Looming reforms cast cloud over Jax Journey budget - Florida Politics

Looming reforms cast cloud over Jax Journey budget

When Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry ran for office, he pledged to revive the Jacksonville Journey. Once in office, Curry took steps to do just that, reviving and rebranding the John Peyton initiative as Jax Journey, a Version 2.0 of the original.

As Curry nears the halfway mark of his first term, his office deals with the reality of the program, and how it interacts with other city programs.

Two weeks ago, at a presser announcing nearly a million dollars of new money for Jacksonville Children’s Commission summer camps,  Curry said that he would introduce reforms to ensure that this doesn’t happen again, including ensuring alignment between the Jacksonville Children’s Commission and the Jax Journey — his administration’s key anti-crime initiative.

When asked if the two could be merged, Curry said “all options are on the table,” depending on the “best interest of kids.”

CAO Sam Mousa likewise pointed out that Curry was “considering reform” of the two programs on Thursday.

As the saying goes, a budget is a moral statement. Yet it is also a declaration of strategy and priorities, and without a cogent hierarchy of such, a moral statement is an abstraction rather than a reality.

And in this context, the Jacksonville Journey budget hearing held Thursday afternoon would be key in understanding the intent of the Mayor’s Office in how it approaches fulfillment of a key campaign promise.

Coming off a year where the program had a $4.38M budget, as part of a $10M portfolio with the JCC and an ex-offender re-entry program, the real question was how resources would be allocated in a year when pension costs were finally under control.

That $4.38M was more than twice what Alvin Brown allocated to the program, but a fraction of the $31M Mayor John Peyton budgeted in 2008. Meanwhile, Jacksonville City Council members challenged the scope of the program ahead of approving last year’s budget, arguing that pockets of despair and anomie exist throughout the city.

Debbie Verges, representing the Journey, noted the Journey Oversight Committee had approved the budget — with some changes compared to the current year.

Verges wanted a restoration to FY15/16 levels — just over $5M, or $865,021 bigger than the current year.

Mousa reaffirmed Curry’s commitment to “some sort of reform” regarding Journey and JCC.

“We are accepting this report strictly as information,” Mousa said. “Whatever the committee stays here may stay intact, may get modified, may get merged.”

“I do not know where the Mayor’s head’s at,” Mousa added.

Verges noted that the Journey’s commitment to analytics needs more evaluation of the programs, especially for three-year marks of the Summer SAIL Program and summer camps.

Neighborhood accountability boards, a priority of State Attorney Melissa Nelson, are a requested uptick also, with an uptick in citations.

And $63,000 is desired for Legal Aid, to help 195 people with ex-offender rights restoration, Verges said.

Legal Aid approached the Journey committee, Verges said, to push the concept.

Opioids and gangs — also a focus of the committee, a new ask.

Verges also would like to expand Journey programs to libraries outside of the core area of the Journey, in Jacksonville’s Health Zone 1.

Over the last 12 months, Verges said the Journey and the JCC were increasingly aligned — and that she sees the Journey as a $9M program rather than a $5M program, with the JCC administering “Journey programs.”

Grant money has helped the Journey mission: $2.6M currently in place, though the bulk of that is dispersed over multiple years, Verges said.

With Curry mulling the future of the programs, all of this may be hypothetical.

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