As part of our continuing coverage of the budget process in Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s office, we were on hand for Friday’s consideration of non-departmental expenditures heading into the next fiscal year.
The biggest news? A potential increase of the city’s emergency reserve level, something that was discussed in Jacksonville City Council committees months back.
The city may set the operating reserve at 7 percent, and the emergency reserve at 6 percent — a shift from 8 and 5 percent respectively. Reserves would total 13 percent in each case; however, this would be a meaningful policy shift.
If this holds, that jibes with the City Council Finance Committee’s desire in January to move the emergency reserve to 6 percent, a response to concerns expressed by the Council Auditor when the reserve dipped below the mandatory 5 percent level last year.
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.”
Of course, collective bargaining wrapped soon thereafter between the city and its myriad unions, and from there the City Council approved the deals — which came contingent with raises for all city employees, in exchange for moving new hires from the unsustainable defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan.
This proposal comes at a time when City Council members are wrangling with plans on how to use the “fiscal relief” generated by pension reform.
One proposal, as of earlier this month, looked to be dead in the water.
Councilman Danny Becton filed 2017-348, which would require that 15 percent of all general fund money beyond the baseline FY 16-17 budget go toward defraying the city’s $2.8B unfunded actuarial liability on pension.
Becton’s bill, however, was not backed by the Lenny Curry administration — which seemed to come as a surprise to the first-term Southside Republican Councilman.
Days later, the bill went to its sole committee of reference — Finance — where it seemingly was, to quote Becton, “put out of its misery” with a 4 to 1 vote.
However, in the tradition of an extra life in a video game, Becton’s bill got brought back from the dead, and will enjoy a “Weekend At Bernie’s” moment in Rules and Finance at some future point — though who knows when, as the Finance agenda for Wednesday, June 21, has the bill marked for deferral at Becton’s request.
Budget relief from pension reform, while real, only goes so far. If the Curry Administration seeks to lift the emergency reserve, then there seemingly would be real questions as to where the money would come from for the Becton plan … assuming committees were to receive it favorably in its next go-around.