Mayor Lenny Curry’s eighth and final budget speech found him highlighting the same themes he sounded when he presented his first budget in 2015but with a lot more money in the vault to support those calls to action.
“Every year I’ve said budgets are about priorities, and this morning I’m here to show you that those aren’t just words,” Curry said during his speech in the city council chambers. “These are promises kept.”
Curry attributed the balanced budget to his seven years of working to reduce the city’s debt, increase funds in the city’s reserves and implement its pension reform project in 2018 after voters approved a future half-cent sales tax to pay retirement debt.
The city also received the second half of about $343 million in federal pandemic relief funds this year and saw a surge in tax revenue fueled by a strong economy.
Curry asked the city council to cut the property tax rate slightly for a general fund budget that will total $1.55 billion. A separate slate of capital improvement projects will total $500 million, the second year in a row that spending on these construction projects has marked a high.
“Jacksonville really is a booming city, and if we keep doing the hard work, the best is yet to come,” Curry said.
His budget, which the city council will consider in a series of budget workshops, would reduce the city’s tax rate from about $11.44 per $1,000 of assessed property value to about $11.32 per 1 $000. This will be a drop of about 1% in the property tax rate.
Curry said it would be the first time the city has lowered the tax rate since 2007. The rate rose steadily from 2008 to 2013 and has remained the same since.
“Because our neighbors are facing the sting of inflation and because we’ve built such a strong financial position, I think it’s time for the first property tax cut since 2007,” he said. declared.
But in the middle of a torrid real estate market, most homeowners will still owe more at tax time, even with a lower tax rate, because the assessed value of property increases so quickly.
Curry’s budget keeps the city foot on gas for spending on dozens of projects across the city in its capital improvement plan. These range from new fire stations and libraries to paving streets and improving parks.
When Curry unveiled his first budget in 2015, his capital improvement plan totaled $71 million for that year. In a sign of how much has changed since then, city council members applauded the $71 million figure, as at the time it was the city’s largest works program in five years.
“The year before I took office, the CIP budget was $20 million in a city our size, and we crawled and fought our way out of this hole,” Curry told reporters after his speech. “I’m talking to the people of Jacksonville right now: your parks, your sidewalks, your roads, we’re investing in every corner of the city.”
The dozens of projects include $26 million for street resurfacing, $10 million for resilience projects to counter the impact of climate change, $108 million for city parks and the latest cash installment. to build a new $15.9 million Oceanway Library Branch. The Oceanway branch, serving a rapidly growing part of the Northside, will be the first new municipal library since 2006.
Curry, who cannot run for mayor again due to term limits, continues to invest more money in public safety as he has in each of his previous budgets. It proposes $540 million for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and $365 million for the Fire and Rescue Department, which accounts for the largest share of general fund spending.
Curry also pointed to a larger budget for the Kids Hope Alliance, which offers a year-round slate of programs for young people. That would be nearly $45 million, a 27% increase from about $35 million this year.
His first budget, eight years ago, was $1.15 billion for the general fund and has grown steadily since then as taxpayer money poured into City Hall. . It has benefited so far from a strong economy that has avoided a recession even when the The COVID-19 pandemic has injected a massive dose of uncertainty.
Curry said while some other cities declared financial emergencies during the pandemic, Jacksonville not only “survived but thrived” as the city grappled with the impact of the virus.
“We have managed to manage uncharted territory during a global pandemic under very difficult economic conditions,” he said.
Benefit of lower tax rate will vary for homeowners
City Council members LeAnna Cumber and Garrett Dennis are among council members who have said they want the city use some of the federal money to temporarily suspend the collection of 4 cents per gallon local gasoline tax.
Curry’s budget does not include any sort of local gas tax holiday.
Instead, he agreed with council members, such as Danny Becton, who argued for a lower property tax rate. The proposed property tax rate reduction would vary from property owner to property owner.
Homeowners who qualify for a property exemption will see their home’s assessed value increase by up to 3%, as the state Save Our Homes law limits home value increases for tax purposes, even when market prices rise.
For example, the owner of a $150,000 home with a $50,000 homestead exemption paid a municipal tax bill of $1,144 last year. If that house is worth the same this year, the city’s bill would be $1,131 under Curry’s proposed tax rate.
If the home increased in value, as so many others have, the Save Our Homes cap would limit the increase in assessed value to just 3%. In this scenario, the homeowner’s municipal tax bill would be $1,182 with Curry’s proposed tax rate.
Homeowners who are not protected by the Save Our Homes Act would generally see larger jumps in their tax bills. This category covers apartment complexes, rental houses, shopping malls, office buildings and industrial parks.
Even with the tax rate cut, the city will still earn nearly $99 million more in property taxes, as the overall tax base has grown 14% since last year, fueled by rising property prices. sale of homes and new construction.
Garbage collection fees remain the same
Curry’s budget doesn’t change the garbage collection fee, which is one of the lowest in the state and hasn’t been increased since 2010.
The city suspension of selective collection for six months because its waste haulers struggled to hire enough drivers to cover all the garbage, yard waste and recycling collection routes. Service resumed in April.
The city has reassessed its contracts so garbage haulers can pay more to lure drivers, but any additional costs will be paid out of the general fund rather than higher garbage fees.
Jacksonville accuses residents a solid waste tax of $12.65 per month to help cover municipal costs for the collection of household garbage, recyclables and yard waste. The solid waste tax is added to property tax bills as an annual assessment of $151.80 for the entire year.
A special committee of city council considered raising the fee to $18 per month or more, but the committee did not recommend a fee increase.
For the second year in a row, city coffers will benefit from a $171 million payout from the federal government’s American Recovery Act, bringing the two-year total to around $343 million and adding to the city’s ability to deliver projects that would otherwise be stuck behind the scenes.
Jacksonville gained significantly more than other Florida cities from the Clawback Act due to the city’s status as a consolidated city and county government.
Chief Executive Brian Hughes told reporters after the speech that $73 million of federal funds this year would be set aside. The future mayor and city council could use the money “to supplement” funds for their projects, Hughes said.
The funding could also help if the city is unsuccessful in obtaining reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for its pandemic-related costs, including extra pay received by city employees.
Curry was looking forward to seeing the next mayor “cut a lot of ribbons” by completing projects his administration started. As his senior year draws to a close, he said he would give his successor one main piece of advice: listen to the critics but ultimately follow their instincts.
“Accept criticism,” advised Curry. “Take the beatings. Take the scars. You’ll do some things, maybe not everything, but you’ll do more than just sit in your office worrying about what everyone thinks.”