The Tallahassee City Commission is preparing to spend millions of dollars on new sidewalks— at the same time the rest of the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year is shrinking. The sidewalk issue devolved into a heated debate among commissioners during Tuesday’s budget workshop.
The commission is planning to spend $681 million for the upcoming fiscal year on operations. That's an $8 million decrease from the current budget. Another $103.6 million will be spent on maintenance and construction projects, bringing the total proposed budget to $785 million for the upcoming fiscal year.
The drop in spending isn’t precluding commissioners from adding big items to the budget proposal—such as new sidewalks for Magnolia Drive and Live Oak Plantation Boulevard.
Commissioner Andrew Gillum pitched the Magnolia project, leading other commissioners to jump in, calling for sidewalks on Tharpe and Richview streets as well.
"I’m not sure what you’re doing and what we’re recommending in terms of voting," Mayor John Marks chimed in.
Gillum said, "I just added Magnolia, and I’m sure there are others coming down the pike as well."
The majority of the commission is supporting an updated list for sidewalk projects according to priority. The debate began after Commissioner Scott Maddox backed new sidewalks on Live Oak Plantation—a project Miller and Gillum argued "jumped" the list. The revised priority-based plan won’t be out until September. In the meantime, the Commission agreed to spend $1 million on each of the designated streets to begin planning the new sidewalks.
Meanwhile Commissioner Gil Ziffer believes the city can find places to make more budget cuts after the Commission approved a $5 million transfer from its utility surplus to support increased spending in the general revenue side of the budget.
“Until we really talk about if there are any more efficiencies," he says, "I won’t be able to vote for this budget, because all we keep talking about is more revenue. I have to believe we can be more efficient.”
The city has been weighing whether it’s time to increase property taxes or utility rates to make up for the continued loss of revenue, but that’s not in the upcoming budget plan.
The budget proposal also includes funding for at least six more police officers.
The commission will hold public hearings in September on a final budget proposal.
*Correction: The original version of this story listed the proposed budget at $681 million. That number did not reflect the $104 million the city plans to spend on construction and maintenance projects. The correct amount for the proposed budget is $785 million.