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Budget bonanza: big capital spending as Jacksonville feels flush.

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Jacksonville approves ‘transformational’ $1.37 billion budget

Biggest capital budget since the downturn.

The Jacksonville City Council approved Tuesday night a $1.37 billion spending plan for the next year but not before passing four amendments.

Mayor Lenny Curry has called this a “transformational” budget and it reflects payoffs from moves ranging from reamortization of the city’s pension debt to favorable variances in recent budgets.

The budget passed 18-1, with Democrat Garrett Dennis being the first to vote against a Curry budget in five years.

With a $173 million capital improvement budget, big ticket projects, such as multi-year and multi-million dollar capital projects at UF Health, the Florida Theater and the Zoo, got resources.

As well, floor amendments were floated, with mixed success.

Democrat Brenda Priestly-Jackson sought to move over $189,000 from Goodwill to all 14 Council districts, funds to be equally divided for capital or operations purposes.

“I can’t think of a worse program to target than a workforce training program in the Northwest Quadrant,” remarked former President Aaron Bowman.

Opposition piled up, and the amendment failed 2-17.

Republican Terrance Freeman sought to move $10,000 from membership in the Black Chamber of Commerce to support a local youth movement, EVAC.

James Breaker of the Black Chamber of Commerce excoriated Freeman, an African-American with strong ties to the larger Chamber of Commerce, for “not having a clue” what the Chamber does.

Freeman pulled the amendment, saying his goal was to “help kids” and he “will never stop fighting for kids.”

Hopefully, that puts members of the Council less concerned about helping kids on notice.

Another floor amendment, to move JEA’s $4.75 million ad budget “below the line”, was scratched on Monday, more than 24 hours before the meeting.

Council Vice-President Tommy Hazouri, a Democrat, floated an amendment to move JEA’s $4.76 million ad budget below the line.

The utility, which is purportedly in a “death spiral,” nonetheless has aggressively advertised, even as it solicits bids from larger private companies and has seen rates go up 71 percent since 2006.

Over $4.5 million of that money goes to promotion of the electrical side of the utility.

Hazouri questioned, at first, the whole spend promoting a “monopoly,” noting that some may wonder if the marketing was for local customers or prospective buyers.

By late Monday afternoon, the Councilman was goaded into pulling the amendment.

Some amendments did succeed: Councilman Al Ferraro wanted to move $360,000 from the Northeast Florida Regional Council budget to Waterways, saying the investment wasn’t paying off for the city. Eventually, the money was moved to Council Contingency, and the decision to re-up with the membership was held over for future meetings.

Republican Rory Diamond moved to move over $3.1 million from various funds dedicated to Jacksonville Beach fire services on the county level to the budget of Jacksonville Beach Fire and Rescue. This money was simply moved “above the line,” Diamond said.

One thing not in play, but in the background: the ongoing back and forth between Curry and the Duval County School Board.

Curry, who has resisted the push by the School Board for a tax referendum vote this year, offered to send city maintenance crews to schools to fix air conditioning units Monday.

The School Board has identified $1.9 billion in capital needs, and wants a half-cent sales tax. Curry and allies, meanwhile, say that key questions about how the money would be spent have yet to be answered.

Written By

A.G. 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 AG@FloridaPolitics.com

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