According to WOKV’s Jared Halpern, Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton pitched the idea of increasing the City’s millage rate in a private meeting with local business leaders Tuesday morning.
While a millage rate increase had been discussed in several circles, particularly in light of the recent JCCI study that showed the city in rather dire financial straights, it had remained unclear up to this point whether or not the Mayor would be on board with any increase. News of this discussion between the Mayor and prominent business and civic leaders would seemingly indicate that the Mayor has concluded the only way to deal with the city’s $65 million deficit, as well as the city’s pension crisis, would be through tax increases.
The challenge for the Mayor will be twofold. For starters, this isn’t the first time the Mayor has floated the idea of a millage rate increase, only to drop it after facing public opposition. The original Jacksonville Journey Commission recommended a millage rate increase and the Commission felt quite sure the Mayor would support their recommendations—he had pledged to repeatedly in private conversations. However, he dropped his support after a poll was released showing public opposition. Business and civic leaders are certain to greet the Mayor’s proposal with a great deal of skepticism this time.
The Mayor must also convince the public, something that will no doubt be the most difficult task of all. Voters remain wary of City Hall, and continue to display a growing discontent over the expenditure of taxpayer dollars. Any case to raise taxes (although many will argue that a millage rate does not necessarily raise taxes as property values have declined) must be made with a clear outline of how the money will be spent. For example, will the city return to its previous practice of dedicating half a mill to maintenance and upkeep of capital improvements?
If the Mayor wants to win this battle, he needs to define the mission before the public’s mind is already made up. The JCCI being cited to justify this tax increase, spoke first of increasing public trust. It was assumed that rebuilding that trust would be the crucial first step in solving the city’s financial crisis. Already, news of a proposed tax increase would seem to have gotten ahead of rebuilding that trust. With the news now out there, the clock has now begun to tick.
(And, perhaps a future suggestion to the Mayor…if you are looking to discuss proposals in private, you might want to make sure Nelson Cuba is not in the room.)