Jacksonville Bold for 9.29.21: Another big budget
Election Day is Dec. 7.

budget
Jacksonville approves a blockbuster budget.

Another big budget 

The Jacksonville City Council passed its budget Tuesday night. And there weren’t a lot of surprises.

It was the most significant general fund budget in city history: Over $1.5 billion in spending, with Biden bucks via the American Rescue Plan and other federal dollars boosting city coffers. The capital improvement budget: $495 million.

It’s a city on the move! Just be prepared to drop your recycling off at a local park, since they can’t figure out how to pay people to pick up the trash.

It was Mayor Lenny Curry’s seventh budget, and over the years, he has found ways to create liquidity and flexibility. Pension reform bought the city needed flexibility from FY 16-17 onward.

Jacksonville passes a record-breaking budget.

Curry, who was handed a second term by a Democratic Party that stood down in 2019 for reasons no one now can articulate, will be remembered for many things. But key among them is that fat, fat CIP.

Back when Sam Mousa was running the city as a Chief Administrative Officer, he made the point one year during a budget review that whatever the CIP was going to wouldn’t be enough. What was needed was hundreds of millions.

Well, that’s in the current document.

The budget benefits incumbents and incumbency. And the speakers on hand were cynical.

After a series of speakers spoke to defund the police themes mostly, pushing the “People’s Budget” that would divest police of most operational funding, the Council got down to business right around the time the 10 p.m. news started.

Republican Rory Diamond was the sole no vote on the budget.

The budget includes $24 million for road resurfacing, $100 million for parks over the next two years, $54 million on drainage and resilience, and $50 million for the ongoing septic tank phaseout projects.

Also: More resources to long-suffering UF Health. The city contribution moves from $35 million in this proposed budget to $40 million next year.

There will be a lot of turnover on this Council, perhaps before the next budget. Several members will run for higher office in 2022. Others in 2023. They leave having passed a budget where tough choices weren’t forced upon them. And for more Council members than not, that’s the best of all outcomes.

Crist builds momentum

As we know, endorsements don’t always mean a candidate is going to win. But in terms of endorsements among Duval County Democrats in the 2022 Governor’s race, Rep. Charlie Crist continues to dominate.

On Monday, he rolled out a trio: Jacksonville City Council members Garrett Dennis, Reggie Gaffney, and Brenda Priestly Jackson.

How remarkable is this?

Charlie Crist is on a roll.

Dennis, expected to run in HD 13, is backing Rep. Tracie Davis in her expected primary run to succeed term-limited Sen. Audrey Gibson. Davis and Gibson, of course, back Crist.

They are at war locally, the Gaffney and Davis sides. But they are united around Crist. Gaffney welcomed Crist to Jacksonville when the former Governor launched earlier this spring. A few weeks later, Dennis was at a policy event and did not comment when we asked him if he was endorsing Crist.

We can’t figure out where Fried may get a local endorsement.

Rep. Angie Nixon hasn’t endorsed yet; she did appear with Fried at a policy event this summer at her district office. City Council member Ju’Coby Pittman, dealing with issues at the Clara White Mission, may not endorse much.

Rat patrol

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development said that progress was underway at Jacksonville’s Hilltop Village Tuesday to remedy long-standing rat problems.

Last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis decried reported rodent infestations at the subsidized apartment complex in Northwest Jacksonville.

Slamming the federal government’s “lack of interest” in aiding residents, DeSantis on Friday cited the “deplorable” conditions at Hilltop Village and barred the Florida Housing Finance Corporation from issuing new leases until the matter was resolved.

Ron DeSantis seeks a good rat trap.

On Tuesday, a HUD spokesperson said work toward “complete eradication” of rodents had finally started.

“Under strict guidance from HUD and local government officials, Hilltop property owners have since conducted a 100%-unit inspection, have relocated tenants from impacted units, and begun work toward the complete eradication of the pests. New reports of rodents require immediate action, and we are committed to ongoing, swift engagement at Hilltop to ensure that it meets HUD standards and that residents enjoy housing quality that anyone should expect,” HUD asserted.

