By: Mike Mendenhall
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s proposed a $1.41 billion fiscal year 2021-22 general fund budget and $494.7 million in capital spending plan bolstered by a jump in ad valorem and state tax revenue and federal coronavirus-related aid.
In a speech to City Council on July 20 at City Hall, Curry credited his 2015 city pension reform legislation, the recent 6-cent local option gas tax increase and federal American Rescue Plan funding for allowing the city to boost spending a year after the pandemic.
“Because of the smart and responsible decisions we’ve made in previous years, Jacksonville is not only in a position to recover from the pandemic, but emerge stronger than we were before,” Curry said.
The overall budget is a 5.22% increase from the 2020-21 budget, but the $494.7 Capital Improvement Plan, which includes 169 projects, is a $255.7 million increase over the 2021 CIP.
According to a breakdown from the Curry administration, Duval County has half of the $343.6 million it will receive over the next two years from the federal American Rescue Plan Act available now.
Curry’s budget puts $50 million toward removing aging septic tanks citywide and connecting neighborhoods to sanitary sewer systems.
The mayor proposes another $24 million go toward countywide roadway resurfacing.
Curry plans more than $54 million in drainage and stormwater resiliency projects in the budget that he said would start a “multiyear, transformational response to the effects of sea-level rise.”
The investment comes after Curry announced July 6 he has selected the former city of New Orleans and Obama administration official Anne Coglianese to be the city’s chief resiliency officer.
Federal rescue funds also will pay for a $4.7 million increase in the city’s contribution to UF Health Jacksonville, moving it from nearly $30 million to $35 million.
Curry said responding to COVID-19 showed a need for more city investment in public health and will propose $40 million for the hospital in FY 2022-23.
A recurring theme in Curry’s speech was the need to invest in city employees following their work performance during the pandemic.
He said the budget funds 70 new positions in the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department and increases the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office budget by nearly $18 million from last year to $507.7 million.
“While it’s true that budgets set priorities, it’s the people that turn priority into action and I’m grateful for all who play a part,” Curry said.
“I want to take a moment to thank the city employees when in the midst of a global pandemic, they didn’t even blink an eye.”
The Curry administration wants to use $20 million of the one-time federal aid to pay for raises for all full-time city employees beyond the scheduled 2.5% bump.
Another $20 million would go toward one-time bonuses or “premium pay.”
The proposed budget
Curry said administration officials are finalizing wage negotiations with the city’s labor unions.
Curry’s Chief of Staff Jordan Elsbury said administration officials are “very confident” that future recurring revenue projections show the city will be able to sustain the raises moving forward.
Council Finance Committee Chair Ron Salem said his biggest budget concern is the use of one-time federal dollars for employee pay raises, but is pleased overall with a “huge” CIP which he says the city needs.
Salem said he will not recommend a millage rate increase when he leads the Council’s budget review process in August.
All seven of Curry’s proposed budgets since 2015 have kept the rate flat which is at $11.4419 per every $1,000 of taxable property value.
The budget hearings are scheduled for Aug 12-13; 19-20; and 25-27. It will then go to the full Council for final approval.