In the last Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee meeting before the full council passes the budget Sept. 27, a packed agenda was considered.
Among the more compelling bills: a controversial measure to appropriate $5,000 to each of the fourteen district council members for “special events” in public parks; a bill tightening up regulations on burglar alarms; authorization of $26.275 million for UF Health … money that comes with certain strings attached; and an adoption of the five-year capital improvement and IT plans.
To cap it off, Councilman Matt Schellenberg, the city’s representative to the Florida Association of Counties, had some concerns to address about medical cannabis … specifically, Amendment 2 not allowing counties to opt out.
— The bill (2016-489) moving $70,000 from council contingency for special events for each of the fourteen district council members saw bill sponsor Reggie Brown visiting Finance. Council members had questions ahead of the bill’s deferral.
Schellenberg had questions about costs, specifically related to events with more than 500 people.
That impact would require two police officers and two fire and rescue officers.
Schellenberg expressed concern about potential cost overruns; money more than $5,000 for any given event would be the responsibility of the district council member, and would theoretically be secured by private sponsorship.
Councilman Greg Anderson noted the bill got “stuck in Rules yesterday,” with “questions that could have been answered” if Brown had been there.
One concern Anderson had: what the money could be used to purchase.
Brown opined that the money is intended for “resource fairs” and other community building events, including stages and bleachers, not for refreshments.
Sponsorships, as were the case in a previous committee that deferred, came up in the discussion.
These could range from in-kind contributions like “bounce houses” to other amenities; such “sponsorships” would have to be cleared by the ethics office.
Anderson was not mollified, saying that there could be overlap with supporters wearing candidate shirts, saying that could render the event “political in nature.”
Councilman Brown stated that “it begins with trust,” adding that there is no way to regulate what attendees wear, but that council members will be “responsible and prudent” in avoiding politicizing events.
Anderson pushed for deferral.
“I’m not at a place right now where I can support it,” Anderson said, adding that he is open to a public notice meeting to iron out details.
Another question: entertainment.
Brown said that, while there may be a DJ, these events aren’t intended to entertain, but to provide access to resources.
“When you invite the community to the park, they’ll see what we’re offering,” Brown said, noting resource disparities between his district and some others.
“This isn’t about a party … it’s about making their quality of life as good as the next citizen,” Brown said.
Councilman Bill Gulliford fretted that the legislation excluded the beaches and Baldwin, and wanted to ensure that events throughout the county would be included in this legislation.
Councilman Sam Newby wondered why this measure couldn’t be extended to at-large council members; Brown noted that at-large members are welcome to attend all fourteen events.
Finance Chair Anna Brosche pushed for deferral, pending a Monday public notice meeting to resolve concerns.
Council President Lori Boyer, with an edge in her voice, wanted to know what events are in the bill and what events are out.
“There is an amorphous line,” Boyer said, and the demarcation needs to be clearer.
The urgency to get this passed: the end of the fiscal year. And Brown doesn’t want that money swept into the general fund.
“If nothing else, let’s lock the dollars down, so we can have the dollars,” Brown said. “I just don’t want the dollars to leave our accessibility right now.”
A possible solution, advanced by Boyer: an amendment to the budget, which would allow deferral of the bill while locking down the money.
This would create a larger transfer from fund balance in the upcoming fiscal year.
— Ordinance 2016-562, the bill stiffening penalties for false burglar alarms and requiring a registry of residential and commercial alarms, was considered by Finance.
Of 45,000 alarm calls for service, 98 percent are false, creating 36,000 annual hours of enforcement burden for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
Currently, six false alarms are required before a fine kicks in; the bill, as amended, would allow one false alarm, then escalating fines of $50, $100, $250, and $500 for subsequent false alarms. After six, the JSO would cease responding to alarms at that address, except for panic or robbery-in-progress alarms (which would incur $500 fines for each false alarm).
The current setup offers no “incentive to fix alarms.” Adding more teeth to enforcement would provide such incentive to fix them within 30 days.
One wrinkle finally brought up in the third committee meeting on this topic: local government cannot make the alarm company liable for failure to register alarms, which shifts the enforcement burden to the end user, as local governments cannot contravene the superior law.
Good lobbying, for sure.
This concerned Councilman Gulliford, who noted that “we can’t put any real pressure on the alarm [contractor] or monitoring company.”
Despite these concerns, Gulliford urged passage of the bill and discharging it from its one remaining committee at Tuesday’s council meeting.
Council President Boyer called this a “nightmare waiting to happen,” which would be “just like the red light cameras,” painting a dark scenario of a deluge of emails from irked constituents who are absorbing the burden of this legislation.
JSO Chief Larry Schmitt defended the online registration component of the bill, which would use a vendor to maintain the database.
Boyer stressed that annual alarm registration is a “high expectation.”
Despite these qualms, the bill cleared Finance.
For those interested in more discussion of this measure, it will be available Thursday morning at a public notice meeting.
— Via 2016-506, the committee approved the same allocation for UF Health as in the previous year: $26.275 million. $6 million will be allocated for disproportionate care; that goes into the state pool and gives UF Health $14 million. The other $20 million will be dispersed to the state when the city confirms “adequate participation” by the rest of the state, to ensure Jacksonville gets back what it puts in.
Council will pass this Tuesday. As well, Council will approve the five-year capital improvement, and IT plans as part of the annual budget bonanza.
Council President Boyer, fulfilling a vow made before she took office, noted that the CIP is a real five-year CIP, offering concrete guidance for long-term planning.
A concern: that the ordinance moves funds from a Community Redevelopment Area without council approval; as of Wednesday morning, the general counsel’s office had yet to prepare a legal opinion, though it will be available later in the week.
To be added to the CIP: remedies for “water intrusion” issues at Fire Station #20, at a cost of $285,159 of borrowed funds for the next fiscal year. Apparently, this is one of a few “leaky fire stations,” to quote Councilman Anderson.
In the IT plan, it has been revealed that the project to replace the city’s antiquated Financial Accounting Management Information System is out for bid. True costs are, of course, pending bids.
$12.2 million has been earmarked for this in the plan.