Meanwhile, collaboration is the way forward, and that includes the DeSantis administration.

“We know we cannot do this work alone, so we welcome a partnership with all stakeholders, including residents, local, state and federal elected officials. Our staff has hosted recurring congressional briefings for state and federal delegations and have reached out to the Governor’s office to join us in this work. As we all are aware, there is a persistent shortage of affordable housing in Florida,” HUD notes.

The statement comes just days after DeSantis messaged about federal disengagement.

“Despite recent statements by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that ‘The management agent has continued to work with the most critically affected tenants,’ in reality the persistent and deplorable conditions that dozens of Hilltop residents have endured is simply unacceptable,” said DeSantis Friday. “Our patience has run out for this developer and their management company’s failed stewardship of safe, decent, and affordable housing for Floridians.”

St. Johns gets set

Those looking to petition the influential triad of legislators representing St. Johns County can do so as of Friday.

On Friday morning, Sen. Travis Hutson and Reps. Paul Renner and Cyndi Stevenson hold their annual organizational delegation meeting ahead of the 2022 Legislative Session.

Cyndi Stevenson gives a preview of 2022. Image via Colin Hackley.

Expect few surprises from the wish list.

SJC’s issues are those of infrastructure: roads, schools, and other fixtures of civilization. One of the fastest-growing counties in the country for decades, and the momentum isn’t stopping.

The meeting starts at 8:30 a.m. at the St. Johns County Auditorium in St. Augustine.

Trash trial

This week, Curry made a move (telegraphed for a while), pausing what passes for the city’s recycling collection effective Oct. 4.

People who want to recycle can still drop off materials at one of 14 collection points throughout the city, so it’s not as if recycling will be canceled. It’s just going to be more challenging.

While the Mayor put a happy face on it, saying recycling would come back and people were “passionate” about it but telegraphed annoyance when going off-script.

Lenny Curry goes off-script on recycling.

He admonished people for mixing non-recyclable items into the recycling bins. While that didn’t make the recycling collection pause an “easy decision,” it was a factor, he said.

Curry also urged people not to dump garbage on the steps of City Hall out of “frustration,” noting that it is, in fact, illegal.

Qualifying week!

Five candidates are looking to run to fill the term of deceased Tommy Hazouri. And they have until Friday at noon to qualify.

Three of them are Republicans, and two have major endorsements to start.

Soil and Water Commissioner John Barnes is a former University of North Florida student body president. He launched his campaign with a major endorsement from former Jacksonville Mayor and UNF President John Delaney.

John Barnes and Nick Howland come out with competing endorsements.

Republican Nick Howland is endorsed by U.S. Rep. John Rutherford and state Rep. Wyman Duggan, who endorsed Monday.

“I’ve known Nick Howland for years,” Duggan said. “Like me, Nick is a veteran, a conservative, served on our City’s Charter Revision Commission, and sent his children through Duval County Public Schools. Nick’s career is a profile in service — at the federal, state, and local levels.”

“I’m thrilled to have Rep. Duggan’s endorsement in my run for City Council,” said Howland. “He stands strong for our conservative values in Tallahassee, and I will do the same in City Hall.”

Expect more such endorsements.

A third Republican, Howland “Howdy” Russell, has also filed; he’s a political newcomer.

Two Democrats are also running.

Democrat Tracye Polson is the choice of establishment Democrats such as Sen. Audrey Gibson, Reps. Tracie Davis and Angie Nixon, and expected 2023 mayoral candidate Donna Deegan. Polson is who Hazouri wanted to succeed her, and she has declared the district a “Democratic seat.”

Polson raised $51,000 in her first week in the race, which she calls an “outpouring of support.”

She’s also touting an endorsement from Ruth’s List.

“Ruth’s List is wasting no time in lending support to her race,” said Lucy Sedgwick, president and CEO of Ruth’s List Florida. “As someone who went back to college while working full time and raising a family — and a breast cancer survivor — Tracye is as resilient and determined as they come. She understands the needs of the Jacksonville community and will bring transparent and thoughtful leadership to the City Council. We’re excited to be supporting her once again in this race.”

