Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

CITY BUDGET; Another Rush Job

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

CITY BUDGET; Another Rush Job

Article excerpt

Mayor John Peyton appears to have a formula.

When faced with a hole in the budget, he adds new revenues (about 60 percent) and cuts city operations (about 40 percent).

We opposed his 2007 increase in fees because they were not properly vetted with the constituents. We did not believe that he had made enough cuts in the budget before taxpayers were asked to sacrifice.

The same analysis applies now.

The mayor has proposed a three-pronged approach to the budgetary hole:

-- A property tax increase that would produce about $60 million in revenue.

-- Cuts in the city operations that would produce about $40 million.

-- And the promise to address unsustainable pension costs in union negotiations, which would produce little immediately.

In fact, until an unsustainable load of pensions and benefits are solved, Jacksonville will be facing a budget crisis every year.

It is no exaggeration to say that a city bankruptcy looms if the pension burden is not fixed.

MAYOR'S CASE

The mayor says he has cut about 400 city jobs in the last two years, has reorganized city government twice and has made most of the big cuts in operations. (See the adjacent box for examples.)

Peyton says he is supporting Jacksonville's quality of life, and that he is merely restoring the local revenues that were removed by state government in recent years. He notes that Duval County did not support the property tax reductions that passed statewide last year.

Well, a great deal has changed during this recession for Jacksonville families.

Jobs have been lost. Salaries and benefits cut. Homes and businesses have had to cut back. City government should be no different.

NOT ENOUGH

A look at the mayor's budget proposal shows a willingness to start making cuts; he just hasn't done enough.

BUDGET CUTS: The mayor is proposing a 5 percent cut in all non-public safety departments. He could ask for more, and also examine public safety spending that isn't directly connected to safety on the street.

CITY SALARIES: The mayor has proposed a freeze in city salaries. Cuts ranging from 5 percent to 10 percent would be more businesslike.

REDUCTION IN FORCE: The mayor has proposed eliminating more than 100 positions. A larger cut could be justified.

FURLOUGHS: The mayor has proposed an unpaid furlough for all nonpublic safety employees. It is unclear what savings this would produce. However, it would be just a one-time reduction. Public safety employees who are not on the front lines ought to be included.

SYMBOLISM: Perception is important. Travel should be severely curtailed. Government take-home cars for city employees should be eliminated; and the take-home cars in the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office should be reviewed. Lights shouldn't be left on in city buildings at night. …

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