Jacksonville Community Council Inc Executive Director Skip Cramer says the groups recent study of city finances was desperately needed. “The important role of the JCCI process of non-partisan community engagement was never more evident than in this study,” Cramer said. “Citizens representing a wide spectrum of views and political beliefs came together over eight months, putting their own personal interests aside, to tackle some very difficult issues.”
Three decades ago, in 1977, JCCI released their first study. It happened to be on the finances of the City of Jacksonville. At the time, the study found the city “to be basically sound, with the exception of the underfunding of its pension plans.” Now, thirty-five years after the release of that study, JCCI finds itself in a similar position—studying the city’s finances. The group says that the 2009 study has identified problems that were worse than prior years. The city is struggling with underfunded pensions and what they term the long-term effects of short-term planning by both the city and the state.
“Jacksonville is facing a financial crisis which threatens its financial sustainability,” said Study Committee Chair J.F. Bryan IV. “[It’s] time to make some difficult decisions.” Bryan pointed to pressing budget concerns which have been brought on by significant reduction in revenues and also raised concerns that the city’s long-term debt issue is threatening to spiral out of control.
“Business as usual cannot continue,” Bryan said, “It is no longer acceptable to finance major projects by deferring payment on them to future generations. We have done so for far too long, ignoring the consequences of passing on debt obligations in the interest of short-term political expediency.”
The study’s recommendations identify three areas that must be immediately addressed to meet today’s financial problems. The group says that it’s time to make the hard choices now. They went on to point out that deferred infrastructure maintenance only increases the future cost. Additionally, they said that the city must immediately move to eliminate the unfunded pension liability and work out a plan that shares risk.
JCCI has also recommended several steps that they believe will increase public trust. Among those are developing a long-term community vision, opening up the budget process and strengthening the TRUE Commission—the community’s tax use overseer.
More details on the study and its recommendations can be found at JCCI’s website.
The time for Jacksonville to step up to the plate is now. As Bryan stated so clearly, “Our choices for solving our financial crisis are to increase revenues and/or cut services. These choices must be made in an environment in which Jacksonville already spends less per capita than the state average on nearly all services.”