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Mayor Peyton Pitches Budget Proposal to City Council

Major John Peyton presented his $994 million budget to the Jacksonville City Council this morning. 

The following is the full text of the mayor's address to the City Council...

Mr. President, members of the City Council, honored guests, fellow employees and Citizens of Jacksonville:

Good morning. It is a pleasure to be here with you as I hand off the 2009-2010 budget.

I want to start first by thanking former Council President Ronnie Fussell for his strong leadership this past year. While I’ve known Ronnie for years, our working relationship was forged during Tropical Storm Fay. We spent hours together in the Emergency Operations Center and with EOC personnel surveying damage throughout our city. It has been smooth sailing ever since. And serving with you has been a pleasure.

I want to recognize this year’s Council President Richard Clark and Vice-President Jack Webb. We begin our work together this year with a storm of a different nature. I look forward to navigating these uncharted waters with you both in the coming year. Thank you both for your service.

By now, you are aware of Jacksonville’s budget circumstances …. By now, you have heard my three-part plan to solve it …. And by now you’ve heard from constituents who are concerned about either the cost of government or the loss of their quality of life and amenities and services that come with it.

But, before I turn this budget over to Chairman Joost and the Finance Committee, I’d first like to talk about What Kind Of City we want to live in. And, What Kind Of City our citizens should expect.

I want to live in a city that …. believes in job creation and economic development.

We’ve had a number of successes with corporations such as Mitsui, Hanjin, Pilot Pen, Alenia, Rail America and most recently Saft choosing our city over any other location in the world.

When Jacksonville has the opportunity to compete, we usually prevail. And because of it, job growth in our community continues to defy gravity. We have a strong workforce. A welcoming municipal climate. And a streamlined permitting process.

We have a growing deepwater port. We have an expanding aerospace and aviation industry at Cecil Commerce Center. And we are one of the largest intermodal transportation hubs on the East Coast.

We are gaining prominence as a center for the bioscience and healthcare industries with more than 30 medical facilities in our community. This concentration of education, research and treatment has put Jacksonville on the map as a world-class healthcare provider.

None of these developments happened by chance. They resulted from a deliberate strategy and dedicated partnership between the city, including this council, the Chamber of Commerce and the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission.

In 2005, we began a collaborative community effort called Blueprint for Prosperity. Increasing economic opportunity and raising per capita income is our commitment to the people of Jacksonville. I am proud to say, that as a result of these efforts, we’ve seen great strides in the areas of personal income, high-school graduation rates and net job growth.

I want to live in a city that …. sees and understands the value of keeping the St. Johns River healthy and vibrant for generations to come.

Water quality, conservation and river access will continue to be a major focus of my administration. The health of the St. Johns River contributes directly to our economic viability – especially to the development and revitalization of our downtown.

It is for this reason that I’ve included in this year’s budget funding for the redevelopment of Metropolitan Park and improvements to our North and Southbank Riverwalk. The Riverwalk should be the common thread connecting downtown neighborhoods, sports complexes and park attractions along our river.

We’ve dedicated millions to restoring our river. Our public spaces along it should reflect that same commitment.

As for cleaning up our river, the biggest contributor of pollution is storm water run off. It is also the most expensive to treat. In 2006 we adopted The River Accord. And with council’s support, we formed critical partnerships and dedicated significant resources to begin restoring the health of the Lower St. Johns River Basin.

I want to live in a city that …. comes together to take back our neighborhoods with a comprehensive approach to fighting crime.

Engaging the intellect of our youth is key to our safety. Early learning is the number one predictor for how far a student will go in school … what type of job they’ll get … and whether they commit a crime.

Since I took office, literacy has been one of the major focuses of my administration. Rally Jacksonville has more than 43,000 book club members and will be adding another 10,000 this fall.

We have worked with more than 175 child care centers to transition them from custodial care into learning care. Research tells us we are moving the needle and leading the nation in early childhood development.

The Jacksonville Journey is the first comprehensive, citizen-driven initiative to reduce crime. Combining enforcement, prevention and intervention we are turning the tide on the epidemic of violence in our city.

This year we opened 15 new Team Up locations that serve more than 1,800 children each day. We sent 2,900 more children to summer camp. In October, we reopened the Juvenile Assessment Center. And as a result we’ve assisted over 5,000 youth. Because of the partnerships formed through The Journey, 84 students were awarded scholarships to attend local colleges.

