Article originally published at WJCT News
Mayor Lenny Curry’s final budget proposal is here, a $1.55 billion plan that is up 10% from last year and continues priorities featured in the administration’s past budgets, with the lion’s share going toward public safety.
The budget also includes the city’s first reduction to the property tax rate since 2007, but the rollback won’t necessarily put a lot of money in your pocket.
Because of rising property values, the owner of a median-valued home will still pay $40 more than last year in city taxes — but $24 less than they would have if the tax rate wasn’t lowered.
Other highlights of Curry’s plan:
- More money for law enforcement, but no more officers on the street.
- More money for parks and public works.
- A new library for the Northside.
The budget — technically called the city’s Operating General Fund — is how the government manages day-to-day departmental expenses for the fiscal year and is actually a portion of the city’s true total budget, which would be $3.8 billion under Curry’s proposal. The proposed $1.55 billion operating fund is a big step up from the $1.4 billion approved by City Council last year. As with budgets past, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department received the largest portion of the increased funding as well as a majority of budget funds overall.
“My commitment to public safety has never wavered, and once again, that’s reflected in this budget,” Curry said in an address Thursday to City Council. “We continue to work to build stronger relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”
Of the $100 million increase in departmental expenses from last year’s budget proposal, $67 million will be earmarked to the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Department, bringing their budgets to $343.6 million and $540 million respectively. The two agencies will receive $883 million of taxpayer dollars in the $1.55 billion general fund.
Interim Sheriff Pat Ivey said the bigger budget, the bulk of which is going to JSO’s Department of Corrections and Department of Patrol and Enforcement, would not result in new officers on the street. Instead, the new funds would be used to shore up shortages at the jail and cover increased costs at the department tied to outside factors and overtime pay.
The proposed budget also increases spending in the general fund for the public library system, the city’s park services and public works department, which includes the city’s waste and recycling management.
Separate from the general fund proposal, Curry also presented his $483 million Capital Improvement Plan, funds set aside for constructing and maintaining infrastructure, public facilities and buildings owned by the city.
The plan continues many of the projects listed in last year’s $469 million plan, including over $100 million for parks and a public library in Oceanway to serve the growing Northside, giving the city its newest library since 2006.
Some other initiatives in the Capital Improvement Plan: $10 million for resilience-based improvements in the face of climate change, renovations at the 121 Financial Ballpark used by the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp and over $110 million for upgraded storm drainage and river bulkheads throughout the city.
The allocation is nearly $80 million more than what was projected in last year’s plan, thanks to city finances being buoyed by a booming real estate market and hundreds of millions in federal relief funds tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.
That windfall prompted the mayor’s office to propose a major deviation from past budgets, a reduction in the property tax rate.
The tax rate cut is the first of Curry’s administration and the first decrease in the property tax rate since 2007. The city has maintained the same property tax rate since 2013.
“Because our neighbors are facing the sting of inflation, and because we have built such a strong financial position, I believe it’s time for the first property tax cuts since 2007,” Curry said, emphasizing “we” in his speech.
The property tax will be reduced by 1/8th of a mill. Millage is measured in how much is taxed per $1,000 of taxable assets.
A 0.125 reduction equates to about 13 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value, which the mayor’s office says will reduce the revenue the city would have earned under the current millage rate by $10 million to $11 million.
However, the change likely won’t result in lower taxes for Jacksonville homeowners.
According to real estate marketplace company Zillow, the median value of a Jacksonville home in June 2021 was $236,000. Under the old millage rate of 11.4419, that would equate to about $2,128 in taxes for the median Jacksonville homeowner assuming a Homestead Exemption of $50,000, allowing the house to be taxed as though it were worth $186,000.
Zillow now lists the median value of a Jacksonville home at $308,000.
The median Jacksonville homeowner, if they have the $50,000 Homestead Exemption, would also qualify for the Save Our Homes assessment cap, which prevents assessed values on homesteaded properties from increasing more than 3% each year. That means the assessed value of the median home, $186,000 in 2021, increases to only $191,580 in 2022 despite the market value being over $100,000 higher.
Under the old millage rate, the median homeowner would pay $2,192. Factoring in Curry’s tax cut bringing the millage rate to 11.3169, the median Jacksonville homeowner would owe the city $2,168 in property taxes. That’s $24 less than they would have paid under the current millage rate, but still $40 more than they paid to the city last year.
That’s also not accounting for property taxes paid to the Duval School District, the St. Johns Water Management District and other non-city millage rates that are not subject to the same value exemptions.
A referendum to increase the school district’s property tax to improve teacher pay and renovate the district’s arts and athletics programs is on the August ballot.
As for what’s next, the City Council’s Finance Committee will hold seven public meetings reviewing the budget from Aug.11 to Aug. 26 at City Hall before advancing it to the full council.
City Council then will hold a public hearing on the final budget at both September meetings before taking a vote on the plan, which needs to be approved and signed by Curry before the start of the new fiscal year Oct. 1.
Article by Raymon Troncoso originally published at WJCT News. Reporter Raymon Troncoso joined WJCT News in June of 2021 after concluding his fellowship with Report For America, where he was embedded with Capitol News Illinois covering Illinois state government with a focus on policy and equity. You can reach him at (904) 358-6319 or Rtroncoso@wjct.org and follow him on Twitter @RayTroncoso.