A draft of the final report from the Jacksonville City Council special committee on the future of JEA revealed a consensus to keep the utility local and publicly owned.
However, the report was not memorialized by committee passage, due to a lack of quorum. And that worries committee Chair John Crescimbeni.
“I would hope that the committee’s work through all these months is not going to be stymied by some parliamentary attempt to not adopt the report,” he said. “There are a lot of people who have put a lot of hours in this.”
Council President-designate Aaron Bowman, whom we spoke to hours before his installation, vowed that the work would not be stymied.
“I will make sure we close,” Bowman said. “I want to have the official report, so will figure out the best way to accomplish.”
Even in draft form, this report offers a coda to a discussion that sprawled for over half a year, with a prominent Lenny Curry backer suggesting an exploration of privatization when he left the JEA Board in 2017, followed by what some council members (notably, President Anna Brosche) thought was a hard push to sell.
The future of the utility led to consternation and miscommunication, with charges and countercharges flung in the Jacksonville media like Shuriken in a Shaw Brothers movie.
However, if there is one overwhelming conclusion in the JEA special committee report, it ultimately is a defense and reinforcement of the status quo.
“Regardless of any of the various measures of its monetary worth, JEA is one of Jacksonville’s most important civic assets and decisions about its future should be made with the utmost care,” the draft contends.
As well, there is “tangible and intangible value” to maintaining local stewardship, “in large part because the utility’s decisions will be made by board members who are local residents and who will make those decisions based solely on what’s best for the customer/owners in the immediate service area.”
This local connection, the report contends, makes it more likely that JEA will partner with the city on septic-tank phaseout and other issues, similar to those commitments made in the JEA Agreement of 2016.
Another factor mitigating toward local public ownership: JEA eligibility for FEMA reimbursement after federally declared natural disasters. This would not happen under investor ownership.
The report urges JEA to diversify its revenue streams, given flat-lining of revenue growth in electric, sewer, and water. As well, the report notes that JEA’s obligation regarding the Georgia nuclear Plant Vogtle, still under construction, offers uncertainty potentially “for several decades to come.”