identified a possible $11 million gap in contributions to the Police and Fire Pension Fund and a roughly $4 million shortfall in tax collection estimates.
“I’d say, I think you’re looking at a $55 million number that we have to overcome,” said Councilman Richard Clark.
Hand, Brown’s chief of staff, said he disagrees that the pension contribution is short. And while he understands that some on the council may not support the reserve spending, he said he “absolutely rejects” the notion that Brown’s proposed budget is unbalanced.
“Given the need to invest in certain key community priorities and move the ball on very important quality of life investments, [Brown] recommended a modest, one-time use of reserves,” Hand said. “There are differences in opinion every year, but again, we strongly disagree with the notion that there are any holes.”
On Monday, the full City Council must set the proposed property tax rate for next year. While the proposed tax rate is not binding, it gives an accurate prediction of the highest amount residents could pay.
Sherman has recommended the council raise the property tax by 1 mill, which would result in about a $100 increase for the owner of a $150,000 home with a $50,000 homestead.
Christopher Hong: (904) 359-4272