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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Jul. 31, 201412:00 PM EST

Council, Mayor Alvin Brown's office remain at odds over budget

by: David Chapman

With a Monday deadline looming for City Council to set a tentative millage rate, a Thursday meeting looking for budgetary answers instead led to more questions and frustration.

Council Auditor Kirk Sherman told several council members he is still has an $11 million concern regarding shorting the Police and Fire Pension Fund in Mayor Alvin Brown’s budget.

Then there’s another $3 million concern about payments to the General Employee Pension Fund and corrections officers plan.

There’s also different revenue streams he thinks might be overstated, totaling up another possible $5 million.

Between the auditor’s concerns and the amount Brown proposes borrowing, Finance Chairman Richard Clark pegged the total amount at about $55 million.

He described the two extreme options when dealing with such a number — cutting that amount out of the budget, meaning personnel and services, or increasing revenue.

The answer, he said, likely is somewhere in the middle.

David DeCamp, Mayor Alvin Brown’s spokesman, said the administration strongly disagrees with the $55 million figure. Portions of that figure are accounted for, such as a $7.5 million suggested carryover in the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office budget. And the $17 million in reserve spending that is considered current year-revenue, according to a recent legal opinion. And the $13.4 million Shipyards settlement applied toward debt service.

The latter two points drew the ire of those on the other end of the table.

On the reserve spending, Sherman said the administration is calculating reserves based on a specific general fund account, instead of using the same accounts ratings agency use. Council, Sherman argues, established rules years ago to maintain a certain threshold that wouldn’t be met should that much spending occur.

For the Shipyards settlement, council member Bill Gulliford said he strongly disagreed with the administration’s using the money after council specifically pulled it back for capital projects. In response, Chris Hand told the group that the city’s Office of General Counsel and bond counsel backed the administration’s use of that money for paying down debt service on Shipyards-related bonds.

One financial positive from the meeting was mention of the city being up $12.5 million so far this fiscal year, according to a just-released third-quarter summary. The amount reflects $4 million more than the second-quarter report showed.

Council meets 8 a.m. Monday to set the millage rate, followed by extensive budget hearings starting Aug. 7.


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