Beginning Thursday, the Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee will review Mayor Lenny Curry‘s proposed budget.
Discussions last week showed an independent streak among the committee’s members, chaired by Curry’s leading City Hall antagonist of the moment, Garrett Dennis.
FP talked to Dennis Wednesday evening, after he gave a well-received speech to the Jacksonville Young Democrats
Though Dennis’ rhetoric is in campaign mode, he assures us that his next campaign is simply a run for re-election — not a bid for the Mayor’s Office, as some supporters have urged.
Dennis also addressed recent news cycles, including discussions of swimming lesson funding and after-school funding, that have seen him at odds with the Mayor.
“I didn’t plan on being opposition to the Mayor. I want to win. I want the city to win. I’m not anti-Curry. He’s a good guy,” Dennis said.
A good guy, but one with whom Dennis has policy differences.
One such difference dominated Jacksonville news cycles this week: Dennis’ latest push for more after-school program money.
Just a week after Dennis’ floor amendments were defeated on a bill allocating $1 million more for after-school programs, including an amendment that would have pushed the total spend to $3 million, with money coming from the city’s reserve accounts, Dennis tried again with an emergency appropriation for more money for these programs.
Dennis’ proposal is ambitious: it would extend offerings for 1,280 kids in 12 of 14 Council districts. Yet the source of financing nettles the Mayor’s Office; the bill seeks to move $1,92M from Council’s contingency account for pension liability to fund these programs.
Dennis defends the ask, noting that the fund is already being drawn upon for $1.1M SAFER Grant matching funds, that the fund still has a $2.3M balance, and that if unspent, the money would be swept into the general fund at the end of the fiscal year.
“If there is a hill I will die on,” Dennis said, “I will die on this hill fighting for these kids.”
Dennis also discussed Curry’s proposal to hire 100 new police officers, which was held in abeyance by the committee last week.
“I’m confused on the math,” Dennis said, noting that only 80 of the officers are funded in the budget, and that 70 more are expected to retire next fiscal year.
JSO can only train 80 per year, Dennis said, and he’s unconvinced of the JSO plan to train 170 new officers.
“The math isn’t adding up,” Dennis said, noting the new hires will be younger and cheaper than the retirees.
“I don’t want to give more than JSO has the capacity to perform,” Dennis said, wanting a “realistic number” of trainable hires, rather than excess capacity.
Answers to these questions may not be provided until the “wrap up” meeting of the committee, which could be as late on the calendar as Aug. 26.
In the context of a rift between its chair and the Mayor, the committee resumes deliberations Thursday.
Thursday sees the Tax Collector and Supervisor of Elections kick proceedings off; Dennis was a former employee of the SOE, so he should have interesting insight.
The State Attorney and Public Defender also speak — and given their reform paths, coupled with a Finance Committee controlled by African-American Democrats who are getting intense community pressure on reforms to criminal justice, those could be potentially news-making hearings.
The big time commitment: three hours on Parks and Recreation, a hearing that may involve questions for Director Daryl Joseph on the potential removal of Confederate monuments — a priority of Council President Anna Brosche.