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They Built It, Will They Come?

Tom PattonMayor Peyton and City Council President Richard Clark have begun the process recommended by JCCI to get the public more involved in the budget process. They’ve established a website and will be holding a series of town hall meetings in an effort to get public input into the city budget long before the document is written.

They are to be commended. It is in keeping with the recommendations of the JCCI Budget Study committee for a more open and transparent budget process. JCCI will be facilitating the town hall meetings, which will certainly give them credibility.

But the big question remains who will actually participate.

“If you build it, they will come.” It’s probably the best-known line from the movie Field of Dreams. In the case of the Jacksonville City Budget, it may be more a case of “If you build it, will they come?” Will average citizens care enough to visit a website or attend a town meeting?

I hope so. As one of those on the JCCI budget study committee, I agreed with the consensus that the public needed to have more access to the budget process. And  yet, a city budget is something that’s difficult for the average person to get their hands around. The website is divided out into departments, with a detailed budget from each department.

A sampling of some of the topline numbers: The Mayor’s office is showing a budget reduction of 11.7%  and two fewer full time employees from FY08 to FY10. The City Council did not provide a detailed budget for the site, but noted that The total budget, which includes the General Fund and a Special Revenue Fund for City Council is $16,650,167. The General Fund - GSD budget is $9,185,120. 

The Central Operations budget has been cut 5% over the past two years, or $8,875,449.

IT has been reduced only $6,518, but four positions have been cut over last fiscal year.

The JEDC is projecting a $1.2 million reduction over last fiscal year, and one fewer position.

While Fire and Rescue is included on the website, JSO is not.

3 Responses »

  1. The on-line info is so sketchy it really doesn't give any meaningful deatils on the budget. They need to provide some more backup, allow people to drill down on some of the categories.

    If they really want to get people involved why not live stream the budget meetings? Why restrict access to the process to those who can make it to the meetings in person?

    • GetReal, that's a great suggestion. I doubt if it will ever see the light of day as politicians know that knowledge is power. And the less knowledge the electorate has, the more power the pols have.

      Kind of makes one wonder why Peyton is just now such a strong advocate for citizen involvement in the budget process. Perhaps it's because he's outta here in another year?

      The budget website has virtually no useful information on it. The first thing the city needs to do, if they are truly interested in citizen participation, is to get some meaningful data on the website.

      And schedule a meeting in Mandarin/Baymeadows.

  2. I attended the budget workshop on Saturday morning at the Cecil Community Center and was pleasantly surprised that both the mayor and councilwoman Hipps were present. At the event each section of the proposed budget had a table for discussion facilitated by a city employee knowledgeable in that area. Each expense was listed and the table discussions ended in a vote of "Must Have", "Should Have", "Nice to Have" and "Don't Want". Much like my own personal budget there are expensive items that are not negotiable (Public Safety) and may items that ultimately end up as "Nice to Have" but will have to wait for another time when there is more money. The process was very open and informative as well as having several avenues to continue offering comments. The website suggested for information about the budget was http://www.myjaxbudget.com. The most promising part of the process was that these citizens cared enough to give up a Saturday morning to be a part of the solution. In my opinion, televising the event would just allow the usual troublemakers to criticize without offering any solutions – as usual.