Happy October! As I have been walking in the neighborhoods, I have seen so many beautiful fall wreaths and countless scary Halloween decorations. You all are certainly welcoming the change of seasons in style.
Thank goodness we have this year’s budget adoption behind us, too. You will recall that the Finance Committee had recommended against the use of reserves (emergency savings) for operating expenses. At that point we were about 11 million short and Finance adopted a 2.4 % across the board cut. In the end, there were a number of amendments with the Council Auditor’s blessing that recognized several million of additional revenue and the gap was reduced to about 5 million when the Council as a whole voted to dip into reserves rather than impose a cut to balance the budget. While I did not support that decision because we start out next year with less revenue than expense and lower reserves, I am happy that the use of reserves (5 million) was so much less than originally proposed by the Mayor (37 million plus).
As I mentioned briefly in September, the capital budget for projects like roads and drainage, is another can of worms. Bond issues and the “banking fund” (which is also borrowing) are the primary sources of funding for these projects. If the debt outstanding increases that generally means an increase in payments of principal and interest which in turn impacts the annual operating budget. Before we could make any good decision about new projects and new debt, we had to understand where we stand today. Council President Yarborough appointed me to chair a Special Committee on the Capital Improvement Program and we have been continuing to investigate.
Two unfortunate answers have come to light. First, we have at least $130 million of borrowing already authorized on previous projects that has yet to be borrowed. Second and I believe far more importantly, we are learning the extent of cash management practices that have used cash from funds dedicated for other purposes to pay for work on countless projects without having borrowed the funds needed for that project. This practice grossly distorts annual debt service and the Mayor’s Finance Department has been unable to quantify the aggregate I O U from these projects to the general fund and various accounts. We have learned that we spent in excess of $16 million cash on Better Jacksonville Projects above the revenue that came in from bonds and sales tax. And there is at least $15 million more in outstanding obligations for work already done. That is $30 million for which was there was no authorized source of funds and that we will have to pay back from somewhere. And the good news keeps coming…
Meanwhile, I have introduced two bills that are intended to increase safety in residential neighborhoods and for pedestrians throughout the City. The first would allow residents of a neighborhood to petition to lower the speed limit on their street to 20 or 25 mph. The second addresses criteria for new crosswalks. I am bringing together a working group on the crosswalk initiative on the 23rd and my goal is to start by identifying locations where pedestrian accidents have occurred, where there are bus stops, concentrations of senior citizens or middle schools. The rising number of fatalities is unacceptable and we have to provide safe ways for citizens to cross a street. Education will certainly be part of the process, for pedestrians as well as drivers. Look for more comprehensive program to be announced by the Mayor later this month.
Last but certainly not least I have begun my door to door campaign and have completed precinct 513- an area that was not previously part of District 5. I really enjoy getting to learn about our neighborhoods on the ground and meet residents (not to mention catch up with my friends who walk with me!) I have been filing reports on broken drainage ditch fences, vacant houses and other issues and have gained a whole new list of research projects. If you want to get some exercise (and have the opportunity to bend my ear for a couple hours) sign up to walk with me. We have a nice time and it is even cooling down a little. Thank you to my friends who have already helped out- you guys are awesome!
(Lori does a great job of keeping her district informed. Visit her website for monthly articles and updates! – www.loriboyer.org)