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Photo by David Chapman - Jacksonville Economic Development Commission Deputy Director Paul Crawford and Executive Director Ron Barton discuss its budget Thursday with the City Council Finance Committee.
Jax Daily Record Friday, Aug. 26, 201112:00 PM EST

JSO, JEDC, libraries face cuts

by: David Chapman

Three major City functions — the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, Jacksonville Public Library and Jacksonville Economic Development Commission — saw their budgets cut Thursday.

The City Council Finance Committee spent the day examining City-funded agencies to find savings and fill budget gaps.

Council Auditor Kirk Sherman told the group there are “challenges” of about $14.5 million, including the anticipated $5.8 million that will be needed after a pension cost study.

The committee’s final action of the day was to defund 50 police officers’ salaries and benefits of $3.6 million while reviewing the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office budget.

The money for the officers was budgeted to come from a 2011 U.S. Department of Justice grant that has yet to be awarded.

Sheriff John Rutherford said around 20 of the 50 positions could be placed in current vacancies or positions coming open Oct. 1, but the remaining 30 positions would not be easy.

“I would lay people off,” Rutherford told the committee.

The idea of budgeting for next year on potential future revenue did not sit well with several Finance Committee members.

Similar cuts or non-funding have already been heavily discussed and acted on, including several of Mayor Alvin Brown’s initiatives.

“The budget is proposing income that we don’t have and we don’t know if we’re going to get,” said Council member Bill Bishop. “From a budgeting standpoint, I don’t know what to do.”

Finance Chairman Richard Clark and Council member Bill Gulliford were among those who questioned funding full-time positions with grants meant to last for several years. The JSO has received the funds in the past.

After the vote, the committee adjourned and will begin again this morning by finishing the sheriff’s office budget.

Earlier Thursday, the Jacksonville Public Library was dealt a $2.1 million cut that could mean closing all libraries for one day a week, likely Monday, said library officials.

Last year’s budget discussions included some libraries cutting hours and others closing, but Clark said that pits Council members and neighborhoods against one another. Closing all of the 21 libraries for a single day of the week was a better approach, he said.

Following the vote, Library Director Barbara Gubbin said she heard the budget could be reduced, but she didn’t expect to see such a substantial cut that would affect 47 jobs and up to 5,000 computer sessions, all at a time when use is rising.

Jim Selzer, chairman of the library board of trustees, said the action was a “short-term fix” and said the board has reviewed ways to be more effective. Such a cut, he said, wasn’t the answer.

The Jacksonville Economic Development Commission, under strategic review by Brown, also saw its budget cut by $1.8 million.

Clark initially proposed to cut $2.5 million.

“I think as it exists today, we ought to take the $2.5 (million) and recreate it,” said Clark. “Its day has come and it’s lived its life.”

Clark said Brown could use the money in his reorganization efforts, such as the economic development line item that is currently “below the line.”

Finance Vice Chairman Warren Jones said he didn’t know if the JEDC has yet lived its full life and wanted to see what Brown had in store for the organization before such changes.

Council member John Crescimbeni was more direct.

“What’s the future of the JEDC?” Crescimbeni asked Jessica Deal, Brown’s Council liaison.

Deal said the JEDC is part of Brown’s reorganization but the administration would need to use the Florida Legislature to make some changes. That’s not expected in the session that starts in January.

Deal said the $2.5 million would not give the administration the opportunity to reorganize.

Council member Greg Anderson proposed the $1.8 million JEDC budget transfer to a special contingency fund. The motion passed.

Other agencies that were reviewed Thursday included the Property Appraiser’s Office, Supervisor of Elections Office, Environmental and Compliance and the Jacksonville Port Authority.

Budget hearings continue today.

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