JaxPoliticsOnline.com

Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

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, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Seminole County Wants More Than Our Water

Seminole County wants more than Jacksonville’s water.  They’ve now decided they desperately need our tourism dollars as well.  Fresh off their victory over Duval, Putnam and St. Johns County in their bid to draw up to 5 million gallons of water per day from the St. Johns River, Seminole County has begun advertising in North Florida’s largest media outlet—The Florida Times-Union—seeking visitors to “Florida’s Natural Choice.”  Of course, the ads don’t mention that they manage to bring “Nature Nearer” by sucking it straight out of North Florida’s most treasured natural resource—the St. Johns River.  I don’t know about you, but until Seminole County has embraced conservation and solved their water shortage issues without causing irreprable harm to Florida’s ecosystem, I think I’ll choose to spend my tourism dollars elsewhere.  The ads are below… Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , , , , , ,

Are Baldwin’s Property Taxes Higher than Jacksonville’s?

The answer may surprise you.  With yesterday’s post about the possibility that local property tax revenues may actually decrease throughout the state, I found this discovery rather enlightening.

One of the obsessive compulsive disorders that began during the 1990’s in Jacksonville was the annual slashing of the City’s millage rate.  Local politicians touted Jacksonville as a “leader” in the fight for lower property taxes while ignoring any repercussions that might result from year after year of tax cuts.  During this time, Jacksonville has seen murder rates skyrocket and funding for social services programs slashed. 
Read the rest of this entry »

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

DCSB looking at ways to address school funding cuts

In efforts to address the budget cuts rcently passed by the Legislature, the Duval County School Board, along with Superintendent Ed Pratt-Dannals, have been discussing various options to meet declining funding.  As you may know, the School Board had intended to shut down three elementary schools that were underattended. However, last night they decided to only close one – saving $770,000.  Unfortunately, the school system is facing a $140 million shortfall for the next budget year.

Another option the Board is considering is changing the school schedule for high school students and getting rid of block scheduling.   This option would result in the loss of one credit per year and save the school system $10 million.   Students would only lose one elective they say.  The school superintendent suggested that they could just drop one of two foreign language credits.  Sounds good, doesn’t it?  Of course it does – until you find out that the recommendation to cut one of the two foreign language credits would leave Duval County students unqualified for a Bright Futures Scholarship  or to enter the State’s university system

But if even if some other elective could be chosen to be dropped, shortening the day and losing an elective would still be disastrous for the magnet schools.  Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Florida, Florida Legislature, Jacksonville, , , , , , ,

Duval Democrats Have New Kids on the Block

One of our readers has started a new Democratic Group in Duval County and I thought it might be helpful to pass along the link.  (Just for the record, we are happy to post similar items for Republicans as well.)  They have a new blog located here and an initial meeting referenced below.

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Filed under: Jacksonville, , , , , ,

Awakening River City Voters

Duval County voters turned out in astonishing fashion in the 2008 Presidential race. When all was said and done, roughly 78% of the county’s voters found their ways to the polls to make their voices heard. This sense of civic duty was rather remarkable, particularly considering voter turnout in the 2007 City Elections, which featured a race for Mayor and every single City Council seat, was not even 20%.

In all fairness, 2008 turnout was somewhat of an anomaly. After all, a hotly contested Governor’s race in 2006 only drew 42% of Duval voters, slightly less than the equally febrile 2003 Mayor’s race, which managed to pique the interest of 50% of Jacksonville’s registered voters.

According to the Grand Jury report released in the Sunshine Law Investigation, the Grand Jury found that Duval County residents felt a disconnect from their local government. While many might be quick to point out the obvious—voters who don’t bother to show up at the polls will never have any sense of engagement in the process—what we really need to consider is why Jacksonville voters believe their voice counts in changing the direction of government in Washington, DC, but feel powerless to affect government within their own City?

Turning out voters is not only the responsibility of the Supervisor of Elections. In truth, there are many things that could be done both within and outside of government to improve voter involvement in local government. Here are a few suggestions:

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, , ,

Duval Democrats and the future

I thought I would share something that I blogged about before being asked to contribute here.  Much has been made of the future of the Duval Democratic Party and how the election of Barack Obama will change a party that has been a second class contributor to the local political debate for years.  In my opinion, nothing has really changed.

The election of a Democratic President has done nothing to miraculously change the Duval Democratic Party overnight.  It remains what has been for well over a decade–a dysfunctional body.  In a city where all (other than the outgoing State Attorney and Public Defender) elected Democrats were African-Americans from African-American dominated districts, the leadership of the local party remains dominated by older whites.  This tension became apparent when the Obama campaign came to town.  The campaign was forced to move out of DCDEC Headquarters after the young Obama workers felt harassed and un-welcomed by older white party stalwarts who resented the arrival of young, fired-up campaign workers.  The communication between the two parties was horrendous, with rival events occasionally planned at the same time.

Filed under: Jacksonville, , ,

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