One of the themes that emerged from the recent JCCI study on Jacksonville’s finances was the question that kept coming up: What Kind Of City Do We Want To Live In?
The Mayor and his staff have continued to ask that question as they announced their plans to call for a 1.2 mill property tax increase to patch holes in next year’s city budget. The same question will likely be asked as the Duval County School Board weighs a quarter-mill tax increase to fund reserves. For some, the answer to the rhetorical question might be clear cut, but answers actually vary widely among Duval County residents.
“It’s not that I don’t believe we need more revenue,” a recent e-mail said, “I just still don’t have faith that our city government is spending the tax dollars I am already paying wisely.”
That e-mail, which arrived in response to an article that had mentioned the possibility of a tax increase specifically targeted to fund indigent care, was not an isolated response. In e-mail and in-person conversations with countless Duval County residents, I have learned firsthand that there is an underlying distrust of how taxpayer dollars are being spent in this city. Interestingly enough, the very same JCCI study that pointed out the flaws in the city’s current revenue structure spoke to the same issue—the taxpayers of Duval County remain suspicious of their local government.
As the Mayor moves to make his case to Duval County residents, he will have to prepare himself to make a case to many people who fundamentally disagree with his vision of Jacksonville. A review of public responses on the Times-Union message boards show that even the scenario described by the Mayor, where libraries are closed and fire stations are shuttered, failed to move some Jacksonville residents.
Libraries, according to more than one message board poster, are something we can live without. In fact, more than one respondent was fine with cutting services out altogether. In fact, he was even willing to forgo garbage collection.
One of the common themes from all opponents of tax increases; however, is that many feel social services should be cut out altogether.
All of these complaints point to a harsh reality the Mayor will have to face as he prepares to make his case before the City Council—most of whom will be facing an avalanche of e-mails and phone calls expressing opposition to the Mayor’s plans—Jacksonville has not yet decided what kind of city it does want to be.
It is time we have a serious discussion about the type of city we want to live in. Hopefully, we will all approach the conversation with a willingness to listen and learn.