The $131 million capital improvement budget: a cornucopia of one-time spending designed to take advantage of budget relief created by pension reform, fueled by the confidence created by Jacksonville’s strong position with bond ratings agencies.
The 100 new officers were a big talking point in public hearing and comment. They will cost $4.41M to onboard, and 80 officers will be on the streets by the end of the year, with the balance in training. 40 officers would be budgeted for six months, 40 for three months, and there would be 20 other unfunded positions.
However, there was a lot of subtext.
Among said subtext: multiple Council members at war with the head of the local police union; and a number of floor amendments, the most interesting of them put forth by Councilman Danny Becton.
One of those amendments sought to move $8.5M from projects at Edward Waters College (dorm renovations and a new community track and field) to water and sewer projects.
The other amendment: almost $23 million to be moved to pension from two accounts ($8,638,343 from Pension Reserve for an extra pension payment for 2017-2018, and an additional $14,078,555 from Pension Reserve to bolster the contribution further).
All these amendments died for want of a second.
And Becton issued complaints — regarding debt being kicked down the road, and regarding his amendments not getting a hearing.
Becton considered voting against the budget; yet, as he did last year when voting for Jaguars’ stadium improvements, he fell in line in the end.
Pay raise pushback: One minor budget request for pay raises got mayoral pushback.
Council salaries: up from $44,100 to $47,000. Council President’s salary: up from $58,800 to 62,600.
This would happen to rectify a salary freeze in 2010-11, and bring salaries in line with state guidelines.
Mayor Lenny Curry, whose salary was to go up also, issued a statement against that.
“It has come to my attention that Council has amended the budget I submitted to now include pay raises for elected officials, which I had not requested. I want to make clear that I do not support pay raises for elected officials. I have asked Council to consider an amendment to the budget tonight that ensures my salary as mayor will not be increased one cent more than it was on the day I took office.”
Councilwoman Lori Boyer issued an amendment waiving an increase to Curry’s salary. The amendment passed.
Councilman Al Ferraro then issued an amendment to keep Council and Constitutional Officer salaries at the levels set in 2010-11, with the extra savings moved to Council Contingency.
Ferraro’s amendment got pushback, via Councilmen Reggie Brown and John Crescimbeni, and it became clear quickly that it would find its place in the amendment graveyard.
So Councilmembers got their raises in the end.
Becton pension push fails: Becton made his case that the future 1/2 cent sales tax proceeds will only pay a fraction of the $3.2B unfunded pension liability, saying that the burden of the debt would be shifted to the next generation to pay out of the general fund.
Becton’s first amendment failed without a second.
Becton’s second amendment, for $14M more in benefit payments out of “excess funds in the pension reserve account,” likewise died without a second.
EWC money stays in budget: Councilman Becton’s objections to the EWC funding came to a head, finally, on budget night. But it was one of those issues where the political will wasn’t there.
The project, said Becton, didn’t serve the public interest compared to infrastructure issues — such as water, roads, and so on — in much of the city. Hence, the desire to move the money to public works.
There was no second to Becton’s motion.
Reggie Gaffney apologizes, Katrina Brown does not: It appears the incidents of last week, in which Councilman Reggie Gaffney was pulled over for using a tag he reported stolen, are now moving toward the rearview mirror.
As the meeting began, Gaffney apologized, saying he’s “not a perfect man.” And Brown said she didn’t do anything wrong; when asking about police racial profiling, that she was asking questions constituents wanted asked.
Police Union head Steve Zona grabbed a public comment speaker’s card, ensuring that the drama would continue.
Before Zona spoke, local activist Ben Frazier said that the “bully of the bully pulpit” now has “two targets,” referring to the “duly elected” Councilors.
Zona “wants to circumvent the electoral process with a click of the mouse and an email” calling for removal for the Councilors, Frazier said.
Zona gave Gaffney credit for a “genuine, heartfelt apology,” but had more to say about Katrina Brown.
“Not one time did I ever call for her resignation,” Zona said.
Zona also alleged that Brown’s claim that new cops are intended to target the African-American community as “repulsive and disgusting.”
Zona also noted that there was “zero facts” to the claim of racial profiling in the “professional traffic stop.”
“It’s embarrassing for the body as a whole,” Zona said, and calls question as to the “decision process” of Councilwoman Brown.
Local progressive activists rallied around Brown and Gaffney.