Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

CITY COUNCIL; Big Tests Ahead

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

CITY COUNCIL; Big Tests Ahead

Article excerpt

A year of challenges confronts the Jacksonville City Council.

Tough budget decisions, starting a once-a-decade redistricting process and other substantial issues are lining up as the 19-member council embarks on a fresh year that began July 1.

One of the biggest challenges for council members: Keeping their focus on the people's business and not their own electability next year.

All the council seats are up for grabs next March, with several council members who can seek re-election and others being term-limited out of their jobs. Some of those will be looking to mount campaigns for other political posts.

The task is to do what's best for the city, even if that is contrary to picking up group votes or campaign contributions.

BACKBONE REQUIRED

That effort begins with the budget the mayor will deliver for council consideration this week.

Whether the city can balance its budget next year without imposing ever-higher property tax rates or making millions in cuts depends on progress made at the negotiating table with the city's labor unions, including police and fire.

The Mayor's Office has been counting on about $20 million in concessions from the unions in the form of pay cuts and having employees cover more of their own benefits costs.

There is a pact with the firefighters union. If the mayor and the unions can't agree with other unions and declare an impasse, the final call on concessions would rest with the City Council.

That would mean going against unions that are known for delivering campaign donations and other election help to council members they support.

But declining to impose changes for the unions could result in more taxes and cuts for everybody else - stoking the anger of city residents in the private sector who are seeing their pay and benefits shrinking at every turn as various city fees are rising.

PROTECT ANTI-CRIME PROGRAM

Council members must show some backbone and be willing to do what's best for the overall financial fitness of the city.

The mayor's budget proposal will also propose that funding stay close to the same for the Jacksonville Journey anti-crime initiative.

The Journey is the program the council approved in 2008 at the request of the mayor and a 140-member community task force as a way of reducing state-leading murder and violence rates.

In budget times like these, all expenditures must face scrutiny.

But an oversight committee for the Journey has admirably tried to hold programs accountable for results, and murder and crime are trending down right now.

The Journey is just getting started, and no one can say for sure how much the declines relate to Journey efforts.

But now is not the time to mess with success that has eluded a community plagued by the misery and higher costs from violent crime for far too long. …

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