City IT Division receives financial boost after review
The City Information Technology Division received a tentative $780,000 budget boost for fiscal 2013-14, the only department to receive additional funding during a lengthy first day of budget review Thursday.
The Council Finance Committee spent more than eight hours tackling a few sections of Mayor Alvin Brown's proposed budget, analyzing information technology, fleet management and intra-governmental services.
Finance members Matt Schellenberg and Stephen Joost were the two most vocal in support of returning slashed funds to the IT department. Schellenberg said more capital needed to be invested to save money long-term. Joost said technology-based investment is "the way you make yourself more efficient as a city, as a government."
"It doesn't make sense to cut IT and ask others to be more efficient," he said.
Council Vice President Clay Yarborough, also a Finance Committee member, said he was concerned about supporting the measure because restoring the cuts was "moving in the other direction" in terms of balancing the budget.
The more than $780,000 comprised an increase of funding for contract employees, $86,000; improving Oracle software maintenance and support, $100,000; restoring hardware and software maintenance agreements, $42,000; restoring funding for desktop support, $150,000; and restoring four positions to the department, $402,000.
Of the four positions, one will be assigned to the Duval County Courthouse.
The department sought $2.7 million in restored cuts, which represented a 13.88 percent reduction in the department budget, according to the City budget office.
The 13.88 percent figure remained a thread Thursday.
Brown and administration officials have been saying department budgets have been cut 13.88 percent.
Ronnie Belton, City chief financial officer, told the committee the figure related to the $64 million deficit.
Glenn Hansen, City budget officer, said the process began in March when departments were asked to submit budgets that were at a 98 percent funding level from fiscal 2012-13.
Not all departments did and some submitted budgets with funding increases.
For the June 3 budget, departments were asked by the administration for a 13.88 reduction in controllable costs.
Council member John Crescimbeni said some departments alleged they made the 2 percent reduction and then were hit with the additional cut. He asked Belton if that was equitable.
Belton said balancing the budget is "not a reward and punishment situation."
Documents from the Council Auditor's Office displayed the mayor's June 3 tentative budget, the July 15 proposed budget and the overall increase or decrease of controllable costs in dollars and a percent — none of which hit the 13.88 percent mark.
That drew the ire of several Council members, led by Finance member Richard Clark, who made a proposal to put "below the line" the difference between what each department cut and what was needed to reach the 13.88-percent. Putting an item below the line is a temporary motion that will be revisited.
"We didn't come up with the arbitrary number, he came up with the arbitrary number," said Finance member Richard Clark of Brown. "It's his budget … what we said was 'I want to see what it looks like.'"
Schellenberg earlier said that adhering to a strict 13.88 cut for each department was "falling into the mayor's trap" and priorities should be established.
City budget officials said budget numbers changed from June 3 to July 15, which altered the amount needed to be cut.
Yarborough said he was "very disappointed" that the administration and departments did not meet a request to show potential options for departmental cuts to assist the committee in its deliberations.
The committee meets at 9 a.m. today for a half-day budget review session, with the next full-day session at 9 a.m. Thursday. The meetings will take place throughout August.
Other notes from Thursday's hearings:
• Budgets for the Public Service Grants and the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville were tentatively approved, albeit lower than what was approved in fiscal 2012-13. Public service grants were approved for $2 million, about $300,000 less than last year and $2.1 million less than what the Public Service Grant Council requested. The Cultural Council was approved for $2.4 million in funding, down from $2.8 million in fiscal 2012-13 and the $3 million it requested. A $53,000 line item for the Art in Public Places program also was eliminated.
• Revenue from a Sheriff's Office Trust Fund relating to red light cameras was reduced about $370,000. The decrease was based on projections the program will contribute.
• Potential funding reductions related to JEA and recommended by the Council Auditor's Office were deferred. The recommendations were to reduce revenue of Utility Service Tax by almost $3 million and Franchise Fee revenue by $750,000. The items will be taken up during JEA's budget review.
• The committee approved an auditor's office recommendation to establish a new internal service related to building maintenance, security and utilities. The idea is that department budgets will reflect what such costs are and how they will be billed, which could improve efficiencies. Some Council members were concerned whether each department has the ability to control utilities like air conditioning and other components that factor into such bills.