Slots bill hits jackpot in Jax Council Finance committee

slot machines

“You won’t have Gulliford to kick around anymore.”

Those Nixonian words, said by Finance Chair Bill Gulliford at the end of the last committee meeting under his chairmanship, kicked off the agenda meeting, a prelude to the last Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee meeting before leadership of the Council and committees changes at the end of June.

The major bill on the agenda Monday: an ordinance authorizing a November referendum on allowing 2,000 slot machines at the bestbet facility in Arlington.

The measure, which received no real resistance in a joint workshop of Finance and Rules earlier this month, required affirmation by both committees ahead of a June 28 vote of the full Council.

The biggest material changes: insertion of language, via amendment, that asserts a belief that the Florida Constitution authorizes a referendum on slots.

Stricken from the amendment was language allowing separate legislative action authorizing a 1.5 percent tax on slot revenue (at the low end of local jurisdiction collections, which are double that in some places) and putting bestbet on the hook for legal defense of the inevitable court challenge.

Gulliford said, as a member of the council, voting for the measure allowing a referendum was not a vote for or against slots but, rather, a decision to let the voters decide.

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Other measures approved: $95,790 to Danny Wimmer Presents for construction of temporary staging during a recent festival at Metropolitian Park, and authorization of the revamped public investment policy.

John Crescimbeni discussed the focus on “economically distressed areas,” predicated on census tracts, with “extra credit” for development in areas with one of two measures of distress the council approved.

Discussion, led by Councilman Scott Wilson, toward basing incentives on the more granular measurement afforded by census blocks, was addressed by Crescimbeni, who noted Wilson’s concerns were “primarily related to commercial corridors,” and suggested there may be a tool pending to address commercial corridors.

“Some of these tracts [with both criteria of distress] have unemployment rates over 20 percent,” Crescimbeni said, remarking many of those areas are in the press for crime and related forms of social malaise.

Gulliford noted the potential overlap between the distressed areas and areas identified in the Block by Block study months back.

The summary of the bill:

The new Public Investment Policy (PIP) is a result of more than a year of work by the Special Committee on Economic Development Incentives, reviewing and debating incentive program proposals developed by the Office of Economic Development and the Downtown Investment Authority. The new PIP refines some existing programs, eliminates references to enterprise zones (which were recently eliminated by state law), and adds several new types of targeted incentives (i.e. a Disabled Veterans Hiring Bonus, a Local Training Grant and a Closing Fund). Refinements to existing programs include development of variable incentive levels in some programs based on levels of economic distress (Tier 1 and Tier 2) at the census tract level as determined by the tract’s unemployment rate and level of median household income. Programs with varying incentive levels based on Tier 1 and Tier 2 economic distress measures are the Recapture Enhanced Value (REV) grant, the Façade Renovation Grant program (outside of the downtown area), and the Economically Distressed Area Targeted Industry program.

Gulliford lauded the revamp as along the lines of where incoming Council President Lori Boyer wants to go, in terms of deep dives into policy.

Boyer noted the tract designation has “challenges” regarding the mapping, pointing out one side of Philips Highway in her district qualified for incentives, while across the street, development is de-incentivized.

Councilman Danny Becton raised the same concern about the arbitrary chop-up of streets according to census tracts, which OED head Kirk Wendland said was the best data they could get.

Councilman Aaron Bowman, meanwhile, gave the revised PIP the JAXUSA seal of approval.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski



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