The Jacksonville City Council approved Mayor Lenny Curry’s eighth and final budget — a $1.55 billion plan that includes a property tax rate cut and nearly $500 million in capital spending for parks, roads, drainage, Downtown and other infrastructure.
The vote Sept. 27 was 17-2, with Council members Rory Diamond and Danny Becton voting no, citing what they saw as not enough property tax relief.
The Council made few changes to Curry’s fiscal year 2022-23 budget proposal released in July that includes a record $545.27 million for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
The Capital Improvement Plan includes $26.5 million for road resurfacing; $25 million for a park at the former Jacksonville Landing; $24 million for the Jacksonville Jaguars’ new practice and training facility; $18.6 million for the McCoys Creek outfall and Riverwalk improvements; $10 million for climate change and resilience projects; and $10 million for 121 Financial Ballpark improvements.
In total, the plan includes $100 million for Downtown revitalization and infrastructure projects with landscaping, lighting, one-way street conversions and Riverwalk improvements.
The budget is up about 9.9%, or $140 million, from $1.41 billion in fiscal year 2021-22.
“I’ve never seen a city that’s a place you want to live that doesn't do a good job of balancing investing in themselves,” Council Finance Committee Chair Aaron Bowman said.
“Yes, it sounds easy. Let’s cut taxes. Let’s not spend money,” Bowman said. “If you don’t have the people taking care of resources, you don’t have the roads, the sidewalks … you have to invest in yourself.”
The Council allocated $500,000 for removal, relocation, or renaming the city’s Confederate monuments, an issue that has sparked public debate.
Money for JAX Chamber
In a separate funding bill, 2022- 0510, tied to the budget, Council voted 16-2 to provide $750,000 for JAX Chamber for marketing, business and talent recruitment.
That’s up from $500,000 from last year.
Council members LeAnna Cumber and Al Ferraro voted no.
Cumber argued that the chamber is not doing enough to recruit hedge funds and global companies, like Blackstone, to invest in the city.
She also criticized JAXUSA Partnership President Aundra Wallace, who leads the chamber’s economic recruitment arm, for not securing Jacksonville as the home of the University of Florida’s technology campus that is going to West Palm Beach.
Cumber and Ferraro are both running for mayor against JAX Chamber President and CEO Daniel Davis.
Bowman works for the chamber as JAXUSA vice president of business development and abstained from voting on the chamber money.
The Council also added $4.56 million to the budget for its own priority projects, including $500,000 at the request of Matt Carlucci for the Jacksonville Historical Society’s renovation of the former Florida Casket Co. building into a museum.
Michael Boylan requested $1 million for the Council Special Committee to Address Critical Quality of Life Issues.
The budget sets aside $74.03 million of the $171.84 million in federal American Rescue Plan pandemic aid in contingency for fiscal year 2024 and the first quarter of 2025.
The $25 million for the septic tank removal program also is from one-time federal aid.
Council kept Curry’s proposed millage rate of $11.3169 per every $1,000 of taxable property value. All seven of the mayor’s previous budgets held the rate flat at $11.4419 mills.
Council voted unanimously 19-0 on the three pieces of legislation setting the millage rates for the city Jacksonville, the Beaches and Baldwin.
Council member Nick Howland praised the spending bill as “a winning budget for Jacksonville.”
Randy DeFoor pointed to the city’s improved bond rating, funding for infrastructure and affordable housing. She said the budget shows that Jacksonville is “the best the city has been financially … in decades.”
Despite the lower millage rate, rising property values mean most homeowners won’t be paying less next year, their bill just won’t increase as much as it could have.
That was a point Diamond and Becton made in their votes against the budget.
Becton said higher property tax bills would be passed on to people in the form of higher rents during a time of increased inflation and higher food prices.
Diamond said he supports the increased police budget, but didn’t support higher property tax bills, giving money to the Northeast Florida Regional Council or direct, no-bid contracts to fund some nonprofits.
“I don’t stand up and do this in a mean way, there’s no anger or spite, I just can’t support it in my conscience. I believe government should be getting smaller, not bigger,” he said.
“I do think when you take more money out of our taxpayers’ pockets, it takes liberty from them every day. And I just can’t support that.”