Jax Council ‘lunch and learn’ guides members through budget process

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Jacksonville City Council President Lori Boyer sees her “lunch and learn” meetings as “conversations,” and Monday’s addressed August’s budget hearings in the Finance Committee.

The meeting began with former Council President Greg Anderson offering a rundown on budget, based on his five years on the council.

Anderson noted 50 percent of city revenue comes through real estate taxes. “Over time, they have moved back up … but they haven’t fully recovered” from the 2008 crash, which began a “downward trend.”

“Real estate taxes fall fairly quickly,” said Anderson, but “because of exemptions and the 3 percent cap, it is slow to rise.”

Property values in 2008 were $61 billion; in 2015, they were below $53 billion.

Millage rates now sit at 11.44, up from a low of 8.43 in 2008.

Public safety, Anderson noted, is 60 percent of the budget. Pension costs in the sheriff’s office alone are up $10 million year-over-year, to $121 million.

In the context of these conditions, 57 percent of costs is personnel, and 72 percent is unionized. And the council, as a result, has control of just 35 percent of the budget.

Another pressure looking at budgets, said Anderson, is created by administration re-orgs, which create interpretative challenges related to changing responsibilities of different departments.

Also discussed: the $3.7 million “lapse,” which results from turnover during the year, and is put into the budget for the next year.

“The question is do you use those funds for something else in the meantime,” said Boyer, given the time it takes to fill these positions, which sometimes can extend up to 270 days in the sheriff’s office.

Council members were urged to refer to their budget books throughout the process, for specific detail at the departmental level.

They were also urged to be present at Finance hearings in August to advocate for money for projects in their districts’ budgets, the most efficient way to ensure money is moved from other priorities to their priorities, especially when the council is “ahead” in terms of having a better position than expected in terms of the larger budget.

“You’ve got to be in it to win it,” said Peggy Sidman of the office of general counsel.

The budget is voted out of Finance Sept. 8 and, after being laid on the table for two weeks, it comes out to the full council Sept. 27.

Of course, there are the inevitable floor amendments, which are considered in the order received with priority given to the earlier amendments offered.

“Sometimes two people are vying for the same pot of money,” said Sidman.

Council Auditor Kirk Sherman said the “budget looks to be in pretty good shape” compared to budgets “about three years ago,” which were less to his liking.

Also discussed: fund balance.

“There’s about $8 million there that if we thought we should be using it for vehicle purchases, capital improvements, or other things,” Boyer said, the city could use it.

The fund balance looks to be about $78 million; code requires $70 million.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


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