If I were asked to name the two top priorities for our City Council, and the City in general, they would be the economic stability of our City and the safety of our residents. I put the latter second only because we independently elect a Sheriff and that office is not controlled by the City Council or Mayor but rather by your chosen leadership. But public safety is clearly an essential role for local government and we are part of the equation.
Over the course of the winter, we have made significant steps forward toward insuring the City’s economic stability. The Mayor rolled out his proposal for payment of the unfunded pension debt which was supported unanimously by Council, and appears likely to pass the Florida Legislature- no small feat in itself. The debt we owe to retirees over the next twenty to thirty years will destroy our City budget and prevent us from providing the services, infrastructure and quality of life our citizens demand and deserve. The Mayor’s plan to extend the term of an existing sales tax provides a way to pay that debt without additionally burdening the taxpayers- and frees up funds in current budgets to maintain services, rebuild infrastructure, and tackle our public safety challenge.
We also completed negotiations of and passed a new agreement with JEA regarding their contribution to the City, and their joint role in extending water and sewer infrastructure as well as environmental remediation for pollution of our waterways. (See article to right) This charter amendment also provides budget stability by establishing a floor for the JEA contribution to the City.
These two winter initiatives will have huge impacts on our budget (the sales tax extension is still a long way from reality and will require approval by the voters). But they do provide a level of financial stability and economic opportunity for Jacksonville that will have a major impact on the next decade. They also have the potential to free up additional money that can be used to address the growing problem of violent crime.
Last night we passed two bills- one providing funding for additional overtime hours for the Sheriff’s Office and another allocating funds from a trust fund administered by JSO for coordination of crime prevention efforts. In addition there is a bill pending for Jacksonville Journey funding. We are just turning our focus to this renewed effort- but it will be priority going forward.
While these policy matters have been in the forefront, the national political debate and to a lesser extent local political drama, have played a hand in shaping the dialogue before Council and among colleagues. I firmly believe that our democratic system works best when our discourse remains civil. I find the mudslinging and personal attacks repulsive and hope that locally we will not follow the example we have seen on the national stage. We must work together as councilmembers, with the Mayor’s office, and as citizens of Jacksonville, if we are going to solve our problems and help Jacksonville realize our full potential.