JaxPoliticsOnline.com

Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

Godbold Meets With Fire Union, Scolds Police Union Chief

According to News4Jax.com, former Mayor Jake Godbold met with members of the Duval County Fireman’s Union on Wednesday to express his disappointment in the Police Union Chief’s call for a Gate boycott.  Godbold also encouraged the fire union to refrain from resorting to the similar tactics as the Mayor prepares to address pension reform with the city’s unions.

Goldbold told News4Jax that he had never seen personal threats of this kind in all of his years in Jacksonville politics.

Nelson Cuba, the police union chief, has since backed down from his earlier calls for a union-wide boycott.

The full article can be read here.

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Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, Mayor of Jacksonville, , , , ,

Police Union Threatens Gate Boycott

Picture 2The news broke just before lunch—Police Union President Nelson Cuba was announcing his intentions to call for a boycott of Gate Petroleum, the family business owned by Mayor John Peyton’s father, in retaliation of the Mayor’s plan to call for pension reforms and salary freezes.  Nelson accused the mayor of threatening to take away the “basic necessities” police officers have become accustomed to.

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5-30 is one of the most powerful unions in the city and home to over 2,500 officers.  The union has long wielded considerable influence in city elections, including endorsing John Peyton and many of the current members of the city council.  Nelson’s call to members of the union to “send [their] own message and hit the Mayor in his pocket” is therefore not only a monetary threat—it is something designed to discourage any council member from supporting reforms that the union does not agree to.

UNF Political Science Professor Matthew Corrigan told David Hunt of The Florida Times-Union that the move by Nelson could backfire.  Corrigan said that, while the union is well-respected in the city, they risk losing that respect by refusing to share in budget cuts.

The full Times-Union article can be found here.  For breaking news on the Jacksonville political scene, follow us on Twitter.

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, Mayor of Jacksonville, , , , , , , , ,

The Tax Conversation Continued

The news from Jacksonville.com on Tuesday was discouraging—Jacksonville’s Public Libraries are facing a budget cut of $1.1 million next year, even if a proposed 12% hike in the millage rate is passed.  This cut, David Hunt points out, is on top of a $1 million cut the city imposed last year.  (That cut was partially made up by the state, but with the state in dire straits, don’t expect a repeat this year.)  If the Mayor’s millage rate increase is not passed, the Times-Union reports that the city will close 5 of the city’s 21 public libraries.

While some may shrug their shoulders and argue that, in times of economic hardship, libraries are something that can be sacrificed.  However, a visit to your local Jacksonville Library will likely show that they are a necessary service—particularly when money is tight for the average citizen.

For this writer, it’s personal.  As a child who was an avid reader and grew up without a television, the public library was my only means of gaining knowledge.  I vividly remember concealing Hardy Boys books between historical biographies as I snuck back into my house after a trip to the library.  (The Hardy Boys were deemed too “worldly” for me to read, so I had to consume them on the sly.)  For many Duval County youth (and adults), public libraries remain the sole means of expanding their knowledge base.

With the news breaking on Wednesday that decreases in the property tax roll were not as severe as anticipated, the Mayor has now scaled back his tax increase recommendation to 1.02 mills.  According to the Mayor’s Office, this rate of 9.5 mills would place the city close to the rate the city had in place three years ago before Amendment 1 was passed.  Of course, there were no Stormwater Fees, Garbage Fees or JEA Franchise Fees three years ago.  Not to mention the Duval County School Board is also pondering a millage rate hike.  Because of those facts, it’s rather disingenuous to say the city is returning to 2006 tax levels—it’s a tactic voters see through and resent.

That aside, some are now asking why the Mayor would propose a tax increase that only “maintains the status quo.”  They wonder what Jacksonville has accomplished if the Council approves a 12% increase in property taxes and necessary services are still severely impacted.  How can a tax increase that does nothing to improve the city’s long-term financial woes make this a better city to live in?  After all, isn’t that the question we are to be asking—what kind of city do we want to live in?

While voter anger at the proposed tax increase has been quite vocal, many within the community have acknowledged the fact that Duval’s millage rate is low in comparison to other major metropolitan areas.  At the same time,they have expressed their concern that the Mayor is looking to push through an increase that does nothing for the future financial health of the city because the increase would be made before several crucial issues were resolved.  After all, the Mayor’s budget depends on two key components that are unknowns:

  • Furloughs for all non-public safety employees and zero raises across the board. Neither one of these options are a guarantee—they will have to be negotiated at the collective bargaining table.  The door appears to be left open for special pay increases.
  • Possibly modifying the 8.4% DROP guarantee that the Police & Fireman’s Pension Fund has, extending the retirement age and other key elements of the pension system. Once again, these reforms are absolutely not a guarantee.  They will have to be negotiated at the collective bargaining table with the most powerful unions in the city.  Duval County John Rutherford has already weighed in on the proposals for the Police & Fireman’s Pension Fund, recently telling WOKV reporter Jared Halpern that he is opposed to some of Peyton’s reforms.

