Boyer fulfilling “busy woman” adage

Councilwoman takes on huge new task fraught with issues

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

Halfway into her four-year term, and coming off a two-week council break that included a lot of homework – District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer, is ready to tackle some very weighty issues, beginning with a new appointment.

Shortly after new City Council Bill Gulliford was sworn in, he approached Boyer about a new project. “When Bill asked me to chair the Consolidation Task Force, I said ‘something’s got to give.’ I can’t do three significant committees [Land Use & Zoning (LUZ), Rules, and Finance] and while many of my colleagues would have opted to drop LUZ, because that’s my professional background and was part of my impetus for running, I really wanted to stay in that role,” said Boyer.

She noted there were many unfinished LUZ projects, “things that I had started on, things that I felt could improve the process, that just hadn’t made their way through yet and I hadn’t finished them. So I said, Okay, one more year I’m going to stay there (on LUZ).”

Boyer has a little bit of regret for moving off the Finance committee. “With the magnitude of what’s going on with the budget it would have been fascinating to be that intently involved in the budget this year, but there are a lot of good people on that committee and I have a lot of confidence in their ability,” she stated.

Boyer on budget
Speaking of the budget, Boyer provided an update to the district survey she has taken, primarily from residents of San Marco, Lakewood and Briarwood. There is definitely a majority in two of the three neighborhoods in favor of raising taxes.

“It’s probably 60/40 or 65/35 in favor of raising taxes over cutting City services and that is consistent across San Marco and Lakewood, San Marco the most in favor; Lakewood is more like 60/40 and Briarwood is more toward “don’t raise taxes,” the councilwoman noted.

On July 23 City Council passed bill 2013-460 to create the possibility the City could raise property tax rates up to 1.5 mills, close to 15 percent, when the budget year begins Oct. 1. A separate bill would have to be passed to put the tax rate into effect. For every $10,000 of a home’s value, homeowners would see an increase of $15.00 per year, a small price to pay to keep city services intact.

According to Boyer, Council had to set the maximum millage rate at last month’s meeting in order to provide that information to the Property Appraiser for Truth in Millage (TRIM) notification mailings. “The larger number we set right now, the more flexibility we have in the budget, but it does not mean that’s what you have to charge. It’s just so you give the public notice that this is the maximum,” said Boyer. “And then when we actually go through the budget process, we can elect for a smaller number to make the budget work.”

According to Boyer, a one mill increase would not have covered the estimated $63 million deficit in the Mayor’s proposed budget. But, she said, “No matter what happens, we are going to be in the position where we will have to establish priorities. I think it’s irresponsible to simply cut 14 percent from each department. Those departmental budgets did not grow evenly over time. We don’t allocate money by department; we allocate it by what function and service we’re providing to the public. And those monies have been shifted in re-organizations and passed responsibilities from one department to another. So, trying to take the arbitrary fact that something’s called a department and use that as a basis to make cuts I don’t think makes sense.”

In Boyer’s opinion, what Council needs to be doing is truly looking at what programs and services are provided and which are non-essential, how will they impact quality of life, how will they impact the city’s future, and then make the best decision they can about where to save money. “It’s a much more detailed and thought-provoking conversation than to just tell everybody to cut 14 percent,” she noted. An across-the-board cut to simply balance the budget “doesn’t really give us the ability as council members to evaluate what the consequences will be.”

Giving a busy woman another task
To prepare for her new appointed role as chairman of the Consolidation Review Task Force, while on council break, Boyer spent time reading through two books on consolidation [by historians James Crooks and Richard Martin], went through the city charter, making notes on various topics of interest. “Bill [Gulliford] wants to use this opportunity not just as another charter revision commission, but we’re looking at how we actually function. We wrote it one way, does it work? Could we do it better?” she asked rhetorically.

Her topics ranged from the roles of the independent authorities – look at each one separately and consider whether all the facets of their operations what they should be in the terms of the ideal – to the appointment of the Office of the Sheriff and other constitutional officers, to Central Services which, according to Boyer is a model that is not working.

“I have seen in just the short time that I’ve been here, a de-consolidation of a number of those, just de facto; employees leaving the general counsel’s office and individuals now entering into contracts for environmental law firm consulting, for example. While it was envisioned that it was far better to have staff attorneys and not outside law firms hired as consultants it seems like in many ways we have done that [hired consultants] over time,” Boyer said. “Do we need to go back to the original concept? What if we just funded the Central Services as a department and provided them? Maybe that’s a better model, because the model we have right now is forcing people to try to get out from under the system.”

One of the thorniest issues the task force will tackle is that of Legislative Policy and the Executive Branch. “I have encountered issues where I think ‘we need to do legislation on this – this is a problem’ and I will go to our code and find out it’s already there. We already have an ordinance, a statement of legislative intent, and it’s just not being followed. So, what is the mechanism to ensure that the Executive Branch follows the Legislative Policy versus enforcement? How do we do that?”

She said that the San Marco Library was an example of that issue. “There was talk about closing libraries that were constructed as part of Better Jacksonville project. That’s ridiculous. We just built them, we haven’t paid for them yet, we’re still paying off the bonds and now we’re closing them. Shouldn’t we be estimating the additional operating costs and figuring out where the operating budgets will be coming from at the time we decide to construct them?” Boyer queried. “That should be in our code. It turns out it is. It’s a requirement that for every capital improvement project you identify what the cost of operation will be in the future and what the source of revenue will be, but we just haven’t done it.”

One final example of the many topics Boyer has researched is one that circles back to her district survey. Who is in charge of getting things done? At one time there were two entities running the city. The former City Commission, of which each member ran a department, and City Council.

“We wanted to take management of those administrative areas out of the political realm and have a single point of responsibility for all of our administration and that was supposed to be through the Mayor’s Office. Do our citizens really understand that? When they have issues with drainage ditches, potholes or parks, do they contact the Mayor’s office?” Boyer asked. “I would submit that most of those calls are coming to the district council members. We’re running interference with the staff in those departments, and that’s not what consolidation intended because there was supposed to be accountability in one location for the provision of those services. There’s some work we can do on that.”

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