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Jacksonville, FL (September 27, 2022) — City Council by a vote of 17-2, approved the main Budget Bill, 2022-504, additionally adopting other budget bills 2022-501, 502, and 503 related to the millage rate, to pass the City of Jacksonville’s 2022-2023 annual budget. The debate was lengthy, four amendments were considered, but after many months of review by the Council Auditors and the Council’s Finance Committee, the City Council landed on a final amount of a record-setting $1.5 Billion at the September 27th, 2022, City Council meeting. Council Member Danny Becton, in keeping true to his calls for fiscal responsibility, called out discretionary wasteful spending and deeper tax-breaks for the citizens of Duval County, to unfortunately find himself having to Vote No on this Year’s 2022-2023 Budget.

In a deviation from previous years, related to funding the budget, the City Council approved a 1/8 reduction in the millage rate, at 11.3169 for Jacksonville, 8.0262 for the Beaches, and 9.526 for Baldwin per $1,000 of taxable value, after reductions from homestead and other exemptions.  Even with the decrease, the city will generate an estimated $945,249,142 in Ad Valorem taxes, an increase of 12.67% from last year. Despite the reduction in the millage rate, most property owners will see an increase in their tax bill due to the max cap of 3% being implemented for homesteaded properties.  This increase, being the largest in 20 years is a result of strong residential home sales and appraisals within the local real estate market. Non-homesteads and commercial properties are seeing much higher increases up to 10%. Council Member Becton was at the forefront of the fight to roll the millage rate back even more, introducing Resolution 2022-276-D, earlier this year. The resolution was offered to encourage Mayor Lenny Curry to consider, in budget preparation, rolling back the millage rate in the final computation of the 2022-23 Fiscal Year budget.  Ultimately, that resolution failed, due to only garnering 3 votes of support.

In looking further at the revenue to fund the budget, 80% comes from three areas. First, the local Ad Valorem revenue, which is the property taxes in which you pay as mentioned previously, the contribution by JEA & other independent authorities which account for $134.4m, and the State Shared Income contribution of $215.5m.  That shared income is made up of Sales Taxes in the amount of $197m, Fuel Taxes of $16.7m, Cigarette Taxes of $306,247, and Licenses Fees totaling $1.35m.

As our office received many inquiries during the suspension of recycling collection, the following excerpt from the 8/12/2022 budget meeting handout explains the funding of the Solid Waste General Fund (GF) for this next Fiscal Year:

Footnote 18 – The $18,945,867 represents the current 2021-2022 operating loan as of 9/30/22 of $17,340,267 plus the payback of $1,605,600 on the $9 million loan from the GF/GSD to the Solid Waste Division (Ordinance 2018-458-E). Since FY 2017/18, an operating loan has been budgeted for the Solid Waste Fund from the GF/GSD every year as shown below. The loan to Solid Waste from the GF/GSD includes the amount needed to repay the previous year plus any additional funding needed to balance the Solid Waste Fund that year.

FY 2017/18      – $3,058,842

FY 2018/19      – $5,538,779

FY 2019/20      – $0 ($4,162,443 was adjusted thru FY19/20 recapture process)

FY 2020/21      – $992,581 ($5,427,759 was adjusted thru FY20/21 recapture process).

FY 2021/22      – $7,750,065

FY 2022/23      – $10,867,047

FY 2018/19      – $6,750,000 (Ordinance 2018-458-E Loan)

Total owed to GF/GSD from Solid Waste on 9/30/2023 – $34,957,314.

For a further dive into the Solid Waste Enterprise Fund and how it operates, check out our previous article linked here, “CM Becton Provides Editorial Correction Solid Waste Enterprise Fund.

In looking at the major expenditures of the budget, 57.8% has been allocated to Public Safety, with $539m going to Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO), an increase of 7.47%, and $343m to Jacksonville Fire & Rescue Dept (JFRD), an increase of 9.35%. Budgeted into the increase are an additional 94 Fire and Rescue personnel to augment Fire Stations #76 and #47. In addition, 16 JSO personnel has been added to support the Misdemeanor Probation Program through Ordinance 2021-758-E.  Both increases are, as Council Member Becton would later say in his remarks, “required for the sustainability and effectiveness of our First Responders”.  Other major city departments receiving funding included an 12.91% increase to Public Works in the amount of $56.8m and Parks and Recreation & Community Services getting a 6.88% increase totaling $52.9m.  Again, as CM Becton would state, “the city needs to support its basic functions and core requirements of government – keeping the citizens safe, our infrastructure maintained, and solid waste collected – but in looking at the council’s discretionary spending,” Council Member Becton advocated, “some of those funds should be returned to the taxpayer as relief from today’s bad economy and high inflation that are weighting heavy on our citizens”.