Because of your support, we are engaging at-risk youth in this community at unprecedented levels. The Jacksonville Journey is making a difference.

Violent crime is down 15 percent, since this time last year. And the murder rate is down 22 percent for that same period. These statistics do not yet reflect a trend … but they certainly indicate progress.

Much of this progress is due to the good work of our Sheriff, our police officers and the priority we at City Hall place on public safety.

I want to live in a city that …. embraces its military community.

In Jacksonville we celebrate the more than 250,000 residents who are active duty, veterans and military retirees, and their families.

These individuals are not only defenders of our freedom … They’re our neighbors. They’re our friends. They’re our Sunday school teachers. And they’re our Little League coaches.

The annual economic impact of these good people, represents close to $12 billion. This is the closest thing we have to a recession-proof business.

We are proud to be home to the U.S. Navy’s Fourth Fleet, the U.S. Marine Corps’ Blount Island Command, 21 Naval ships and 24 aircraft squadrons, the largest training range complex on the East Coast and the future homeport of a nuclear aircraft carrier.

The Defense Department recognizes the value that Jacksonville provides. And we are proud to be the number one requested duty station in the Navy.

I am grateful for the unwavering support of our representatives in Washington: Congressman Ander Crenshaw, Congresswoman Corrine Brown, Senator Mel Martinez and Senator Bill Nelson.They have been tremendous partners as we’ve worked to ensure funding for a carrier at Naval Station Mayport.

I want to live in a city that …. values art and culture.

We have a world class symphony and a Cultural Council that provides support for some of our hallmark institutions including the Florida Theater, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens.

Thanks to many of you, thousands enjoy monthly Downtown Art Walks and Saturdays at the Riverside Arts Market. Since its grand opening in April, the Riverside Arts Market has become a premier family entertainment destination on our beautiful St. Johns River.

Our Special Events team provides year-round, free and low-cost entertainment for our families and visitors alike. These events draw millions of people to our downtown to celebrate our cultural diversity, and provide an annual economic impact of well over $200 million.

I want to live in a city that …. takes care of its own and offers a critical safety net to our most vulnerable population.

Because of the down turn in the economy our social service providers are at crisis level. The profile of those seeking assistance has changed. We are seeing record numbers of families with children seeking support from our food banks, homeless shelters and victims’ assistance programs.

This is no time to cut back on our social safety net. By doing so, we would only realize short-term savings that will result in greater long-term human suffering and crippling, long-term financial costs.

We are compassionate people. And this budget should reflect it.

Granted, we are serving during an extraordinary time. We are facing issues and challenges that are unprecedented. I believe our contribution as public servants will be forever marked by how we manage through these perilous times.

We must not let the current economic environment lead to survivalist thinking or paralysis. It is time to be bold. It is time to be courageous. And it is time to do what is right. This may mean not doing what is politically expedient.

Last month, an important JCCI study said that we are at a point of financial crisis. I agree.

A budget crisis, however, does not mean we are going out of business, defaulting on our bonds or missing payroll. It means simply the math we’ve been using to balance this budget no longer works in today’s environment.

Despite the rejection of Amendment 1 by Jacksonville voters, the work of Tallahassee cost our city more than $100 million.That loss represents roughly 10 percent of our overall budget.

But our challenges go beyond what Tallahassee imposed. Jacksonville is also suffering the effects of the global recession. Property values have declined 6 percent over last year, which represents a loss of $3.5 billion on the tax roll. That reduction equates to about $30 million in lost revenue this year.

And to make matters worse, we have a city employee pension system that is unsustainable.

I am proposing a three-part plan that begins with identifying ways to reduce the cost of government.

My administration has consistently taken steps to eliminate reoccurring expenses. In fact, our overall non-public safety spending is less today than when I first took office. This year, we’ve asked department heads to cut even deeper. We have identified yet another $40 million in cuts.

First, all non-public safety departments will cut a minimum of 5 percent from their budgets. We will eliminate approximately 100 existing positions. This is on top of the nearly 400 positions we’ve eliminated since 2006.

In addition to departmental cuts, I will work to negotiate zero raises across the board and furloughs for all employees not serving in uniformed, public safety roles.

Let me be clear, our city employees are some of the hardest workers I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. They have consistently risen to the occasion when asked to do more with less.