If either of these crucial elements fails to pan out—and it is likely that some elements will not—the proposed budget will be in trouble.

The Mayor could more effectively make his case by backing away from a “doom and gloom” approach—an approach that has been used more than once over the last few years—and open up the process.  It’s not enough to tell the public that $30 million of the current budget shortfall is “from the global economic crisis.”  Voters should be shown the data that backs up this claim.

The Mayor should also explore the option of dedicating 1 mill of property tax revenue to funding ongoing capital maintenance and improvements—another suggestion of the JCCI study which has been largely ignored.  This dedication of funds is something that the public could see the results of with their own eyes.

The Mayor should move immediately to begin pressuring the Council to act on pension reform.  As Mayor, he has the bully pulpit in Jacksonville and the ability to drive the discussion.  Voters will remain wary of any tax increase proposed before pension reform in complete and unless the Mayor steps up to the plate now, any hope he has of winning support for his proposal decreases with each passing day.

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, Mayor of Jacksonville, , , , , , , , ,

To Hike Taxes or Not To Hike Taxes, That is the Question

As Jacksonville prepares to enter a tax hike debate that is certain to eclipse the contentious Trail Ridge debate, a civilized conversation about the future of Jacksonville and its finances is looking like a goal that may be rather difficult to acheive.  Several days ago, JaxPoliticsOnline.com published an article that included some of the public responses to the Mayor’s millage rate increase proposal.  The responses reviewed, which came from the Times-Union public message boards, were overwhelmingly negative.  While some were politely worded and focused on opposing the concept of a “growing government” and tax increases, many were devoid of civility in stating their opposition.  Part of the reason for the harsh tone may be a defensiveness of taxpayers who are nervous about the current economic state of the country, but a great deal of it might also lie in the manner in which the Mayor rolled out his plan.

Radio talk-show host and former Florida House Representative Andy Johnson was one of the most vocal in expressing his displeasure with the Mayor’s approach.  Johnson called the Mayor’s discussion of closed fire stations “unfair”.  Johnson argued that it was “wrong” for the Mayor to “threaten that [he would] close fire stations if [he] didn’t get what he wanted.”

Johnson’s reaction was hardly unique, as another e-mail respondent insisted that the Mayor “stop these fear tactics.”  Another e-mail from Don Welfare, a city employee, asked the Mayor if he planned on personally embracing some of his own recommendations by having he and his staff take the furloughs he proposed for the rest of city employees.

In Sunday’s paper, the Times-Union editorial board said it best when they expressed their concerns over “another rush job” by the Administration.  Perhaps more than anything, that “rush job” is at the core of what troubles Duval County voters.

The Mayor has cited the recent JCCI study that called for additional revenue sources in proposing his tax increase, but he has chosen to ignore another crucial recommendation in that JCCI study—rebuilding public trust.  An Administration with a series of high-profile missteps will not rebuild public trust by proposing a property tax hike without first engaging the public.  That failure to engage before a major decision is something that has plagued John Peyton from day one.  People do not wish to be told you are “open to listening” after you spring a “recommendation” on them, they want to see you out listening before the “recommendation” is made.  Jacksonville’s budget woes are hardly new, so why the need to spring a tax hike on voters with barely a month for voters (and the City Council) to react?  Wouldn’t it be likely that responses would be less reactionary if an ongoing conversation between the Mayor and voters had been taking place for several months?

Tax hikes are never easy and the public is rarely thrilled.  However, increases are much more palatable when the public is firmly convinced that its government has taken every possible step to ensure existing dollars are being well spent.  While Duval County’s millage rate is one of the lowest of any major metropolitan area in the country, there are still concerns over the expenditure of current tax revenues.

In early May, JaxPoliticsOnline.com published an article that discussed the continued growth of AMIO positions.  For those not familiar with these positions, AMIO’s are Assistant Management Improvement Officers and are often special positions that are typically filled through a process that involves no formal job qualifications, established responsibilities or pay ranges for the positions.  While the Mayor pledged to reform this process four years ago, these positions have grown dramatically—from 125 AMIO’s making $7.5 million in 2005 to 166 AMIO’s making nearly $11.2 million today.  The individuals in these positions currently include the children of a former council member and a former mayor, as well as a former council member himself.

The situation with AMIO’s is hardly unique in Jacksonville government.  Voters have repeatedly expressed frustration over issues ranging from the ongoing pension crisis to the assertion that the budget for the Mayor’s Office and the City Council has burgeoned over the past eight years.  All of these unaddressed issues make acceptance of a tax increase incredibly difficult for the average Jacksonville resident.  The many who are passionate about funding the arts, believe in the missions of the city’s non-profits and are absolutely convinced the city must invest in its decaying infrastructure, are wary of a tax increase being proposed before they have witnessed a good faith effort to clean up wastefulness within the existing budget.

