Another Round of Jacksonville’s Budget Workshops
While there were some repeat attendees at this week’s workshop, I noticed many different faces as well. That’s the point, after all… to get as many folks as possible involved in the process.
For those of you just joining us, the two-hour meetings commissioned by the city and facilitated by JCCI begin with a 30 minute presentation on “City Budget 101” by the Mayor, painting in broad brush strokes where the money goes, how Jacksonville compares to other cities in terms of spending per capita on things like the police force, parks and such, and also a comparison of the millage rate to those other Florida communities. Anyone who’s been paying even a little attention to this issue over the past year knows that Jacksonville has the lowest millage rate of any major city in the state, but also spends the least per capita on things like police protection, parks, infrastructure, any one of a number of categories. You also know that, according to city hall, the City of Jacksonville faces a budget gap of anywhere from $40-$60 million in the next fiscal year.
In his presentation, Mayor Peyton this week said specifically he is seeking a 3% across the board pay cut from city employees… and he was adamant that it meant Across the Board. If he’s not able to negotiate that with the various unions that represent city workers, he said, layoffs would be coming. As someone who was handed that 100% pay cut over a year ago, I’ll only say it’s a pretty unappealing option, but I digress.
The participants, which can be as many as 88, then break out into smaller groups to hear from the heads of various departments about functions they provide to the city. Participants are asked to rate each of those functions in one of four categories: Must Have, Should Have, Nice To Have, Don’t Want.
There were two departments at this week’s meeting which had only one participant at the table, Environmental and Compliance, and Housing and Neighborhoods. Those participants got some extraordinary one-on-one time with the department heads who came to make their presentations. Others had full tables.
It was notable for me that this week, there was a lot more discussion after the first round of ratings. The workshops are built in such a way that people are allowed to try to convince the others at their tables to change their ratings. This week more than last, folks engaged in that discussion after the first round, and there was a bit of shifting of the ratings as that discussion took place.
Some things are going to remain pretty constant over the workshops. Very few people are going to talk to folks from the Sheriff’s office or Fire and Rescue department and not rate nearly every category as either “Must Have” or “Should Have” on their form. It is widely acknowledged that public safety is a core function of government, though in some instances there are folks that look at some of the functions that are not connected directly to preventing, investigating, or solving crimes that get moved a bit down the list, and some expressed the opinion that security at private functions, or even some major public events, could be handled in part by privately-contracted security companies.
Some of the liveliest discussion came in areas that are truly considered discretionary in the city budget. Economic Development and Community Services were some of the boards that saw the most changes after the first round of ratings. A change from the meeting I attended on the Westside last Saturday was that while in that meeting there was a lot of unanimity at the Community Services table, this week there was a great deal more diversity of opinion. This is exactly what the process is supposed to be about, a discussion about the issues amongst the citizens who are affected by decisions made at City Hall.
It makes sense that, given the effort put into them on the part of the city means that they will take a hard look at the data collected, because it will give the Mayor and City Council a valuable insight into the kind of services residents want them to provide. It is also a very valuable learning experience for anyone interested in how their government works. I had more than one person tell me as they were leaving the workshop that they had no idea how (fill in department here), and now they have a much better understanding.
With a $40-$60 million dollar gap to close, the city has some very difficult choices to make. Cutting services is always popular with some people, always unpopular with others. Raising taxes is pretty much universally unpopular. Nobody likes to take a pay cut, or have benefits changed.
There are still four opportunities for people to get involved in the process, though one of those, which will be at the beach, is not yet locked down. If you’d like to have your voice heard, look at www.myjaxbudget.com and sign up. Then, be sure to show up, because attendance is limited, and the slot you sign up for and then don’t use might prevent someone else from attending.
To learn more about the issue, and the process, tune in to The Jacksonville Observer Radio Show on Wednesday afternoon at 5:00 on ABC1320, WBOB. My guest will be JCCI Executive Director Skip Cramer.
An Example Score Card...