The Capital Improvement Projects portion of the budget, at $452.7m this year, has included in it for District 11, $700,000 to be allocated to a new Traffic Signal at Baymeadows Rd E, at Hampton Park, as well as $8m allocated towards the Atlantic Coast High School, buildout of a new public swimming pool for District 11. The Southeast Regional Library will also see its roof replaced at a cost of $448,000 in FY26/27. Additional items were added for future years (Beyond 5), allocating $1.5m for Synthetic Turf for an additional Flex-Field, $500k for amenities at Genovar Park and $2.3m for amenities at Julington-Durbin Creek Preserve. Other items in FY 22/23 on a county-wide basis: $26.5m for roadway resurfacing, $6m for sidewalk repair, and $1m allocated for new sidewalks, across the city.

Four Floor Amendments offered to 2022-504 were proposed, with one from CM Priestly Jackson which was withdrawn after negotiations with the administration and JEA to further suspend and prevent the disconnection of residents who are having difficulty paying their utility bill. Other funding requests were offered as follows:

Freeman #1 pertaining to City Council – Technical Amendment amending Capital Outlay Carry forward schedule to include $150,000 related to the replacement of the City Council filing system (vertical filing carousels). This amendment’s purpose was to carry over remaining funds from FY21-22 into this year’s budget to be placed towards upgrading City Council’s filing system (Passed)

Salem #1 pertaining to Mayport Waterfront Partnership – Mayport Term sheet and Bill Language updated upon additional information submitted by Mayport Waterfront Partnership after substitute was filed. This amendment’s purpose was to replace the term sheet that was attached to the Substituted Budget Bill, 2022-504, with additions from the applicate to include correct name of the entity (Mayport Waterfront, Inc to Mayport Waterfront Partnership) and changes to permissible uses for funds clarified (Passed)

Bowman #1 Adjust numbers in Florida AHCA budget from $711,049 to $1,774,029 after State provided updated information to the city.  This amendment’s purpose was to not make a change to the budget of the Mental Health Center of $2.2m, but rather increases the Florida AHCA match from $711,049 to $1,774,029 so the Mental Health Center can draw additional funds from the State of Florida. (Passed)

It was within these discretionary funds and others that Council Member Becton acknowledge that we could have taped-into and gone back to the taxpayers. As the budget was passed, the citizens of Jacksonville are only seeing a total amount of approximately $10m from the mayor’s 1/8 reduction, back in taxes. It was based on these circumstances, that Council Member Becton, for the first time in his eight years, voted against the budget and justified his action with the following statement:

“Over the past year, we have heard from taxpayers and constituents within our county, how housing has become unaffordable due to the escalation of home prices and rents. Families and retirees have seen taxes rise and have seen over the past 7 years, property tax increases, accumulatively exceeding 11%. In this year’s budget, we are collecting property tax revenue in the amount of $945m, resulting in a 12.7% increase. Our total budget of $1.5 Billion, a historic number, is collecting, year over year, $132m more in total taxes. While these amounts, are historic, what is also historic are the challenges that our citizens are facing and being affected by:

1) An Economy that is a Disaster,

2) Inflation that is rampant at a 40-year high,

3) Interest rates going up daily, and

4) Family Retirement Accounts, declining.

In addition, to those things, basic needs are becoming difficult to afford, including among other things, food, and energy where gas prices have also been at prices of historical levels. We are also seeing JEA Fuel Charges making electricity hard to afford and difficult to pay. Increasing interest rates are making home mortgages and rents more expense too. It’s not uncommon to hear rents increase by $200 a month or more and as home borrowing already is seeing rates above 5%, that translates to over $300 a month on a $225,000 mortgage. In addition, as property taxes are raised, those expenses for renters are only going to be passed on in higher rents.

In this budget, yes, we have reduced the millage rate by 1/8th of a point. Let’s put that in perspective, this only amounts to a paltry $12.50 per $100,000 of taxable value. Only providing for about 3 gallons of gas, much less being able to fill up your tank.

This budget does support our Public Servants and First Responders as it should, this is a primary role of government. This budget provides funding that addresses infrastructure needs for more maintenance to our roads, sidewalks and drainage systems and funds other roles of government as it should. But what I also know, is that there is funding beyond those needs that are discretionary and are available to be given back. Again, I support the budgets of JSO, JFRD and our many team members, who serve our citizens but what concerns me is how we have decided to spend those discretionary dollars, leaving nothing to give back further.

At the end, what disappoints me is that for this budget, we could only allocate $10m out of a $1.5B budget to return to the taxpayers. As an example of decisions, we have made, of the $4.5m dollars in unspent funds at the end of the audit process, we decided not to consider giving those funds back either.

As a result, what concerns me the most that in November, how many of our citizens of our city will be unable to pay this property tax bill, in combination with all other expenses that are stretching budgets thin.

It is for this reason that for the first time in my 8 years of service on this Council and to this city, I cannot support this budget.”

The final vote for 2021-504 was held just after 9:00pm and passed the council by a vote of 17-2, with both Council Member Becton and Diamond, voting “Against” the budget.

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By Joe Johnson, District 11 Executive Council Assistant and CM Danny Becton.