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Jacksonville, FL (September 22, 2020) — City Council approved Bills 2020-501, 502, 503, and 2020-504, the main ordinances regarding the City of Jacksonville’s 2020-2021 Annual Budget, during the lengthy virtual Council Zoom meeting on September 22nd, which didn’t adjourn until after midnight. In reviewing Mayor Lenny Curry’s proposed budget of $1.452 Billion, the City Council landed on a final amount of $1,449,985,211 Billion after adjustments and final audit review. This budget is an increase of $72,349,841 million which technically is only an increase of $37,349,841 million due to an in/out debt transfer of $35m for JPA Dredging. In total, including all independent agencies for which Jacksonville is responsible, the final tally of all funds expended will be $5,860,723,668 billion.

In looking more specifically at the local Ad Valorem revenue, the total property taxes coming into the general fund totals $781,497 million or 58.26% of all revenue. As that amount relates to year over year comparisons, Ad Valorem revenue increased 7.50% in the amount of $54,506,153 million, as that number is made up by $35.5M or 4.89% from existing properties and $19M or 2.61% from new construction. As an immediate reduction in Ad Valorem taxes being used for general purposes, $40.2M is allocated for use only towards the Tax Increment Districts. Therefore, the adjusted total of $741,294,714 million is ultimately available for the general services use.

“Revenues continue to grow in Duval County. As Ad Valorem taxes continue to increase with new housing and commercial development and increases in property values, our city continues to attract new families and individuals to the area,” Councilman Becton acknowledged. “Covid-19 did affect our budget as it was projected that State Sales taxes would be $15 million lower than originally anticipated pre-Covid-19.”

As for expenses, the biggest conversation during the Council review was towards the city’s Solid Waste fund. The solid waste expenses are funded by a solid waste fee (enacted by Ordinance 2007-837) on property assessment bills generating approximately $41M into an Enterprise Fund. This fee for the past four years has not been sufficient in order to pay for solid waste services. As a result, the accumulation of deficits totaling over $27m for the past four years has become a loan by the city which by ordinance, should be repaid. As part of the contributing growing expense for solid waste is the cost for recycling. Recycling at one point created positive cash flow but today it costs the city $1.5M instead. The market for recyclable materials unfortunately has declined and today, we pay to recycle. What is not considered however in this expense is the benefit of not filling up our landfill with this recycle material. There is a considerable savings in not processing these materials, not filling up our current land fill as quickly and by extending the life of our landfill, we forgo acquisition of new property and development cost associated with a new landfill. These are not small saving and also to be considered is the social, economic and environmental benefits that recycling provides.

The budget was passed and I supported that overall passage. As for the previous request by the Finance Chair before the budget review took place to possibly raise taxes, it was ultimately proven unjustified by this balanced budget and surplus of $240+k funds being available,” Councilman Becton exclaimed. “Not only were funds available after the audit review but also funds were reallocated from the JIA Tax Increment District account of surplus dollars to the Finance Chair’s Social Justice committee in the amount of $2.6M for unspecified uses. For that reallocation, I had heartburn as I do not support a slush funds for political initiatives of unspecified projects.

The budget passed 17-2, with Councilman Diamond and Councilman Dennis both in opposition. As far as residents, many expressed concerns for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Budget of $484,601,110 million dollars. Despite the hundred or so emails from constituents and several hours of public comment and debate regarding defunding, Council Members made it known that defunding JSO was not going to happen with a vote of 18-1.

Councilman Becton stated the following during the JSO defunding debate at the September 23rd Council meeting:

“My Colleagues Diamond, Bowman and Ferraro all stated the position of supporting our Men in Blue Very Well, therefore, I will just say ‘Amen.’ 

What I will add is that I will be supporting our men in blue, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and voting against this amendment to defund.

As for reasons and additional points, the number one role of government is public safety that includes policing and fire and rescue services. It is for that priority; we spend a large portion of our budget for those services and I say ‘Thank You’ to our men and women in blue.

As for the reality, 98-99% of every organization has great people working to do the right thing and trying to do a great job. Unfortunately, a small percentage of people within these organization, don’t follow the rules, perhaps are rude and some just do not do their job well resulting in everyone having some level of bad apples that must be dealt with. I do not support the narrative that our JSO is inherently bad but unfortunately a few create headlines.

 It is my contention for those who want to throw stones/rocks at this agency, then ‘If you think you can do a better job, fill out an application, join the force, be part of the solution rather than a detractor’, I am certain Sheriff Williams has some openings.

 In addition, I personally have a first-hand view of what law enforcement and their families are going thru. I now have a son-in-law in law enforcement that hearing my daughter talk about her concerns every day as to him coming home each night safely, it is very stressful and weighs heavily on their quality of life.

It is for these reasons, that funding JSO and supporting our law enforcement is very important.” 

In addition to the budget operational revenue and expenses, this budget funds expansion of the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department throughout our city. In keeping up with the growth and needs within District 11, Councilman Becton’s initiative for additional Fire and Rescue services were no different. Included in the Capital Improvement Plan and Budget for FY 2020-2021 is the funding of New Fire Station #74. Just as dirt is starting to move for the permanent facility over off Gate Parkway for Fire Station #63, this budget provides $5.5M for the buildout of a southern most station located within eTown off I-295 and 9B South. This station is designed to cover District 11 from Baymeadows Road to Nocatee in conjunction with Station #54 off US-1 and Philips Hwy at the Avenues and Station #62 off Bartram Park Blvd.

It is very exciting to accomplish this second of two New Fire Stations for the District. While it was very difficult to find property for the fire station in the right location, taking about two to three years, it became immediately clear that getting this second station started in the search was equally important,” Councilman Becton excplained. “In working with several developers, options became available and by selecting the best option for position and coverage, the developer immediately collaborated with the city to help expedite the process. It is now with this funding that new Fire Station #74 will be built by the end of 2021, at the latest.”

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By Tiziana Onstead, District 11 Executive Council Assistant