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The JEA question will be at the end of an exceptionally long ballot.

Jax

Duval Democrats pan Jacksonville utility privatization

JEA could privatize, but Duval Dems oppose it.

The big news out of Jacksonville is the local utility, after over a year of heated public discourse, moving toward privatization.

JEA executives claim the move could bring a billion dollars more value to the city, protect employee pensions, and allow the utility to build its new downtown headquarters.

And it could stabilize the utility against a perpetual and irreversible decline in traditional revenue sources.

But Mayor Lenny Curry spent much of the latter part of his first term combating perceptions that he wanted to “sell” JEA.

As his second term begins, he is lauding the “wisdom and expertise” of his hand-picked board, which has found a way to move the public utility toward the private sector.

That’s not a consensus position, however, as a Wednesday morning statement from the Duval Democrats suggests.

The Democrats worry that accountability would be lost: “Yesterday, the JEA board of directors unanimously voted to explore selling the city-owned electric and water utility — one of the largest such utilities in the nation. This decision would impact every resident of Jacksonville and hinder the public’s ability to hold JEA accountable and transparent.”

Though advocates for a sale claim that it would create a billion dollars minimum of added “value” to the city, the Democrats note that a decision to “cede control of the city’s most valuable asset [would] create a $118-million hole in the city’s budget.”

That hole would be the end of the JEA Contribution to the city budget, though CEO Aaron Zahn and others have noted that JEA couldn’t afford to keep paying that past 2023 given the revenue attrition that has been driving the privatization discussion.

Jacksonville would, per the Democrats, experience “negative long term consequences, long past any one-time rebate or short term benefit from a potential transaction.”

“These effects would be felt by all ratepayers through the possibility of increased rates, additional fees, and lackluster service once a deal’s honeymoon period has surpassed,” the Dems add.

So-called “lackluster service” may be baked into the cake regardless. COO Melissa Dykes, when outlining what continuing with the status quo would look like, said that service and performance expectations would be downshifted absent structural change.

That notwithstanding, the local Democrats “stand with the 73 percent of voters that expressed in 2018, their desire to have a say in the fate of JEA. The residents of Jacksonville deserve and demand transparency in a process that has operated in the shadows since the idea of selling the utility was first discussed in 2017.”

“We also deserve better than reactionary quick-fixes to complex situations,” the party added.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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