The JEA Agreement Committee meeting last week brimmed with optimism over getting close to an accord on the contribution proposal. Would Tuesday’s meeting brim with similar good feeling and bonhomie?
Not so much.
JEA CEO Paul McElroy noted that “given where we are with our governance structure,” it would be necessary to have the board consider these proposed changes.
As reported, JEA’s board has seen substantial turnover in the first few months of the Lenny Curry administration.
If not, “the story may get ahead of us individually,” and “we’d be chasing our board members before they had their first meeting” on Monday.
“We don’t even have this on the agenda yet,” McElroy said.
“That said, I think we have captured a good framework … and have good progress identifying the issues in front of us,” said McElroy, who suggested that there is at least a “path forward” ahead of JEA’s crucial meetings with bond ratings agencies next month.
Councilwoman Lori Boyer, who was optimistic, bristled at this. But McElroy stood his ground, saying that while closure wasn’t possible at this moment, there is at least enough accord to satisfy the ratings agencies.
Councilman Bill Gulliford noted that the proposed deadline for an agreement was March, so there is no real rush. However, other Council members were more skeptical.
McElroy observed that the potential long-term decline in sales, enhanced EPA regulations, and “concern from the business community” regarding “commercial and industrial rates” and potential “higher costs,” there needs to be a fuller understanding of what the deal entails for the new Board members.
“No one’s saying no,” McElroy said.
One of the complications: This deal would necessitate changes to the JEA Charter.
“The true reality is that nothing is driving this but the contribution,” said Gulliford, who observed that the agreement (except the contribution) expires in 2018.
Boyer, meanwhile, asserted that the “drop-dead date for Council to have acted would be May 1,” with February 21 being the first date they can have a hearing.
Boyer formalized as a motion that the committee, no later than March 15, would have a subbed version of legislation.
JEA’s sticking points, as of now, according to McElroy, include potential financial and business impacts, relative to operating flexibility and debt repayment.
“To the extent that it starts to put pressure in certain areas … what are the implications?”
McElroy added that “we’re going to try to keep this as collaborative as we possibly can,” but there has to be a clear demonstration that JEA’s position is protected, especially with regard to the ability to repay debt.
Jacksonville’s CFO, Mike Weinstein, cautioned against “silo” thinking, noting that JEA is one part of the city’s revenue streams, and that Council needs to “make it work so we can balance the budget every year.”
To which Gulliford replied that an issue was the “imprudence” of previous JEA Boards.
“Their debt is our debt; we’ll all in this together,” the CFO said.