On Monday, the cycle begins anew for the relationship between Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and the City Council.
Curry drops his third budget — and this time, there is more room to maneuver than there had been the previous two years, in which pension obligations choked out most of the room for discretionary spending.
The hit from pension costs, without pension reform, would have been $360M this year; the last public estimate given was that hit this year will be $218M. Effectively, that’s $142M of room in a budget that last year was $1.17B — lots of new capital to work with.
But will that room be enough for Jacksonville City Council members? That’s the tension going into Monday — balancing the priorities of the Mayor’s Office with those of the nineteen people on the Council.
We know some things are definitely happening. [Note: the numbers that follow were derived from, among other sources, the Mayor’s Budget Review Committee meetings, and are subject to change, per the Mayor’s Office Friday.]
For example, the Mayor’s Office — as part of a commitment to safer and healthy neighborhoods that jibes with the priorities of Council President Anna Brosche — is committing $8.4M to Jacksonville’s Edward Waters College, for dormitory rehab to deal with mold and other habitability issues, and for a community field and track that will provide a place for people in the New Town area to have safe recreation.
We are hearing already that there may be resistance to this proposal, both from community members who think there are more pressing needs, and those on the City Council from other areas who wonder why city money is going to benefit a private college.
We also know that there will be some changes to the way money is handled for the city’s children’s programs, with Mayor Curry having promised reforms to the Jacksonville Children’s Commission — reforms which could include a downshift of JCC in favor of the Jax Journey, an initiative upon which Curry branded his 2015 campaign.
And we also know that the city is allocating $55M of contingency funds for salaries, to be allocated across the city’s departments — in what could be a function of raises, of increased head count, or both.
Big money will also go into the capital improvement budget: $100M, at least.
Movement on a recurrent issue: $3.6M for courthouse remediation and demolition; $4.4M for the same for old city hall, which includes asbestos remediation, with the properties will be returned to greenscape. Mousa speculates that implosion will be the end game for these structures.
The last $8M for Liberty/Coastline rebuild, completing a $31M obligation, is also in the CIP.
Roadway resurfacing is in the CIP at $12M, and ADA curb compliance: another $14M.
ADA compliance for public buildings: a $2.6M hit.
A backlog of sidewalk projects — a risk management concern — is also on the list.
Countywide intersection improvements and bridges: $3M, with another million for rehab.
The St. Johns River Bulkhead assessment and restoration: also in the budget this year for $1M, along with $500K for countywide projects for tributaries with bulkheads.
The River Road bulkhead needs repair to the most degraded segments, with a cost of $1.9M total for these — and $600K this year, which comes at the expense of the Mayport Community Center in FY 18.
$3M for Chaffee Road. $750,000 for Five Points improvements in Riverside, which moves up to this year. Willow Branch Creek bulkhead replacement: $1.5M. $720,000 for Soutel Road’s “road diet,” which will go to design of a “highly needed project for the Northwest,” per Mousa.
Fishweir Creek gets $1.6M for ecological rehab.
Mary Singleton Senior Center: $500,000 for maintenance and upgrades. $944K for the Arlington Senior Center. $600,000 for Southside Senior Center, and $1.5M for Mandarin Senior Center expansion, a facility “bursting at the seams,” per the city’s Chief Administrative Officer, Sam Mousa.
As well, Mayport Community Center — a Bill Gulliford request — was budgeted for $800,000 for design, but ends up with $200,000 in FY 18 given other needs and logistical issues.
McCoy’s Creek pipe removal is in the budget, for $750,000 — the idea is to improve river access, a priority of past Council President Lori Boyer. And $600,000 for the McCoy’s Creek Greenway.
To handle these capital improvements, Public Works wants more staff — it is unknown, at least to us, how many people (if any) will be added. And the local Fire and Rescue Department wants more bodies and equipment refreshes — we’ll see how that goes Monday.
Expect Curry to hit these high points, along with another interesting proposal: one for an ambitious, year-round swimming lessons program that will come in around $1.7M in the budget, after an interesting scrap in June regarding a bill that sought $200,000 in emergency funding for swimming lessons this year.
Meanwhile, there will be one move toward saving for a rainy day also: the Administration will follow through on a Finance Committee recommendation months back to boost the emergency reserve from 6 percent to 5 percent, even as the operating reserve is cut from 8 percent to 7 percent.
Council members, of course, will ask some big picture questions Monday — but it will be the Mayor’s day, likely with a gaggle and then a sitdown interview or two with an affable TV reporter, with whom Curry can holistically frame the narrative.
However, the budget will soon thereafter move on to consideration by the full City Council, but not before the Finance Committee goes through it in August.
What might that process look like?
With the race for Council President now way back in the rear view mirror, the executive and legislative branches have every reason in the world to find a way to get to yes.
Curry, who has said he looks forward to a “third year of winning,” will find a way to partner with Council President Anna Brosche and Finance Chair Garrett Dennis — and one expects that partnership will come down to clear lines of communication, lines that ideally would be direct and between the principals involved.
Meanwhile, much has been made of the new composition of that Finance Committee — with questions about how big a piece of the budget pie will go to Council Districts 7-10, whose representatives all voted for Brosche for President.
The goal, we hear, is equity — equity across the districts, and equity between the priorities of the Mayor’s Office and the legislators. August budget hearings in Finance will be where the rubber hits the road.
To that end, a day to watch is Aug. 23.
Aug. 23 offers the sole Wednesday meeting on the slate, and deals entirely with the capital improvement plan and debt — for those interested in seeing how this particular Finance Committee deals with these issues, and how the Mayor’s Office deals with its positions, plenty of insight will be gleaned on that day.
Another day to watch: Aug. 12, given Council President Brosche’s commitment to rejuvenating Jacksonville’s park system. There is a three hour hearing then.
Of course, it will be interesting to see how Finance Chair Dennis handles the gavel — as those who followed him as Rules Chair recall, he wasn’t afraid of controversy on that panel.
Recall that Dennis sponsored an ordinance in January designed to ensure that city agencies and independent authorities eliminated the vestiges of discrimination, ensuring that the workforce looked like the city did demographically.
Will questions of equity on demographic grounds come up during Finance hearings this August? It’s very possible.