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City Council member Kimberly Daniels
Jax Daily Record Friday, Aug. 29, 201412:00 PM EST

After first round of cuts, budget is still $30M short

by: David Chapman

After four weeks of budget review, Round One is over.

After mostly holding the line hiring new employees and year-over-year spending, there’s still a problem: The City Council Finance Committee has just under a $30 million hole to fill if it chooses not to use reserves or one-time money.

That means Round Two could mean cuts to personnel and services.

“It will get more difficult,” committee Chair Richard Clark told members at the end of Thursday’s daylong meeting.

He also asked them to “stay strong with the decisions we have made,” over the past month in paring Mayor Alvin Brown’s proposed $1 billion budget that sought to use reserves and one-time funding for services and quality-of-life improvements.

The cutting continued Thursday in several areas.

Long a point of contention with some members, the Human Rights Commission wasn’t eliminated but instead had three positions slashed.

The move saves more than $191,000 and leaves six positions paid by tax dollars. Two other jobs are funded by grants.

Council member Kimberly Daniels led the way on the issue, saying the commission’s work levels don’t merit the amount of staff. Commission Executive Director Charlene Taylor Hill told the committee the cuts are “essentially crippling” investigative services that review employee discrimination cases.

The city’s Victim Services duties were effectively eliminated.

Going on a 2011 Inspector General Report, council member Lori Boyer made the suggestion the city shouldn’t be performing the role when other nonprofits aptly fill the need.

Council members agreed, transferring some funding for sexual assault testing to the Women’s Center of Jacksonville.

The action eliminates eight positions, including two grant-funded staff members, and saves $396,742, according to the Council Auditor’s Office.

The city’s Summer Jobs program, which Brown has strongly endorsed in the past, also took a hit.

The mayor’s budget had it increasing by roughly $535,000 to support more oversight, training and development for more teenagers to participate. Brown’s budget added two full-time staff members, which were cut. Council reduced the program’s amount to the $179,000 budgeted in the current year.

Council members also could be eyeing to eliminate up to 112 jobs that have been vacant for 150-plus days. Those jobs total $6.1 million.

Department heads have been encouraged to come to today’s meeting and explain why they should keep the funded, but unfilled positions heading into next year.

Most of today’s daylong session will be the review of Brown’s proposed Capital Improvement Plan, a $111 million list of projects and investments.

It’s headlined by such projects as $11.8 million for the Landing, $4 million to demolish the former courthouse and $43 million to expand Trail Ridge Landfill.

Yet, with Brown’s budget asking to borrow more than $230 million, a backlog of projects still needing to be completed and other plan commitments, council will determine what should stay and what should wait.

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