On Monday morning, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry released his first budget since pension reform passed: a $1.27B budget, up from the $1.2B budget the previous year.
With budget relief available after pension reform, Curry made the decision to invest in long neglected city infrastructure and employees, spending more than in the previous two years and adding 175 new employees total — 100 of them on the police side, 42 in Fire and Rescue, and — as a measure of the ongoing economic boom in Jacksonville — eight new building inspectors.
Curry also focused on putting money into contingency accounts for salaries, and committed to hiking reserve levels in the coming years.
As we previewed, there were some known knowns going into the budget presentation: over $100M budgeted for capital improvements, and $8.4M for one-time capital needs for Edward Waters College’s community field and dorms, money driven by pension savings amounting to $142M after pension reform hit this year.
That EWC money: part of Curry’s “Safer Neighborhoods” pitch, a rhetorical and thematic extension of the One City, One Jacksonville branding campaign launched when he was inaugurated.
As well, it was known there would be 100 new police officers; as Curry told WJXT, he wants “boots on the ground” to deal with the city’s wave of violent crime. These officers will be added to the 160 in the previous two budgets (80 officers and 80 community service officers).
There were also questions, such as what would happen with the Jacksonville Children’s Commission, which came under fire for a botched summer camp selection process, and the parallel program the Jax Journey, which Curry said in 2016 he had wished he had more funds for.
Beyond that? Every department has needs — and Curry’s team was faced, all Spring, with deciding which needs would prevail.
The mood Monday was different than in 2015, when Curry dropped his first budget amidst media speculation that a new tax was inevitable. And different than in 2016, when Curry dropped a lean budget ahead of the pension tax referendum that followed later that summer.
Now the reform is done. The power center has shifted in Council, away from the Bill Gulliford/John Crescimbeni axis to Council President Anna Brosche and the Democrats who now control the Finance Committee. And in that context came Monday’s presentation.
Curry began his address lauding successes, ranging from removing “gridlock” to solving the “pension crisis.”
“If pension reform had failed, our pension contributions would have increased $69M this year,” Curry said.
“Severe cuts” would have been necessary. Instead, Curry said, the city can unlock the “full potential of every one in every neighborhood.”
Part of that unlocking: the 100 more cops, which Curry said gives JSO 1,780 officers on the street.
This will, Curry said, reduce overtime and overscheduling impacts for officers.
Also in the budget: 42 more fire fighters, and roughly $25M in vehicle replacement for police and fire.
Curry also touted $50M for the Safer Neighborhoods plan, which includes public safety equipment, the aforementioned $8.4M EWC money, $12M for a 911 backup center to be built next to the new fire station at Cecil Field.
Drowning prevention: also in here, with retrofitting five pools for $1M, as a total cost of $1,7M.
Curry also allocated more money for lifeguards, including a force addition and increased wages.
Curry also discussed infrastructure spending, including spending on downtown, because “you can’t be a suburb of nowhere.”
Money for demolition of the old city hall and courthouse, money to finish Liberty Street, and other issues.
Citywide, money will go to road resurfacing, senior centers, and sidewalks, as part of a $105M capital improvement plan — the biggest, by far, of his three years in office.
Curry also said that his reforms for the Jacksonville Children’s Commission were still pending, but in total $36.4M will go to the JCC and Jax Journey.
Curry lauded his administration’s stewardship of city money, discussing pension stability, saying that city’s outstanding debt is down almost $187M since 2015 — saving money on interest, and ultimately to the taxpayers.
Curry also wants a $60M pension reform reserve, for salaries. And a proposed hike of the emergency reserve, leading to 8 percent in both emergency and operating reserves within the next few years.
“We are preparing the city for the future,” Curry said.
Curry discussed the budget with the media after the presentation.
Of the 100 police officers in the budget, not all are expected to be deployed this year, given training schedules.
Curry also discussed the budget as preparing the city for the future, vis a vis the increase in reserve levels and salary contingencies.
Curry also defended the allocation for Edward Waters College, saying that he was moved by what President Nat Glover had done over there, and that EWC represented “the right thing to do” for “neighborhoods left behind.”
Regarding the capital improvement budget, Curry noted that total borrowings are over $100M, but the city has been and will be “consistent in paying debt down.”
As well, capital investment is long overdue, Curry said, citing “dilapidated buildings” as impediments to private investment downtown — a major priority of the mayor.
Much of the increase in the budget, Curry added, is “reserve oriented,” with a focus on “public safety issues that need to be solved.”
And, addressing previous reporting that there may be friction between the Mayor and Council President Anna Brosche and Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, Curry said that there is a “wonderful relationship” there, characterized by the “same focus, same goals,” a reversal from “years of so much dysfunction in city government.”