The Jacksonville City Council unanimously approved Mayor Donna Deegan’s first budget that includes $1.75 billion in general fund expenditures and a $423.74 million Capital Improvement Plan.
On Sept. 26, Council voted 18-0 on the 2023-24 spending plan after nearly 2½ hours of debate — and seven hearings in August.
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office received $585.77 million, a 7.42% increase over the 2022-23 budget. The budget includes a $382.26 million operating budget for the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department.
The Council approved a more expensive 2023-24 Capital Improvement Plan than the $406 million spending proposal put forward by Deegan in July.
The Deegan Capital Improvement Plan includes $10 million in unrestricted funding for infrastructure resiliency efforts in addition to $75 million for specific resilience projects, as well as $21.72 million to improve the efficiency of the city’s permitting process.
More than $60 million will be spent on Downtown infrastructure and the Council kept the $2 million Deegan requested for the Office of General Counsel to pay outside attorneys to aid in the city’s stadium renovation negotiations with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The amended plan also keeps the mayor’s request to earmark $25 million from the city’s $64 million in remaining federal American Rescue Plan Act money to pay for recommendations from her administration’s transition committees.
The budget was approved after a 1½-hour debate on a failed amendment by Council member Terrance Freeman to move $3.1 million from the mayor’s transition fund into a separate fund for homelessness initiatives.
The final reports from the committees — infrastructure; health; economic development; public safety; arts, culture and entertainment; constituency and community outreach; and military and veterans— have not been released. They are expected to include funding recommendations for homelessness services and affordable housing.
In a written statement Sept. 26, Deegan, a Democrat, praised the final budget as well as the leadership of the Republican supermajority Council for the budget process.
“This final budget makes generational investments to ensure Jacksonville’s citizens are healthy, safe, housed and thriving,” Deegan said.
“I’m grateful to (Council) President Ron Salem and Vice President Randy White’s leadership and I thank the full City Council for their collaboration. I look forward to our continued proactive partnership as we work together to implement these dollars for the community,” she said.
The budget takes effect Oct. 1.
Flat property tax rate
The Council voted on a series of bills that keep Duval County’s property tax rate steady for 2023-24. The millage rate in Jacksonville will remain 11.3169 mills, or $11.3169 for every $1,000 of assessed taxable value on a property.
In Jacksonville’s Beaches, the rate will be 8.0262 mills, or $8.0262 per every $1,000 of assessed taxable value.
In Baldwin, the Council and the mayor have proposed a rate at 9.526 mills, or $9.526 per every $1,000 of assessed taxable value.
Because of rising property values, the city will generate about $135.4 million more in ad valorem property taxes than in fiscal year 2022-23, according to the Council Auditor’s Office.
Capital Improvement Plan and waterfront parks
Council added $3 million to the 2023-24 Capital Improvement Plan and $4 million to the future capital budget to upgrade the city-owned 121 Finance Ballpark to Major League Baseball Triple-A standards for the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.
It also moved $7 million from future year funds to the University Boulevard Complete Streets Project and $3 million for the St. Johns Riverwalk Bartram Garden Project to complete both this year.
District 7 Council member Jimmy Peluso, who represents Downtown, withdrew two floor amendments Sept. 26 that would have added $60 million to the budgets for the build-out of the new Riverfront Plaza and Shipyard West parks.
The projects are fully funded for what’s planned in 2023-24. But Downtown Investment Authority officials told Peluso at the agency’s Sept. 20 board meeting that there is not enough money allocated to develop the riverfront parks to the level of design promised to the community.
Peluso said before the budget vote that his goal is to bring the issue to the Council’s attention and commit funding in the coming months to complement private sector projects in planning or under construction.
He said the parks cannot be “just a giant grass yard and volleyball pit.”
“We need to make sure that as we develop this Downtown and make us a place where young professionals, families and any and all individuals want to live, work and play, we need to make sure we have major destinations,” Peluso said. “And these parks are supposed to be them.”
Chief of Diversity and Inclusion
One place Council pushed back in Deegan’s budget was $232,000 in the mayor’s office budget dedicated to pay for the newly created position of chief of diversity and inclusion.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and many in the state GOP have mounted criticism in the past 18 months against public and private sector diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
Deegan has said diversity and inclusion in city government is a priority of her administration.
Finance Committee Chair Nick Howland said his committee felt the diversity and inclusion chief’s role was “duplicative” with the duties of the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission. The Council instead moved $145,000 to create two positions in that agency as well as $87,000 for an additional position in the Department of Public Works.
Deegan administration Director of Communications Phil Perry said via text message Sept. 26 that Chief of Diversity and Inclusion Parvez Ahmed will remain at City Hall and his salary could be funded by the mayor’s existing budget transfer authority or be privately funded.
Deegan was not in Jacksonville for the budget vote. She traveled to London for an economic development trip and to attend the Jacksonville Jaguars game Oct. 1 against the Atlanta Falcons at Wembley Stadium.
Council member Rory Diamond, who’s been on military deployment since July, was absent for the vote.