Jacksonville, FL (September 26, 2017) If you come to know District 11 Council Member Danny Becton, then you will understand that his 25+ years as a small business owner and previously having served six years as Treasurer of his large HOA, these experiences have molded his fiscal policy to be one of conservative on spending while making sure that a strong balance sheet becomes an asset when those more important things need to be done and done right.
It was with those principles that CM Becton on budget night, offered three amendments to the 2017-2018 budget. Those amendments and concerns are outline as follows:
In the 2017-2018 budget, the administration allocated $8.4 million to Edwards Water College (EWC) for capital improvements to their football field and dormitories. In the Finance Budget hearings, by a vote of 6-1 (Becton Voting No), another $80,000 was added to build a marque sign entrance for the university.
As CM Becton contended, EWC was a private institution and public funds was not appropriate to be spent on this institution for this purpose, especially when the city had more pressing issues to resolve. As a case in point, it had been argued during previous council meetings that there were neighborhoods being “left behind” by the city and by consolidation for the neglect and lack of basic necessities like running water and sewer infrastructure to their homes.
In hearing this, CM Becton’s amendment looked to move the EWC $8.4+ million to Public Works to be spent on projects for expanding water and wastewater systems in one or more of these “left-behind” neighborhoods. The appropriation would accomplish providing the basic utilities that had been argued were so badly needed.
CM Becton offered this amendment as a motion but due to no second being offered (even for discussion), the amendment failed.
Council Member Becton’s remarks are as follows on Amendment #1…
“In this budget we are spending over $8.4 million dollars on a project, in my opinion that does not rise to the level of “serving the public interest” in comparison to other needs in our city.
We have many priorities within our communities that have been neglected or overlooked for many years that are numerous and are in need of attention.
There are communities without city water; with drainage issues; there are countless miles of worn out paved streets and sidewalks which are central to our responsibilities that these dollars could impact. These dollars appropriated differently could make a big difference to these needs, immediately.
Our city is often criticized on promises made, but promises not kept. These communities are often described as “being left behind”. The truth to the matter is that this appropriation is a perfect example as to how and why this happens, year after year. It’s because we make different choices!
It is decisions just like this that overlook the needs of our communities at the expense of the basic role and responsibilities of government. Why can we not have more projects like Riverview in District 8 that is finally getting the city water service they deserve?
This appropriation is to a “private entity”. It’s for projects that have very limited local public benefit.
As I have the most sincere and deep respect for President Glover and the Edwards Water College institution, it’s without any personal disrespect that I cannot support these funds in contradiction with our basic role of government – to that end, while there are neighborhoods or constituents left behind in Jacksonville, from basic quality of life services, I cannot in good conscience agree with this funding.
It is based upon these reasons, I offer a motion to redirect these funds to a Public Works Reserve account, for Year One funding of a project(s) to be decided by Council in the very near future.”
In previous stories that you may have read on this web site regarding the 2017 Pension Reforms and CM Becton’s bill 2017-348, CM Becton brought to light that by 2030, the city would owe over $10 billion in debt, having lowered current pension payments due to pushing future liabilities onto our kids and grand-kids. This debt looking to be helped by the future ½ penny sales tax for payment, would only offset this debt by approximately $4 billion. The balance, $6 billion or more would have to be paid by the general fund and likely leading to higher taxes. By comparison, today’s debt is only $2.8 billion and we considered this beyond our means to pay.
Several financial reporting agencies including Moody’s and Bloomberg had written concerns that the city’s pension reforms had accomplished little in the pay down of this enormous debt but rather “kick the can down the road”. The very well-respected PEW Charitable Trusts group had also concurred that “this debt will grow over the next decade and put the PFPF at risk of falling below minimum asset levels identified by the city.” “Additional annual payments of $30 to $35 million would be sufficient to keep asset levels above minimum thresholds until the sales tax is directed towards pensions in 2031”.
It was by these type concerns that CM Becton introduced bill 2017-348 and recommended that 15% of any new growth of revenue should be allocated to making extra payments against this debt.
