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City Council Vice President Bill Gulliford discusses a budgetary item with Council members near the conclusion of Tuesday’s meeting. Council unanimously approved the $945 million budget for fiscal 2012-13, which begins Monday.
Photo by David Chapman
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City Council passes budget, reduces Clerk of Courts funding

by David Chapman, Staff Writer

City Council unanimously passed a $945 million budget Tuesday, approving several floor amendments that included more money to Public Works for rights-of-way mowing and less money for the Duval County Clerk of Courts amid a bonus controversy.

The new fiscal year starts Monday.

The close to $174,000 in bonuses given by Clerk of Courts Jim Fuller to employees was a constant topic during the meeting, with several members referring to an amendment reallocating an equal amount of City funds stripped from the Clerk’s budget as sending a message.

“I think it’s absolutely crazy,” said Council member John Crescimbeni, chairman of the Finance Committee, on the floor.

He referred to the bonuses as “play money” and offered the amendment to reallocate about $47,500 – the amount paid to 23 employees Aug. 3 – to Public Works for mowing. The close to $126,000 scheduled to be paid Friday has been temporarily halted, with the money placed in a special contingency account to be spent at a later time, pending potential legal action.

Just after the Tuesday meeting began, Senior Assistant General Counsel Mary Jarrett sent an email to the City’s human resources department stating the lump-sum bonuses to be issued Friday could be an issue with state statutes.

The takeaway from the Clerk’s budget next year was determined by Council on Tuesday to be the best recourse because there were no apparent City funds left to reallocate in the current-year budget, but the Council Auditor’s Office is reviewing accounts to ensure there are no funds.

The full Council meets Thursday in a special meeting to consider and possibly vote on the City’s tentative agreements with several bargaining units, and, if money is found in the Clerk’s current-year budget, emergency action could be taken.

A floor amendment from Council member Matt Schellenberg also added $234,000 to Public Works for mowing rights-of-way. The money was taken from the Health Department budget and was agreed to from the City and Council auditors.

The just under $281,500 addition to mowing will be applied toward the $1.5 million needed to maintain current service-year levels, and though Council did not meet the goal, “every bit counts,” Crescimbeni said after the meeting.

Another amendment would have applied money toward mowing, but was quickly denied.

Council member Don Redman proposed a floor amendment to completely defund the Human Rights Commission of $600,123 and apply the money toward Public Works.

Council member Reggie Brown was the first to voice opposition and said the issue comes up every year with the same result and no resolution.

He proposed that if the amendment was approved, Council should also find $10 million in grants received from the federal government to have the program.

“Let’s put this to rest,” Brown said.

During the non-ballot vote, Redman was the only one to raise his hand in approval.

Council member Kim Daniels had also submitted a floor amendment about partially defunding the commission, but it was not taken up on the floor.

In addition, Brown submitted a floor amendment to allocate $30,000 to the Martin Luther King Jr. parade, but withdrew it on the floor, citing confidence with the administration that the event would be appropriately funded.

The Jacksonville University contract with the City’s Planning and Development Department that was on the chopping block was saved after an approved floor amendment from Council member Jim Love, who proposed an appropriation of $90,000 from the department and mayor’s executive operating fund.

Jacksonville Area Legal Aid will also be funded about $7,000 more after a floor amendment by Daniels. The amendment waived a 5 percent assessment to a $135,000 grant the organization receives.

The assessment was approved by the Finance Committee earlier this year after auditors determined the organization had been overpaid at the beginning of each year for several years, with collected fines and fees not meeting that annual allocation. The 5 percent reduction was to be an ongoing assessment until the difference, about $180,000 was collected.

In all, nine floor amendments were submitted, with six being discussed.

The budget was passed just after 8:30 p.m., significantly earlier than it has been the past several years.

With fiscal 2012-13 approved, Council President Bill Bishop said the next several months leading to the next budget will be dictated by Mayor Alvin Brown’s results in pension reform.

Crescimbeni also noted pension reform when asked what could be done before next year’s budget, saying the Council will need to apply pressure to ensure reform is done and money can be saved.

dchapman@baileypub.com

356-2466

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