The department's budget was presented with a combined lapse, or unidentified cuts, of more than $15 million built into it. The lapse was one of the larger presented in Mayor Alvin Brown's budget, leading to Council Auditor Kirk Sherman telling the committee in its first budget review meeting the department's budget needed "considerable work."
The $12.6 million eliminates some of the lapse and allows the department to fill vacancies it has held to meet the budget. The fire union contract does not allow layoffs and with the vacancies held, more overtime has been used and that has driven up departmental costs, Fire Chief Martin Senterfitt told the committee.
Senterfitt said pension costs and workers' compensation were the department's bigger financial issues and that hiring has been needed, training has been slashed and new rescue units are needed to ensure response times do not increase.
Several committee members debated whether to allocate funding for new hires or keep overtime practices in place because new hires would enter the City pension system at a time when pension reform is being pushed.
"Fire departments need firefighters and you have to hire them," Council member Robin Lumb said.
A motion by Council member Stephen Joost to restore the full lapse of about $15.5 million failed, which was followed by Council member Richard Clark offering a compromise of $12.6 million, but not before criticizing Brown's use of an extraordinary lapse to balance a budget.
"This has gotten completely out of hand," Clark said. "This is not budgeting."
Council president Bill Gulliford told the committee he is working on legislation to incorporate language into the budget ordinance that would not allow future budgets to use such lapses.
He later told the committee that it's OK if Brown wanted to maintain his pledge of not raising taxes, but needed to "man up and show us how you're going to do that," referring to presenting a balanced budget.
Despite the $12.6 in funding, Senterfitt drew the ire of several Council members when he said that Stations No. 11, 12 and 14, each slated to be closed in Brown's budget, were still scheduled to be closed Oct. 1.
Clark called the statement "ridiculous" and "disingenuous" and Council member John Crescimbeni said his "exploitation bells" were set off.
Senterfitt told the committee he was forthright in his presented budget, which called for $200 million to keep the stations open. Brown's proposed fire department budget was $183 million.
Senterfitt said that without it, there is a "strong possibility" the department would exceed his overtime budget, but that he could keep them open with minimum staffing and return to the committee should those costs begin to "get out of control."
The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office budget originally was scheduled for review Friday, but was postponed by the committee.
Given a fire department budget "that will not work," as described by the council auditor, the City Council Finance Committee on Friday provided a tentative $12.6 million funding boost to the department for fiscal 2013-14.