With the cat already out of the proverbial bag it’s hard to know where to start on the current proposal.  It’s problematic to have a discussion when one party’s mind is already made up before the conversation begins.  Nevertheless, it is time Jacksonville begin a conversation on our future.  If the Mayor has any hope of convincing a wary public to back his plan, he might want to restart the process.  If he could rush through a tax hike, perhaps he could also move quickly to engage the unions on the pension issue.  He could move to immediately scale back AMIO’s within his Administration and eliminate any position that exists without clearly defined job responsibilities, qualifications and a pay range.  He could also trim his staff, as well as the City Council’s.  He should engage the public in requesting recommendations for areas that can be trimmed.  Then, and only then, should he move forward with a tax increase.

The hike may very well be inevitable, but shouldn’t it be the last step in solving our budget woes, not the first?

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, Mayor of Jacksonville, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Contemplating Tax Hikes

The next month is certain to be filled with heated discussions over tax hikes in Jacksonville.  This year’s hike, proposed as an increase in the property tax millage rate, is already beginning to elicit strong feedback from the community, particularly from homeowner’s who feel they are being unfairly targeted.  (For what it’s worth, increases in property taxes also impact renters, whose rent is typically increased to cover the property taxes charged to their landlord.)

Tomorrow, JaxPoliticsOnline.com intends to look at how Jacksonville can have a civilized and constructive conversation over the proposals.  There are; however, a few items that should be considered must-reads as the City begins the discussion.  On Friday, Ron Littlepage implored voters to “look at the facts” before opposing the property tax hike proposed by the Mayor.  Yesterday, David Hunt looked at the $31 million the Mayor has identified as having been trimmed from the budget over the previous three years—and the fact that city spending has actually increased by $102 million during that time period.  Today, the editorial board of the Times-Union takes a look at what they call “another rush job” by the Administration.  They fault the Mayor for a lack of community involvement on the front end, leaving voters (and the City Council) barely a month to vet the proposal before it must be voted on.

Much, much more to come on this subject in the ensuing week and month.  Stay tuned.

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, Mayor of Jacksonville, , , , , , , , ,

Tax Hike Proponents Ask “What Kind of City Do We Want To Live In?”

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.

Picture 8

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.

Picture 7

One of the common themes from all opponents of tax increases; however, is that many feel social services should be cut out altogether.

Picture 3All 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.

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, Mayor of Jacksonville

Mayor Looks To Raise Taxes


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Originally uploaded by JaxPolitics

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.)

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, Mayor of Jacksonville, , , , , , ,

City Hall Facing Angry Public

Jacksonville’s electorate is mad—steaming mad—over the latest news out of City Hall.  E-mails titled everything from “Taxation without Representation” (was anyone’s right to vote denied in the last City Council elections) to “Get a Clue” are flooding the mailboxes of City Hall.

A sampling of the e-mails are below:

I respectfully request, again, your good office to represent “WE THE PEOPLE” and kill the three (3) taxes being imposed on the electorate.  There were promises of no new taxes.  Please do not insult me by claiming these are fees and not taxation.

The Mayor’s office should be SHUT DOWN before any politician discusses shutting down services that we the people can not provide for ourselves.  Shut down Parks and Recreation, Senior Citizen Centers and frivolous spending before you talk about layoffs of the first police officer, firefighter or paramedic!  Shame on anyone who has lived over seventy years (70) and can not entertain themselves!

Respectfully,

Carroll Huffines

___________________ Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, Mayor of Jacksonville, , , , , , ,

Tea Party Returning to Jacksonville

On July 2 at 5:30, First Coast Tea Party is planning another “Freedom Rally.”  They have asked prominent Jacksonville politicians, including City Council President Richard Clark, to attend as a VIP guest.  While the first round of “Tea Parties” was apparently directed at conservative anger towards Barack Obama (although it was unclear how “taxation without representation” gelled with a democratically-elected President), one has to wonder if news of Jacksonville’s growing deficit problems will turn the July 2 rally in a more local direction.  Judging by the speaker lineup from the last rally; however, that appears unlikely, particularly in light of the fact that one of the featured speakers was Jay Fant, a close friend and ally of Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton.

Apparently, budget deficits are only bad in Washington, DC.

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, Mayor of Jacksonville, , , , ,

City Facing $65 million Budget Deficit

In this morning’s Times-Union, reporter Tia Mitchell writes about the $65 million budget deficit facing the City of Jacksonville in the upcoming fiscal year.  The budget, which is due from the Mayor in several weeks, was already under pressure from the state-mandated property tax cuts which were part of the “Save Our Homes” amendment passed several years ago.  When combined with declining property values and a sour economic outlook, next year’s budget picture looks rather bleak.

Jacksonville now faces the challenge of being forced to cut services even more than they have already been cut do deal with the deficit.  The alternative—raising the millage rate—is an unlikely option, particularly in light of the fact that many council members, who would have to vote on the increase, face re-election in 2011.  They are unlikely to support the increase, especially in light of the fact that the 2007 fee increases remain so widely unpopular.

It would seem that its time for the Mayor to effectively make his case to voters as to why more cuts are not an option.  Perhaps a listening tour is in order.

If there was ever a time for someone to step into a leadership role in Jacksonville, the time would appear to be now.

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, Mayor of Jacksonville, , , , , ,

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