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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Sep. 23, 202006:04 AM EST

Jacksonville City Council approves $1.33 billion 2020-21 budget

An amendment was withdrawn to hold half of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office budget until mid-fiscal year.
by: Mike Mendenhall Associate Editor

The Jacksonville City Council passed Mayor Lenny Curry’s $1.33 billion budget relatively intact Sept. 22, but not before a nearly two-hour debate over the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office $468 million in funding.

City Council member Garrett Dennis withdrew his budget amendment to hold $234 million from JSO’s budget and require Sheriff Mike Williams to return to Council halfway through the fiscal year and justify the need before it’s allocated. 

Dennis pushed back against criticism from several Council members that his amendment was linked to the broader national movement to defund and reduce the size of police departments in exchange for more social services.

He argued the amendment was not an attempt to defund JSO but to improve transparency, accountability and communication by Jacksonville law enforcement.

Dennis cited a Sept. 21 editorial by The Florida Times-Union editorial board that called for Council to hold public hearings on protesters arrested during nonviolent protests May 30 and 31 in Jacksonville.

Prosecutors dropped charges for 63 of 66 of the people arrested, the newspaper reported.

“The Sheriff’s Office is going to be whole. All I’m asking is to hold back their budget so when they come back for the second half of their budget, we can have a conversation on these issues,” Dennis said. “Once we give them half a billion dollars, the Sheriff’s Office does not have to come back.”

Council members Rory Diamond, LeAnna Cumber, Aaron Bowman, Danny Becton and Randy White were the most vocal in their opposition to the amendment Sept. 22.

Diamond called it part of a “systematic attack” on police officers nationwide.

“To pretend that taking half the funding from our JSO is not defunding our police is just completely irrational. That’s exactly what it is,” Diamond said. 

“If you’re worried about accountability, I think that’s a logical thing to look at,” he said. “But to tell our police officers we’ll pay your checks for half of the year, you’ll have the equipment you need a little bit but maybe not the rest of it, is absolutely unacceptable to me.”

Council member Brenda Priestly Jackson said she didn’t support Dennis’s amendment and it would not have been her approach to build consensus among Jacksonville policymakers. 

But she said Dennis’s amendment forced the Council to have a conversation about police accountability and inequity within the city budget. 

Priestly Jackson suggested Sept. 22 that Council move forward with hearings on the May arrests once Council completes its investigation of the canceled attempt to sell JEA.

“Mr. Dennis likes to disrupt the system. In his estimation, the best way to disrupt the system is to have this conversation and, let’s be clear, that would have not occurred had he not filed this amendment,” Priestly Jackson said.

Dozens of member of the public addressed the Council before the vote advocating for what they called a “people’s budget” that would reduce JSO’s funding to 20% of the city’s overall budget and reallocate those dollars to neighborhood infrastructure and mental health and social programs in minority and underserved neighborhoods.

The vote

The Council approved the budget 17-2, with Dennis and Diamond opposed.

Dennis said that although there are programs in the budget that he likes, he’s critical of some line items in Curry’s 2020-25 Capital Improvement Plan that he could not support.

Diamond declined a request for comment Sept. 22.

Curry’s five-year CIP includes $100 million in infrastructure spending targeting Council Districts 7, 8, 9 and 10 in Northwest Jacksonville, which the mayor said is an effort to help close historical racial inequities demanded by protesters in late May and early June.

The budget includes nearly $239 million for 121 capital projects in fiscal year 2020-21, with $47 million in spending on hydrology and resiliency infrastructure. 

Millage rate unchanged

Council voted 19-0 to keep the millage rate unchanged at $11.4419 per every $1,000 of taxable property value. The tax rate for the Beaches was set at $8.1512 per every $1,000 of taxable value and the city of Baldwin at $9.6312 per every $1,000 of taxable value.

The Council Finance Committee cut $1.67 million from the budget because of projected revenue shortfalls before voting 6-0 on Sept. 8 to advance the bill to the full Council. 

That was based on a Council Auditor’s Office calculation to set revenue projections roughly $3.6 million lower than offered in Curry’s budget.

The committee cut a combined $1.29 million from temporary seating for the Gator Bowl and Florida/Georgia game no longer needed because of COVID-19 capacity restrictions at TIAA Bank Field, according to the Council Auditor’s Office.

The Council also removed $379,757 to reimburse the Jacksonville Jaguars’ for lost revenue expected from the installation of temporary seating for the Florida/Georgia game. 

The auditor found an accounting error in the fiscal year 2020-21 local option gas tax revenue projections, saving $1.37 million. 

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