The Jacksonville City Council mulled a quarter mill raise in property taxes on Tuesday night from the current 11.4419 mill rate. But the votes weren’t there despite the Finance chair’s pleas.
If approved, that would have been the first property tax hike of the Lenny Curry era, and one not contemplated by the mayor’s budget.
Curry extolled the vote after the fact: “A tax increase proposed by council failed tonight. I applaud this. My current budget has historic investments in neighborhoods. Many of which have been left behind for decades. Families are hurting. My budget makes these investments without a tax increase.”
Before that victory lap, there was a spirited, if preordained, debate however.
Finance Chair Matt Carlucci moved the amendment raising the rate, saying the extra money could amount to $16 million in revenue, necessary in an “unpredictable” budget year.
“If we advertise the quarter mill budget increase, it gives us a buffer … in case fees and sales tax are less than expected,” Carlucci said, noting he has worked on fourteen budgets before this one.
Pushback manifested, however, with a number of Carlucci’s fellow Republicans giving the tax pitch a raspberry. By the end of the discussion, the veteran politician all but admitted he didn’t have the votes.
“I’m trying to show leadership,” Carlucci said, ahead of a 6-11 vote against his motion. But the followers were not sufficient to greenlight the tax hike.
Councilman Ron Salem noted comfort with the budget and the ad valorem projections, while noting softness in sales tax that may be a few million dollars, a small amount in a $1.3 billion budget.
“We’ve just received a balanced budget,” remarked Councilmember Aaron Bowman. “We have $187 million in reserves.”
Councilmember Randy DeFoor predicted a wave of evictions and foreclosures, and said the move would be to actually reduce the budget, and vowed to work to that end.
Councilmember Al Ferraro likewise bemoaned “wasteful spending” on procurement.
CFO Joey Greive noted that property tax collections are up $50 million, but sales tax is a more open question.
Greive noted that the city uses its own figures, rather than state figures. The city projected an 8% decline in that number, “roughly $15 million.”
Greive estimated that the city has “$20 to 30 million extra wiggle room” in the budget as it stands.
Councilmember Garrett Dennis bemoaned, in debate with the finance officer, “phantom math” in the city’s capital improvement spending, suggesting that more money is being borrowed than in past years.
Greive contended that debt has trended lower, and that authorization to borrow does not constitute actual borrowing itself.
Other issues exist, including a solid waste fee that could be adjusted, and tapping into reserves for one-time costs, noted Council Auditor Kim Taylor.
Debt service and contractual services are among parts of the budget still being analyzed.
While some, including Rules chair Brenda Priestly-Jackson, supported the Carlucci proposal, a tax hike was bound to be a tough sell in a supermajority GOP council