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Jacksonville to dole out $159 million in coronavirus relief funds

$1,000 payouts for locals, other giveaways approved.

Relief money may be coming to Jacksonville residents soon, as part of the latest spending package approved by the City Council Monday.

The $159 million spend, facilitated by federal funds earmarked for coronavirus relief, programs $40 million for citizens to help with mortgage and rent payments, with an additional $25 million to be disbursed at the authority of Mayor Lenny Curry.

“I expect it to pass,” the Mayor said last week, “and I expect to get dollars into people’s hands.”

Curry was right, though he didn’t forecast the extended discussion of specifics about programming the federal windfall.

The pass-through funds come at a time when the state of Florida is still struggling to pay unemployment claims, many of which date back to last month.

Conditions apply for citizen relief, capped at $1,000 per household for up to 40,000 households impacted by job or income loss due to the current crisis.

Debit cards will be used for the 40,000 disbursements, with the administration vowing that records will be kept.

Maximum household income for those eligible is capped at $75,000 or below. Applicants must prove that coronavirus shutdowns have reduced said income by at least 20%.

Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes said the administration would consider ways to prioritize people waiting for unemployment money from the state, though logistical concerns stopped him short of “rock solid committal” to make that happen.

Additionally, $25 million will be earmarked to offset revenue declines, including inspection fees and taxes on rent. The bill stipulates a six-month moratorium on such fees.

Another $20 million goes to companies managing city facilities and $35 million for testing.

The city envisions testing sites in each of its planning districts for six months, mobile testing, and flexibility to make changes.

The city approved a small business loan program earlier this month.

The legislation approved Monday would fully defray the city’s $26 million obligation to that partnership with VyStar Credit Union.

The latest action from Jacksonville leaders furthers an already unprecedented expansion of local government spending, a sharp break from decades of penny-pinching for local social issues.

Jacksonville has historically been a hotbed of “low tax” Republicans, but the coronavirus crisis rendered topsy-turvy traditional ways of doing business.

However, unknowns percolate.

CFO Joey Greive would not hazard a guess about how far in the hole the city was in sales tax collections, noting that data would not be available until mid-May.

“There are very serious impacts,” Hughes said, with “substantial hits” to bed tax and sales tax guaranteed to impact the current year and budgets to come.

Indeed, there are certain to be cascading impacts of the economy’s shutdown, which include double-digit unemployment and eventual pressures on businesses and commercial landlords.

As well, the property market, hot for a while, is likely to cool down also, precipitating a decline in property taxes.

It remains to be seen if $159 million in one time money heals what will be a long-term pain for what was a $1.27 billion general fund budget in the current year, with question marks abound going forward.

Meanwhile, Finance Chair Aaron Bowman promised to move toward tapping into reserves.

If that discussion moves forward, it sets up a potential collision course with ratings agencies, which frown on tapping into reserves. For Jacksonville to fund the infrastructure projects Mayor Curry sees as pivotal for the city’s resurgence, money will have to be borrowed.

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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