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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Jul. 19, 201707:10 AM EST

City auditor to recommend millage rate increase

Slight increase would give city flexibility in budget process, Finance Committee told.
by: David Cawton Associate Editor

The City Council Auditors Office will recommend increasing the general service millage rate a quarter of a point at the next City Council meeting on Tuesday. 

Council Auditor Kyle Billy told members of the council Finance Committee on Tuesday that the increase would represent about $13 million in additional revenue for the general fund. 

More importantly, Billy said, the slight increase would give council members more flexibility when they begin debating Mayor Lenny Curry’s proposed $1.275 billion budget in August and September.

He said if council members wanted to keep the current 11.4419 general service millage rate, as recommended in Curry’s new budget, they could, “or put that the extra money into reserves.” 

According to the Duval County Tax Collector’s Office, council approved a 1.4066 increase to the general service millage rate in 2013 to 11.4419, where it has remained since. 

Curry introduced his municipal budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year Monday. It does not include an increase. 

When asked Tuesday about the council auditor’s recommendation, Curry again said he doesn’t support raising taxes. 

“Not at all. I do not support raising the millage rate,” he said.  

“In three years, my team has introduced three balanced budgets without raising taxes,” he said. “That tells you something.” 

The council Finance Committee will begin analyzing the budget in depth during much of August before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30. 

Finance Committee Chair Garrett Dennis said while the mayor’s budget was fiscally responsible, “a small increase in the millage rate wouldn’t be the worst thing for the city.” 

“To be honest, I would support that,” Dennis said. 

“In order to grow, we need to invest in our city and if that means we need to make that hard decision to increase the millage by a small percentage, then I think that’s a good idea.” 

Dennis said he applauds the mayor’s team for “once again putting forward a budget that gives the taxpayers a good return on their investment.” 

Curry’s latest proposed budget is 6.3 percent larger than the 2016-17 budget, and includes more than $150 million for infrastructure and capital improvement projects. 

Ad valorem, or property, taxes represent about $596 million, or half of the estimated general fund revenue for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

Dennis said an additional $13 million in ad valorem revenue could be allocated or placed into a reserve fund, “in case of an emergency.” 

During the council’s two-week break, Dennis said he spent most of his time working with the council auditor’s office to prepare for budget hearings. 

“I’ve been meeting with them for a couple of hours each day just getting into the weeds of it,” he said. 

Dennis said he’s also taken advice from the last few finance chairs, including the most recent and current council President Anna Brosche, on how to manage the review process. 

“She and other former chairs have given me some best practices,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of work.” 

The finance committee is scheduled to hold eight budget hearing meetings beginning Aug. 10. 

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