Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

City Council Feeling the Pressure to Get Budget, Spending Cuts Right

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

City Council Feeling the Pressure to Get Budget, Spending Cuts Right

Article excerpt

Byline: Steve Patterson

For Jacksonville City Council members, a day of accounting is starting, with political images and taxpayer finances both on the line.

Lots of days, actually.

The council's Finance Committee is opening a chain of hearings Thursday that could potentially run to Aug. 30 to settle on a 2014 budget that weighs falling tax revenue against rising costs across city government.

One sure bet: Mayor Alvin Brown's budget proposal - panned last month by council members as "out of balance," "incompetent," even a "dereliction of duty" - seems set for significant rewrites.

"I feel like this community is ready to move forward. This budget that was presented to us did not move the community forward. It moved us backward," said Finance Chairman Greg Anderson.

But if it wants to move Jacksonville, the council will have to decide how, choosing between library hours, fire station coverage and a raft of other services to say where the city should focus its spending.

The budget Brown offered called for eliminating 110 jobs overall - 77 that are filled now and 54 that are vacant, with 21 jobs created. Brown is seeking job cuts in areas including libraries, parks, public works, animal care and code compliance.

Brown is "ready to work with the council without throwing rocks to pass the best budget possible," said spokesman David DeCamp. "While Mayor Brown is opposed to raising taxes, the administration respects the council's role."

The mayor's plan includes $61 million in service cuts ranging from closing libraries and swimming pools to shuttering fire stations.

But more than half the cuts are unsettled.

"Extraordinary lapses," line items that say a particular department will spend less but don't say how, represented $33.4 million in cuts Brown proposed to the city's general fund spending.

The first job for Finance members will be trying to put lapses into real-world terms - jobs cut, police cars repaired instead of replaced, weeks between mowing roadsides.

Then they'll figure out what changes they want to avoid most, and what they can give up.

"Accomplishing this goal will be an exercise in prioritization," Anderson told city department heads in a memo about the hearings. …

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