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Jax Daily Record Friday, Jan. 6, 201712:00 PM EST

Good year lets city add $11M to reserve fund

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by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

When it comes to the actual versus projected performance of the city’s general fund budget, 2015-16 was a very good year.

So good, the City Council Finance Committee voted Thursday to draft legislation to increase the reserve fund by 20 percent.

“The general fund is in a strong position,” said Kirk Sherman, council auditor.

Expenses on the whole were lower than anticipated and revenues were greater than projected, resulting in the budget being 1.5 percent ahead, he said.

Sherman suggested increasing the reserve from 5 percent of the $1 billion budget to 6 percent by transferring about $11 million into the city’s account earmarked for unexpected expenses.

“It’s prudent, especially when times are good,” said council member Bill Gulliford.

Council member Greg Anderson put it another way. “It’s good to put grain in the storehouse,” he said.

Sherman said the major factors on the plus side were collection of about $4.6 million in overdue property taxes and increases in the JEA service tax and franchise fee due to higher than projected utility sales during the unusually hot summer.

Also contributing to the surplus, employee cost was down about 0.5 percent for a net gain of about $3.6 million.

On the minus side, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department experienced higher overtime expenses.

Sherman said that was to be expected due to the departments’ budget totals and the number of personnel vacancies on the books in each department.

However, Sherman said, the Sheriff’s Office fleet and motor pool expenses were about $2.3 million less than anticipated.

He said use of the reserve fund must be requested by the mayor for a specific purpose by “declaring a necessity” and then any withdrawal must be approved by a two-thirds vote of the council.

In the past, reserve funds were withdrawn in 2006 for Operation Safe Streets. It was a partnership initiated by the Sheriff’s Office with federal and state law enforcement agencies to reduce violent crime in Duval County.

Sherman said nothing is allocated from the reserve fund to cover expenses related to damage caused by Hurricane Matthew in October because the city is expecting up to 85 percent reimbursement from the federal government. The final amount of reimbursement won’t be known for at least a year.

Chief Financial Officer Mike Weinstein said the administration would support increasing the reserve account.

“Six percent would be great. I think we can afford it,” he said.

However, Weinstein cautioned the committee that negotiations with the public safety labor unions regarding changes to the pension plan are far from over.

“Before any substantial move of money, we’d like to get collective bargaining behind us,” he said.

The committee approved for consideration by the council as a whole an ordinance to appropriate $4.6 million to Lonnie C. Miller Sr. Regional Park for ash remediation that’s part of the first phase of an improvement program.

In addition to the environmental cleanup, basketball and tennis courts, a parking lot and concessions area will be constructed in the 126-acre park at Moncrief Road and Soutel Drive in Northwest Jacksonville.

Also approved was an ordinance to appropriate $672,000 from a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to fund through September 2019 investigation of results from sexual assault evidence kits processed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

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