During the debate on bill 2017-348, it was recommended by other Council Members that CM Becton should look to appropriate this money during budgeting. In testing this recommendation, CM Becton offered up this amendment: Appropriating $8.6 million from the Pension Reform Reserves to making an extra pension payment to the Correction Officers and the Police and Fire Pension Fund for 2017-2018.
CM Becton having offered this amendment as a motion saw again no second on this amendment (not even for discussion) therefore is failed.
Council Member Becton’s remarks are as follows on Amendment #2…
“In this year’s budget, we are taking in over $57 million dollars of additional revenue.
During this past year, we passed pension reform that while it made our quality of life better, it was at the expense of a future generation that will be burdened with over $10 billion dollars of debt. To put that in perspective, our current debt is only $2.8 Billion.
In thinking that we have solved this big problem, unfortunately it was only solved for ourselves at the expense of others. The sales tax for which we are counting on being the solution to this future generation, will only account for $4 Billion of that enormous debt.
The rest – that would be over $6 Billion dollars; which will have to be paid out of general fund revenues.
As we look at our prosperity, I would like to think that we will continually look to help, to pay “our fair share” when we have a chance. Today is that chance, this year we have extra revenue and today, it is my hope that we will look to contribute extra to this debt.
It is by these reasons that I move a motion to utilize the excessive funds in the Pension Reserve account of $60 million to contribute $8,638,343 million to the next generation’s debt of over $10 billion dollars only to the PFPF and Correction Officers pension account.
As we look at our budget that is now without pressures of required enormous debt payments, please do not be naïve to think that we are a city without debt.”
The third amendment offered by CM Becton was to address a Council Auditors concern that the budget was again short changing the pension payment for the upcoming year. As calculated by the auditors, the pension payment was $14+ million under what the payment should be “kicking the can down the road” once more.
The pension payments are based on the previous year’s actuarial analysis. The payment being used did not take into account the additional officers and firefighters being hired nor did it take into account, the raises and contract increases being given. Yes, in the next few years, these payments will be calculated and owed, but as we continue to spend, the mentality of putting off today what can be paid tomorrow will continue to threaten this city.
It is by this concern and to support good fiscal policy that CM Becton moved to appropriate $14,078,555 from the Pension Reform Reserves to add to the Pension payment for 2017-2018. Again, due to no second being offered (even for discussion), the amendment failed.
Council Member Becton’s remarks are as follows on Amendment #3…
“This budget hires 100 police offices and over 42 firefighters. In making these appropriations we made sure that their salaries, their taxes and their benefits were fully covered.
This budget includes salary increases of current employees. In planning for their compensation, we made sure that their salaries, their taxes and only part of their benefits were fully covered.
The omission to this analysis is the fact that these current employee’s Pension Retirement benefit are not fully covered. It is by our Council Auditors opinion that we should be contributing $14,078,555 more in benefit contribution payments than we have allocated in this budget.
Here we are again, “Kicking the Can Down the Road” for our own benefit.
It is by these reasons that I move a motion to utilize the excessive funds in the Pension Reserve account of $60 million to contribute $14,078,222 million to allocation of debt as recommended by the Council Auditors.”
In passing the budget, prior to District 11 Council Members Vote, he stated the following:
“To my fellow Council members,
Tonight, I introduced three amendments. Each one to bring to light important issues which I feel should be of major concern to this city and to this body. I am disappointed that these amendments did not pass, did not get a 2nd, and did not even get a discussion.
While I consider how I plan to vote on this budget tonight, my concerns in summary are:
We are appropriating an enormous amount of funds to a “public entity” at the expense of “those left behind”.
We are not taking any of our new revenue over $57 million and helping the next generation in the debt that we have now passed on to them.
We again, have more debt being “kicked down the road”.
While in many situations, the phrase “3 strikes and you’re out” could apply as I consider how my final vote will be on this budget. As I have contemplated this decision carefully, I have considered the hard work of our Auditors, my fellow Finance Committee members and the administration for the many hours put into this budget;
While these issues are very important to me, I find the good that this budget provides to outweigh the concerns that I have expressed……. but only this time!”