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Richard Clark
Jax Daily Record Friday, Aug. 8, 201412:00 PM EST

No 'sacred cows' this year in budget, finance chair says

by: David Chapman

Another 40 police officers and 40 community service officers? No.

Additional funding for cash-strapped UF Health Jacksonville? No.

Bumps for public service grants and the Cultural Council? No.

Each was a part of Mayor Alvin Brown’s budget proposal. Each was denied by City Council on Thursday.

The council Finance Committee began its extensive budget review Thursday, axing investments to public safety, Downtown, the arts and nonprofits to start filling a $19.5 million hole they say Brown’s budget left them in.

That figure included an additional $8.5 million pension payment Council Auditor Kirk Sherman for weeks has contended was needed. Brown’s administration remains in disagreement about the need for an additional payment.

The payment was $11 million, but the figure dropped to $8.5 million when council members decided to not raise the employee cap for the coming year. The remaining $11 million consists of one-time money not being spent and $4 million in overestimated revenue within Brown’s proposal.

In addition to holding the line on new hires, the committee also kept funding for many programs and services at current year levels.

Despite some tough decisions by members, the decisions were made line-by-line.

“It’s one thing for everyone to say they want to live within our current-year revenue,” said council member Richard Clark, committee chair. “It’s another for them to follow through on that action.”

Clark said he knew there were tough decisions for his colleagues.

Matt Schellenberg has long championed the need to help UF Health, but the additional $2.5 million for the hospital was one of the cuts in the morning session.

Bill Gulliford cares about Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, but a funding match program for $443,000 this year was one of the earlier cuts.

“Matt really cared, Bill really cared,” Clark said of those cuts.

Combined with denying Sheriff John Rutherford the additional personnel he sought, Clark said Thursday’s actions sent a message.

“There aren’t going to be any sacred cows this year,” he said.

Rutherford went before the nine-member group to talk about this year’s budget, but unlike in past budget presentations, his tone was different. He didn’t give an impassioned speech about the need for public safety or go on the attack about cuts.

After council members made their decision, he calmly accepted the news before he and his staff quietly filed out.

He said the decision was “exactly what I expected.”

That’s because Brown created no revenue in his proposal for the officers, nor any other additions the mayor made in the budget, Rutherford said.

“It’s all about resources,” he said.

The sheriff said he will continue to talk to council members in the coming weeks to discuss the importance of the investment in public safety.

David DeCamp, Brown’s spokesman, said the sheriff’s budget was one the administration and sheriff agreed to in recent weeks. Brown’s budget, DeCamp said, provided the right amount of investment.

“This is the first day of hours of discussion on this budget,” he said Thursday afternoon. “Yes, we’re going to have differences but this is healthy … we’re going to have a good budget for Jacksonville.”

He went on to say the administration stood by its budget.

At the end of the all-day meeting, Clark said the $19.5 million hole the group started with stands at about $5.5 million.

“It’s a good start, we’re heading in the right direction,” he said, “but there are many, many challenges ahead.”

He said he thought the budget could be at about break-even by the end of today, when the group meets for a half-day.

If Thursday’s actions carryover, that would mean denying the Jacksonville Public Library the additional investments Brown committed. Also on the agenda is Intragovernmental Services, such as the copy center and fleet management.

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