Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan presented her first budget to the Jacksonville City Council on Monday, July 17, 2023. Will Brown/Jacksonville Today
Deegan’s budget dedicates at least $260 million to roadways, septic tank removal, trails and other projects she called “transformative.” Health, public safety and economic improvements also were well represented in her proposal, which includes 40 new police officers for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
“This budget reflects the priorities of the people,” Deegan told City Council members. “It is intentional. It keeps the promises of the past and builds a city of the future — a setting that works for all of us and where our children will stay and raise their own families.”
Deegan’s budget request is a bit higher than the $1.55 billion proposed last year by former Mayor Lenny Curry. City Council whittled that amount down to about $1.4 billion.
Deegan said she feels confident her proposal tackles the issues council wants to address and she doesn’t foresee difficulty getting the priorities implemented.
During a news conference after her presentation, Deegan said she’s never been one who tries to predict the future.
“I think things are always made better by good relationships,” Deegan said outside her new office on the fourth floor. “We’re not going to always agree on everything — that’s true with anybody, right? But I do think the more we can communicate and find out where those commonalities are — those places where we both want to move the dial — I think we’re going to have good success. So I’m optimistic about it. I don’t anticipate any problems.”
Among the major takeaways of Deegan’s plan:
- $26.8 million in roadway improvements, a 67% increase from last year.
- $21 million for mowing and maintenance, a 95% increase over last year.
- $17.5 million to continue removing septic tanks, plus $1 million for outreach.
- $7.8 million for the Sheriff’s Office to hire 40 new officers and employ 18 “non-uniformed positions” as well as 66 new vehicles.
- Pay raises for police and firefighters of 4.25%.
- $31 million for new fire stations.
- $65 million to UF Health for service expansion and other capital improvements.
- $21.72 million to better the city’s permitting and inspection processes, improve technology and hire four new staffers.
- $25 million to begin implementing recommendations from Deegan’s transition task forces, groups she appointed to study the most critical issues Jacksonville faces.
- $7.5 million for health, housing and homelessness programs.
- $5 million increase for Kids Hope Alliance to expand services, as well as $5.5 million for library improvements and expanded services.
- $10 million for resilience infrastructure and staff to implement priorities and recommendations from ongoing vulnerability studies.
- $12 million for drainage systems and stormwater maintenance.
- $26.7 million combined for outfalls and ditches countywide as well as LaSalle Street and McCoy’s Creek.
- $16.5 million toward bridge repair and bulkhead replacements.
City Council President Ron Salem and Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan shake hands after Deegan’s presentation of the budget for the 2023-24 fiscal year on Monday, July 17, 2023. Will Brown/Jacksonville Today
Deegan said the budget she presented was the result of collaboration — a statement City Council President Ron Salem confirmed.
“We had a lot of discussions going into it,” Salem said after Deegan’s presentation. “No real surprises.”
Salem said his highest priority is public safety, and he feels the budget address that.
The 40 officers that Deegan proposed are half of the 80 that Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters requested, but the 40 others are expected to be funded with a grant.
Council member Nick Howland, who is chair of the city’s Finance Committee, said he appreciated what Deegan had to do in such a short time, the result of holding the election in the spring. After taking office July 1, Deegan and her team had only two weeks to plan and propose a budget.
Howland called the proposal “robust.”
“I appreciate all the effort that the mayor’s team has given to creating such a robust budget in such a short period of time,” Howland said. “I particularly appreciate that they’re fully funding JSO and adding 40 new officers. … Public safety is the No. 1 role of government.”
Deegan admitted that the turnaround time for the initial budget was not ideal. She’d like to address it one day, she said, “but that’s not today.”
“It is absolutely drinking from a firehose when you’ve only got a couple of weeks to put together a budget, much of which is already in place,” she said. “And so you’re trying to find ways that you can make it your own.”
For a while at least, she intends to evaluate, along with her dozens of transition subcommittees, to see what else they can help implement. Part of her budget includes $25 million to help get some of those citizen-led task force suggestions implemented right away.
“During the transition, I created seven task forces to explore policies and action plans that move our city forward,” Deegan said. “I have been hearing from a grassroots network of more than 200 active and engaged citizens. These are people from every corner of our city and from all walks of life sharing their experiences and their ideas to recommend policies and action plans that move our city forward, with a final report arriving in early September.”
Deegan said the importance of the committees can’t be understated. From affordable housing issues to the evolution of the Jacksonville Journey, engaging youth and improving literacy, she expects that the recommendations will move the needle on improvement in major areas throughout the area.
“There are a lot of things that we aren’t going to know how we will proceed on,” Deegan said. “All of those things will come out of those committees.”
Article originally published at WJCT News by Casmira Harrison. Casmira Harrison has more than 20 years’ experience in newspapers, including stints as an ad designer at the Citrus County Chronicle, county government reporter at the Daytona Beach News-Journal and, most recently, as the editor for the Palatka Daily News. Casmira can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can reach her on Facebook or on Twitter: @CasmiraInJax.