However, we can no longer continue to promise a retirement plan beyond what other Americans expect to receive. Six years ago, the city’s annual pension obligation was $40 million. Next year, it will be about $110 million. Ten years from now, the pension costs are estimated to be about $260 million. That will be a 550 percent increase since I first took office.

It has been suggested that previous administrations failed to make pension payments. That is not accurate. To set the record straight, the city has never missed a pension payment.

The driving force behind increasing pension costs is a growth in benefits, actuarial charts that masked the actual costs of benefits and the market’s failure to meet investment targets in a down economy.

Maintaining the current structure is not an option. However, I can assure you that any reform plan that we negotiate will be fair. It will be competitive. And it will be sustainable.

Furthermore, the plan I will propose will honor our commitment to current employees. At the collective bargaining table, I will propose a plan that takes a new approach, including:

8.4 percent guaranteed rate of return for retirees
Cost of living adjustments
Retirement based on years of service and minimum age
Surviving spousal benefits
Employee contributions and
Average pay calculations.

While the plan offers no short term relief, it will provide more than $1.3 billion in savings during the next 35 years …. If future mayors and future councils hold the line on new benefits.

But even after making $40 million in cuts and reforming pension, we were still $50 million away from a balanced budget. We had two options: come up with an additional $50 million in cuts …. or seek a modest revenue enhancement.

I can assure you this was not an easy decision and one that I personally struggled with. How could we ask a community – that is already feeling the effects of this economy – to pay more?

Let me share with you my process for making this decision.

As an exercise, I went through what $50 million in additional cuts does to our community. The realities were grim. It did not paint the picture of a city I want to live in. And, it did not paint a picture of a city I believe you want to live in.

While each one of us may have slightly different priorities for what to cut … the Draconian impact to our city is unavoidable.

I believe our citizens deserve better.

And that is why I am proposing a balanced budget that factors in a modest, 1.02 millage rate increase. To put that in perspective, the average homeowner in Duval County has an assessed home value of $145,000. That homeowner would pay an additional $97 next year – that’s about $8 a month.

That modest increase will fund core government functions at current levels, such as road work, recycling, park maintenance, trash pickup, public safety, libraries and community centers.

It is important to note … we are simply restoring the millage rate to what it was before Tallahassee started meddling in local government affairs.

Some will say government should do what families are doing and … “tighten its belt.” Councilmembers, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: That’s not a management plan. That’s a bumper sticker.

As good stewards I know you will scrutinize my three-part plan – and deservedly so. Taxpayers should expect no less. But if you intend to vote “no,” this community deserves to hear your plan for balancing this budget.

Is it your plan to close fire stations?
Is it your plan to cut libraries?
Is it your plan to cut community centers?
Is it your plan to eliminate the Cultural Council and Public Service Grants?
Is it your plan to … shut down assistance to crime victims, the homeless and those who have no where else to turn?
Is it your plan to eliminate programs for children?
Is it your plan to end recycling?
Is it your plan to shut down government?

If your plan involves balancing this budget without a revenue increase, let me assure you, the devastation you start this year will be even worse next year. Even if you’re successful in balancing this budget only with cuts, you will still have a $120 million hole in next year’s budget.

What is your plan for that?

My plan is to Fix It Now! And by working together, I believe we can.

I truly believe that we, as elected officials, serve because we believe in this city’s future – and inevitably we want to be a part of her success. It is my hope that as the elected leaders of this community, we work together to solve the budget challenges of Jacksonville.

Harry Truman said, “In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”

We must ask ourselves, “What kind of city do we want to live in?”

We owe it to the architects of Consolidation. We owe it to ourselves. And we owe it to the children who will inherit this place. With that, Mr. President, I present to you the proposed budget for fiscal year 2009-2010.

This is our best work.

Godspeed. God bless all of you who offer your time and talent for the betterment of our city. And God bless Jacksonville.

1 Responses »

  1. While I have not seen the details of the proposed plan, I do conceptually agree with the Mayor's approach. I believe our mantra should be "fix it now." I don't want to come back in subsequent years to ask for more.

    However, being an optimist, I also believe the current economic environment will improve. Therefore, the increase in property tax should have a sunset provision about 2 years down the road. The increased millage could be revisited and adjusted accordingly. This kind of irreversible tax creep is part of what got us into this mess in the first place. This permanent increase if to meet our current situation and NOT to fund future growth of Government.