While many think of August as the end of summer, hurricane season, or maybe the return to school, for City Council this is budget month. The Mayor and his staff have been working for months on preparing an Operating Budget for the City and a Capital Improvement Budget. Both were delivered mid-July, and the process of review and amendment by the Council Auditors and City Council consumes the coming weeks.
Because our crippling pension debt consumes over $280 million dollars of current revenue, there is little room for enhancement of any service. We know crime remains the top concern of our citizens and we will work to ensure that our resources are used effectively to address this priority. The Mayor has proposed adding 40 additional JSO officers and 40 additional Community Service officers. Council will be evaluating that request along with other public safety needs and requests to give the Sheriff the resources he needs to properly insure our safety and maintain peace in the community.
There are a myriad of other needs as well, and public health issues, life safety issues, and maintenance of our infrastructure will all demand our attention and resources. I wish we could return library hours to pre-recession levels or invest in Downtown but that appears unlikely this year. The total revenue we receive from property taxes is expected to increase by about 19 million dollars but our increase in pension contribution more than consumes that amount. It is only in the last two years that Jacksonville has seen property values begin to increase and we are a long way still from 2008 levels. You will recall that even as overall values increase, the Save Our Homes amendment capped the increase at 3% a year on residential property. Downturns are immediate and unrestricted, and when values fell, our taxable values fell dramatically. But recovery is a long slow process. So our services and City personnel were cut significantly during my first term and we have not yet been able to return services and operations to pre-recession levels.
On the capital side, the budget that funds building roads, parks and buildings, the budget for this year is equally lean but the picture is brighter than in recent years past. We have been paying off more debt than we are taking out in new loans and credit is improving. The proposed budget at least funds all needs at the Council established minimum levels- that isn’t enough to chip away at the $250 million plus backlog but it should keep us from getting further behind. And, we are doing a better job of coordinating funding opportunities from the state, water management district and grants to help address the backlog. We will be adopting a five year plan this year that identifies and prioritizes projects going forward and I am hopeful that will include a plan to address the backlogs as well as invest for the future.