The Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee mulled reports from the council auditor, Kirk Sherman, in its Thursday morning meeting.
Discussed: the summary for Fiscal Year 2016, a report which led to a move to boost the city’s emergency reserve to 6 percent.
According to the Jacksonville City Council auditor’s report, FY 2016 was a good year for the city of Jacksonville’s budget, highlighted by a $29 million favorable variance in a $1.1 billion budget.
Revenues were $15 million above budgetary expectations, and expenditures were $14 million under projections.
This is a “very good result for the fiscal year,” Sherman said, with the “line held” on expenditures.
Revenue outperformed in some areas. Property tax collections were up, and red light camera money was a “pleasant surprise,” Sherman said, one that should be regarded as a “bonus” rather than a reliable source of income.
“The General Fund’s in a strong position, and that’s one reason I recommended that you consider doing some legislation,” Sherman said, to put money in the emergency reserve — which is below the target level of 5 percent.
Councilman Bill Gulliford urged committee legislation to boost the reserve to 6 percent — which would be about $11 million moved into the emergency reserve.
CFO Mike Weinstein concurred with the “concept,” but resisted moving dollars until “collective bargaining is behind us.”
“Maybe put it in the hopper,” Weinstein said. “The timing is sort of interesting.”
That legislation will be readied for filing in two weeks, which would put it on track to be passed during the February 28 council meeting, assuming no deferrals happen.
Notable: emergency reserves were last used during Operation Safe Streets in a previous administration. Hurricane Matthew recovery has yet to see funds moved from the reserve funds, an allocation which requires council approval.
Beyond the emergency reserve issue, concerns were raised.
Councilman Matt Schellenberg urged the Duval Delegation to find a way to boost the communication services tax, or otherwise make up for the $8 million drop in recent years.
Once a growth sector, the ongoing decrease in land lines has led to a decrease in the tax.
Unrecovered billings for ambulance services were also discussed; a different contractor has apparently gotten better results, though it still is difficult to balance the challenges of emergency triage and the like with getting accurate and timely billing information.
Overtime costs also present a challenge, Sherman said, for public safety workers; this “concern” is a function of manpower shortages in police and fire.
For example, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has a 3 percent vacancy rate.
The committee’s attention then turned to insolvent subfunds.
Among the subfunds with some issues: municipal stadiums and arenas.
The stadium is over $3.5 million in the hole. The arena subfund is almost $1.6 million in the red. And the Performing Arts Center fund? Insolvent.
Venues are aggregated as a subfund for FY 17, so that won’t be an issue.
Regarding JTA’s issues, Sherman said there will be a meeting between his group and JTA to remedy issues he identified in the audit; “the Skyway Division, CTC Division and the General Fund/Engineering Division all overspent their Fiscal Year 2015/2016 amended budgets.”
The council auditor also threw major shade at JTA’s shoddy accounting practices in the report: “It should be noted that while JTA submitted their quarterly report on time, there were numerous errors with JTA’s report. JTA had to submit their quarterly report three separate times before we could properly review the report for reasonableness. JTA should be reviewing their reports for errors and inconsistencies before submitting them to our office to ensure the quarterly reports agree to the supporting documentation.”
JTA is moving to correct these issues.