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Photo by Karen Brune Mathis - Police were out in force at City Council Tuesday while Council deliberated proposed budget cuts to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. Council partially restored proposed cuts.
Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Sep. 28, 201112:00 PM EST

Last call: City Council approves 2011-12 budget

by: David Chapman

City Council approved the fiscal 2011-12 budget early today after hours of debate about amendments to partially restore proposed reductions in funding for public libraries, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and the Equestrian Center.

The three topics dominated public comments at the meeting, which began at 5 p.m. in Council Chambers in City Hall. The new fiscal year begins Saturday.

The Council Finance Committee had proposed cuts to those budgets.

Council restored $1.7 million to the Jacksonville Public Library budget. The Finance Committee had proposed a cut of almost $2.6 million and library leaders threatened to close libraries on Monday and make other service cuts.

The restored funds were derived by a combination of two amendments, one by Council President Stephen Joost and another by Council member Greg Anderson.

Joost’s amendment stripped about $712,000 from the Inspector General’s $788,228 budget, leaving it with enough money for Mayor Alvin Brown’s administration to run the office for 30 days and include it as part of his reorganization.

The Inspector General’s office will not necessarily be eliminated as part of the reorganization, Council Liaison Jessica Deal told Council.

Anderson’s amendment took $1 million from the “pay-go” method to finance resurfacing roads, a method put forth by the Finance Committee.

The Finance Committee had put $3.9 million into the paying-as-you-go method to fund road improvements. Several Council members opposed taking any of that money for other purposes.

Finance Chairman Richard Clark argued that paying cash for such work instead of accumulating debt was better for the City’s long-term financial future.

“We’ve got an economic hurdle next year,” Clark said, “because we’ve basically maxed out our credit card.”

Council member John Crescimbeni offered an amendment that would have taken $2.1 million from the resurfacing pay-go fund to restore the Finance Committee’s cut to the library budget, but it was denied.

Joost said the combined library amendments, though taking a portion of pay-go, were good all around.

“I think it’s a good compromise,” he said.

Council amendments also restored some funding to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

Council member Bill Gulliford proposed an amendment to restore $2.2 million to the sheriff’s budget that Finance had put into a special contingency fund for JSO.

Much like he did with library funding, Anderson proposed an amendment to take $1 million from the pay-go fund for road resurfacing and place it in the sheriff’s budget.

Council member Lori Boyer proposed an amendment to Anderson’s attempt that instead took the $1 million from a public building maintenance pay-go fund that had some cash carryover from the current fiscal year.

The amendments were ap-proved and combined netted around $3.2 million, short of the $4.4 million Sheriff John Rutherford was seeking.

The sheriff’s office also faces another $4.4 million shortfall because Brown’s budget included a 2 percent pay cut for police members that the police union has resisted.

Rutherford said those Council cuts and the resulting layoffs he proposes were “on union leadership.”

Though the Finance Committee proposed funding the Equestrian Center for just half of the coming fiscal year, an amendment submitted by Council member Doyle Carter restored funding for the entire year.

Carter’s amendment takes $125,000 from the Taye Brown Trust Fund, which allocates a portion of landfill mitigation funds into such recreational projects in the area, to complete the year.

The full year gives Carter an opportunity to find private funding and management for the center, said several supportive Council members,

“Let’s give him a chance,” said Crescimbeni.

Not everyone agreed with the decision.

“We have been reliving this issue year after year after year after year,” said Clark, who wanted to completely defund the center beginning Oct. 1.

Joost raised similar concerns about past broken time lines for privatization and the lack of private fundraising.

The night’s final two proposed amendments were met with opposite results.

Council member Don Redman offered an amendment to strip the Human Rights Commission of its funding of around $787,000, but the idea drew sharp criticism from his colleagues and was defeated.

“The commission is needed,” said Council member Denise Lee. “We need to put it to bed once and for all.”

In a much closer vote, $880,000 in Jacksonville Journey funds were restored following Council member Reggie Brown’s amendment to transfer the funds from a Beaches Solid Waste Disposal fund.

The tipping fees issued to Atlantic and Neptune Beaches were waived by the administration last year and again this year by the Finance Committee following contention at the committee level.

Discussion arose that the leaders of those communities didn’t know such fees would be due for the garbage services, but several members argued they did.

Council member Bill Gulliford, who represents the Beaches, countered that the communities never received proper notification nor had their questions been adequately answered by the former administration.

The issue, he said, should be settled over the fiscal year because both communities have already enacted their budgets and the fees would present a considerable deficit.

This year’s budget process was less contentious than last year, when a property tax increase generated more than four hours of public comment in a meeting that ended at 3 a.m. and was resumed and concluded the next day.

During the last few minutes of Tuesday’s meeting, Joost said he was proud of his Council colleagues in completing the budget amid tough cuts and debate in a respectful manner.

Clark echoed his sentiments and praised the overall result in pay-go funds to eliminate debt.

“It’s an enormous step in the right direction,” he said.

The meeting ended at 1:37 a.m. after almost an hour of discussion about redistricting.

The issue was referred back to the Council Rules Committee.

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