Monday, July 19, 2010

Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton Submits Budget to City Council

Mayor John Peyton has submitted his final budget to the city council touting the $995 million budget as one that is the result of "difficult conversations" and "difficult decisions."

He said the new budget proposal has the "unique distinction" of having a reduction in every executive department, including public safety. "Hard choices are unavoidable in this economy," he said.

One of those choices was with city employee health care. "For the first time we will require employees to pay a portion of their health care benefit."

The mayor began his presentation by focusing on the positive, citing one report that lists Jacksonville as the thirteenth best city in the nation in which to start a business and another that indicates Jacksonville is the sixth most tax-friendly city.

He then spoke at length about the city's need for the Jacksonville Jaguars NFL team, saying, "It is impossible to imagine this city without this team."

"It is our job to ensure that Jacksonville is a good long-term investment."

People are responding, he said, pointing out that more than 12,000 new season tickets have been sold this year, an increase of about 11,000 over last year.

Peyton reserved most of his comments for the city's pension situation, saying reform is "clearly the path" that is needed.

He said the city's pension obligation when he was elected was $40 million.

It is $100 million now, he said, and it is projected to be $250 million in 10 years. He called that trajectory "unsustainable" and is asking for "comprehensive pension reform."

The reforms he is asking for will save more than $1 billion over 35 years by adjusting the retirement age, the expected rate of return and average pay.

"We cannot follow the same path of other cities and states that have refused to take up the issue...Public sector employees must be a part of the solution," he said.

In a city with a 72 percent unionized workforce, Peyton said, everyone must make concessions and the "tedious and cumbersome collective bargaining process" is hampering progress.

The city has already cut more than 700 positions from its work force since 2006, he said, helping his administration reduce the cost of government.

As a result of declining revenue due to the recession and the fact that the city cannot issue debt like the federal government or accept one-time stimulus money like the state government -- "Nor would we want to," he added -- Peyton's budget calls for a millage rate increase to 10.12 mills, which he said is "revenue neutral."

Peyton added that even with that increase, the millage rate is still lower than it was when he took office. "I am proud of the work we have accomplished together," he concluded.

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