- 2014 - January - 8th -

City Council considers reducing mayor’s authority to adjust budget

By Max Marbut, Staff Writer

The animosity and bitterness that erupted between the City Council and Mayor Alvin Brown during the budgeting process hasn't gone away.

Council member Matt Schellenberg introduced legislation in August to reduce the mayor's authority to transfer funds into or out of any agency, non-department or department existing line item from $500,000 to $100,000 without council approval.

The legislation was on the agenda Tuesday for the council Finance Committee.

"This budget is City Council's budget. If the mayor wanted to do what he was supposed to do – provide us with a clear, acceptable budget – then he could have the half-million-dollar transfer. … He basically, in my opinion, should follow the budget that came out of City Council. He didn't even sign the budget. He let it sit on his desk," said Schellenberg.

Brown's Chief of Staff Chris Hand criticized Schellenberg's proposal.

"Councilman Schellenberg is advocating a bill that he admits would create gridlock in government because he wants some kind of 'quid pro quo' from the Administration. That's unfortunate," Hand said in an email this morning.

In mid-July, Brown presented a $953 million general fund budget that included no increase in ad valorem taxes.

He proposed $61 million in cuts, mostly in unidentified "extraordinary lapses," which led council members to criticize the proposed spending plan as incomplete and lazy.

Brown's budget included a pension reform plan that he said would save the city $45 million for the fiscal 2013-14 year and more than $1 billion over the next 30 years.

A little more than a week later, council rejected the pension reform proposal, deciding it would not be part of the budget process.

Council members logged close to 80 hours reworking Brown's budget and then enacted a spending plan with a 14 percent increase in property taxes that preserved jobs, programs and services.

After the council acted, Brown chose not to use his veto power on any budget line item and allowed it to become law without his signature.

"I have heartburn with an executive branch that doesn't sign the budget but then wants to move funds around. It's our budget. Why shouldn't we maintain control of it?" said committee member John Crescimbeni.

Schellenberg admitted limiting the maximum amount of funds the mayor could move within the budget without seeking approval from the council could lead to more legislation having to be considered.

More than 800 ordinances and more than 780 resolutions were introduced to council in 2013.

Council Auditor Kirk Sherman advised the committee that some other jurisdictions have more items introduced each year, but those jurisdictions have shorter bill cycles than Jacksonville's.

Sherman said the authority granted by law to Jacksonville's mayor to move funds within the budget has ranged from $250,000 to $500,000.

"It depends on the level of scrutiny you want to give," he said.

Hand said the administration strongly opposes the legislation, "which would make it much harder for the city to operate efficiently" and "we should be working together to reduce gridlock in government, not creating more of it because Councilman Schellenberg wants something from the Administration."

Hand also said that Brown declining to sign the budget was one of three options after it was approved by council.

"He can sign the budget, use his line-item veto authority to veto specific spending items in the budget, or allow the budget to become law without his signature. Mayor Brown chose the third option," he said.

Schellenberg addressed the question of delays during the meeting.

"Does it create a certain amount of gridlock? Yes, but he has created the problem. It wasn't us," Schellenberg said of council maybe having to consider additional legislation if the cap is lowered.

Crescimbeni said he would support deferring the legislation in order to have "a discussion with the administration."

Schellenberg said he introduced the legislation to "get some movement" from the administration regarding Brown signing the budget.

"And I got nothing back from them," he said.

Crescimbeni suggested a tiered-level authorization format.

"Maybe it's $500,000 if he signs the budget and it's $100,000 if he doesn't. It's our budget – there's no signature – why shouldn't we maintain control of it?" said Crescimbeni.

On Monday, the bill was withdrawn from the Rules Committee at Schellenberg's request.

He said Tuesday he regretted that action.

"I'm incredibly disappointed that I had it withdrawn in Rules. That's my error and I won't make it again," he said.

Recommendation on the bill was deferred by the Finance Committee.

It will again be on the agenda at its next scheduled meeting at 9 a.m. Jan. 22 due to the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.


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