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City Council passes budget with tax rate hike

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Updated: 9/26/2013 9:20 am
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- After two days of heated debate, the Jacksonville City Council has passed a budget that includes at 14% property tax rate hike.

In real dollar terms, the millage rate increase amounts to an extra $70 per year on a home with a value of $100,000.

Council president Bill Gulliford commended council members for recognizing the importance of backing a potentially unpopular decision to raise taxes in order to retain essential city services.

"Mines going to go up about $500. Do I like that? Not a bit," said Gulliford. "I can think of other things including grandkids of rather spend that $500 on but sitting up there from that perspective, I fully understand why I'm going to have to pay that higher amount of money."

Two council members voted against the budget, Don Redman and Matt Schellenberg.

Action News spoke with Schellenberg after the vote.

"First of all, the mayor put us in this position and we only had six weeks to deal with it," said Schellenberg. "And during that six week period I tried to lower the cost to the citizens. It didn't work out and that's why I'm disappointed. That's why I voted against it."

The new tax rate was decided after council members hammered out details during more than 17 hours of debate on some 40 amendments to the budget.

Funding for the St. Johns River Ferry was expected to be a big talker Wednesday night. Councilman Stephen Joost proposed transferring about $449,000 from the ferry to Parks and Recreation for park maintenance.

"They say the ferry is good for tourism but ridership is down 15%," said Joost. "614 vehicles per day use the ferry, by their numbers, now that is hardly a critical artery for the state of Florida."

A handful of ferry supporters spoke out on the amendment during the first public comment period Tuesday night.

Just a few hours after Joost made comments questioning the ferry's worthiness of tax dollars, he withdrew the amendment. It came as a tearful relief for ferry supporters in the crowd.

"It was crazy," said Elaine Brown, who serves on the ferry commission. "Just thrilled, really thrilled."

Council approved spending $1 million on right-of-way cleanup and mowing across Jacksonville, but $181,000 for Meals on Wheels was voted down.

The Jacksonville Children's Commission received $630,000 for Early Learning Center Coaching and Development. The funding restores six positions within the commission.

Council also approved spending $200,000 for maintenance at Hemming Plaza.

Mayor Alvin Brown has the ability to veto specific spending items, but he can't veto the overall budget passed by council members or the tax increase. His staff sent Action News this statement Wednesday evening:

“The Mayor respects the hard work of the City Council and City staff on the budget. Mayor Brown will carefully review the Council-approved budget to determine whether he will use his line-item veto authority. As always, the Mayor’s goals are to protect hard working taxpayers and promote the most efficient and effective delivery of services to residents and businesses.

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