Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Mayor Tight-Lipped on $2 Billion Plan 10-Year Vision Relies on Raising Sales Tax

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Mayor Tight-Lipped on $2 Billion Plan 10-Year Vision Relies on Raising Sales Tax

Article excerpt

Ending months of closed-door meetings and vague public salesmanship, Jacksonville Mayor John Delaney tomorrow will announce details of a $2 billion, 10-year comprehensive plan that he wants to shape the future of the city.

Duval County voters will have a direct say in the transportation and capital building program because City Hall is expected to seek a tax increase, which will require a referendum, to pay for a portion of the proposals.

While Delaney has tightly guarded the specifics of the countywide plan, he said last week that a sweeping proposal reflects his view that a broad vision is better than "incremental" change.

"It's the way I like to do things -- do it right, do it big, make it where it has an impact and is not just incremental," the mayor said.

Delaney's development package is expected to include four downtown buildings -- a new county courthouse, an arena, a library and baseball stadium -- with a $450 million price tag, $1.5 billion in transportation projects and other growth-management proposals.

"What we've been working on is a way to make the capital needs fit in with the long-term master plan for Jacksonville," Delaney said.

Advocates for the plan likely will have to convince the public to back the projects, because Delaney has discussed with supporters a half-cent sales tax increase -- an 8 percent jump in the overall sales tax in the county, now 6.5 cents per dollar -- to fund a portion of the plan.

When Delaney first ran for mayor in 1995, he said he would not raise taxes without voter approval. Since he took office, the mayor has made miniscule property tax cuts the centerpiece of his annual budget messages and his lean government political philosophy. Last year's tax cut equaled about $2.5 million, or $8 for a homestead valued at $100,000, City Hall officials said at the time.

An 8 percent sales tax increase would produce an additional $55 million a year, and City Hall has considered options to borrow against this revenue to accelerate its revenue, according to a financial analysis by Jacksonville's investment banker, New York-based Salomon Smith Barney.

Delaney also has said he would rely on some form of user fees, such as ticket surcharges for events at an arena, to fund about 10 percent of the building projects.

The city hasn't had a sales tax referendum since 1989, when voters approved removing all tolls in exchange for a half-cent sales tax increase dedicated to transportation projects.

"I presume there will be a [referendum] campaign since this one has a tax attached," said City Councilman Jim Overton.

To date, City Hall has suggested a method, without raising taxes, to pay for about $750 million of the proposed $1.5 billion, 10-year transportation program. Delaney has backed the idea, raised by a City Council-appointed task force, that would borrow against the existing half-cent sales tax that goes to the Jacksonville Transportation Authority. …

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