Still no budget after long meeting
It was 2010 all over again.
A marathon meeting, an early-morning recess and coming back to finalize the budget.
The City Council spent most of the nine hours it met Tuesday and into Wednesday morning trying to finalize the 2013-14 budget. But, after regular business, hearing from the public and debating more than 20 floors amendments, members decided to call it a night just after 2 a.m.
They'll resume today at 2 p.m. , where some of the amendments still to be debated are to fund $1 million for mowing rights-of-way, $200,000 for Hemming Plaza programming and defunding the St. Johns River Ferry the $449,715 the Finance Committee previously approved.
In 2010, the cause of the recess was gridlock. This year it was mounting exhaustion, increased agitation and almost 20 more floor amendments to sift through before a vote could be taken.
At the time of the recess, council had approved about $7 million in additional requests, which applied a 1.34 mill increase out of a 1.5 mill maximum. That leaves about $6.8 million to fund additional programs and services or lower the property tax rate.
"I am exhausted," council member Denise Lee said toward the end of the meeting. "I want to debate my bill but I want the members to hear me and consider it with a thought process. … We can't keep up like this."
Council President Bill Gulliford said afterward he was sorry the group didn't finish, but that it couldn't function very well in the early morning hours.
When the meeting began, council had about $14 million in its special contingency account, which represented what was left of the maximum millage revenue. Throughout the evening, more of that money was chipped away.
An amendment to provide UF Health Jacksonville an additional $2.5 million, on top of the almost $24 million the city has provided each of the past 12 years for indigent care, spurred a lengthy debate and a 12-6 vote of approval.
"How many times are we going to say no?" council member John Crescimbeni asked. "Tonight, it's finally time to say yes."
Another almost $450,000 went toward restoring Saturday hours for the Main Library. The 11-7 vote in favor was one of the more contested, with the most vocal opponents being council members Richard Clark and Stephen Joost, both of whom served on the Finance Committee that helped review the budget.
"We gave them (the library) an unbelievable amount of money back," Clark said, referring to about $1.8 million restored to keep six branches and Sunday hours. "I think they found a hot-button issue to squeeze that last little penny out of us."
Joost said the library board choosing Saturday hours was an example of "how they turn us against each other" by picking a budgetary option that "whips the public up."
Council member Bill Bishop was the amendment's author and argued the Downtown branch should be open "every single day of the week."
The Jacksonville Journey received more than $880,000 to keep its programs at the current year levels, Mayport will have a $200,000 Community Redevelopment Area plan and the Bob Hayes Track Meet will have its $85,000 from the city.
The Julian Barrs, Edith Brown and Windy Hill community centers will remain open after the council appropriated more than $240,000.
Yet, as the night wore on, the council's actions to continually restore funding didn't sit well with some.
"I am frustrated," Clark said afterward. "I am very disappointed in the Finance Committee who stood up, made hard decisions, voted, and then abandoned those votes."
The committee spent 67 hours reviewing Mayor Alvin Brown's budget that had $65 million in service and program cuts. Because of that lengthy review, Clark said he was unhappy committee members continued to add to spending by supporting so many floor amendments.
"I thought they would hold true to our decision making but I guess I was wrong," Clark said.
He said he had no doubt council would hit the 1.5 mill max and "there might not even be money for their amendments" today.
Joost afterward said the committee put together a "good budget" and had similar concerns to Clark.
"They're caving in," Joost said of Finance Committee members. "We worked 67 hours on this budget."