A second Democrat, James “Coach” Jacobs, also is in the field. He is not a strong fundraiser, with under $1,000 raised despite being in for months.

Garrison in

Democrat Charles Garrison lacks the advantage that current Council member Priestly Jackson has in the at-large District 5 race in 2023, but his candidacy definitely will deepen the field and dialogue.

Garrison, chair of the Water Committee on Jacksonville’s Environmental Protection Board, is also on the Board of Directors of JASMYN, Jacksonville’s LGBTQ youth services organization. His campaign will prioritize that diversity.

Charles Garrison runs on diversity.

“I am honored for the opportunity to serve the community in which I was raised. Jacksonville is an extremely diverse community, and it has grown exponentially over the last decade. Like many living in Duval, I am tired of hearing about Jacksonville’s potential — I am ready to see that potential realized,” Garrison said.

“Over my career, I have seen how we can bring real change to our communities by coming together, despite our differences, and advocating for the issues that matter,” Garrison added. “No matter our race, gender identity, who we love, or what ZIP code we live in, everyone in Jacksonville deserves the same access to guaranteed housing, clean water, and well-paying jobs. I know I can be the leader our city needs to build us forward.”

Being a 2023 race, it’s early.

So far, Republican Chris Miller is the leading fundraiser, with $65,000 raised. Neither Priestly Jackson nor Libertarian Jerry Rohrbaugh appear to have begun fundraising in earnest.

Assuming none of the four clears a majority in the March 2023 First Election, the top two vote-getters move on to May’s General Election.

Chair again

A familiar name will helm the Board of the Jacksonville Aviation Authority for the following year. Ray Alfred, who chaired the JAA Board from 2015 to 2016, is back in the top spot.

He was the previous vice-chair.

“Ray Alfred has a record of long, distinguished service to our community, and I am excited for him to lead our Board over the next year,” said Mark VanLoh, JAA’s chief executive officer. “As we rebound from the COVID-related challenges presented to the aviation industry, we are fortunate to have this caliber of leadership in place with our new officers.”

Ray Alfred returns to lead the Jacksonville Aviation Authority.

Alfred was first appointed to the Board by former Mayor Alvin Brown. Curry retained and reappointed him.

Meanwhile, as Jay Demetree moved into the vice-chair position, we have a good sense of who next year’s chair will be.

Downtown is booming

Former Mayor Brown often used that phrase, and the aspirational spirit still applies, with a decidedly optimistic State of Downtown report rolled out this week from Downtown Vision.

“Despite the challenging last few years, investors are targeting Downtown Jacksonville more than ever before,” said Jake Gordon, Downtown Vision CEO.

Investors are flocking to Downtown, says Jake Gordon. Image via Jacksonville Daily Record.

“Catalyzed by our elected officials at the City of Jacksonville, the Downtown Investment Authority and a supportive business climate, investment and development in Downtown are surging. As we continue to recover, Downtown is poised for even more success as we continue to recover, making Jacksonville an even better city and supporting our whole region. A better Downtown helps all of Jacksonville.”

The report highlights positive metrics. One surprise: Downtown hotel occupancy is back to 72%. That was where the rate was back in January 2020, pre-pandemic.

People are living Downtown too — 7,000 of them, a number up 40% in five years. Projects in the pipeline will push that number to 12,000. And that’s just the beginning.

Read the full report.

JAXPORT chair

The Jacksonville Port Authority Board of Directors unanimously elected financial services executive Wendy O. Hamilton as chair.

Hamilton is a certified financial planner who works as president of Eventide Investments of Florida. She has over 25 years of financial service and asset management experience and specializes in multi-manager and multigenerational portfolios.

Hamilton also participates in numerous community service initiatives, including the Women’s Giving Alliance, and is a former Board member of The Bolles School and the YWCA/Community Connections.

Wendy Hamilton takes the wheel at JAXPORT.

In addition to Hamilton, the Board also elected Bridgestone HosePower CEO J. Palmer Clarkson as vice-chair, attorney Daniel Bean as Treasurer and Memorial Hospital president, and CEO Brad Talbert as secretary.

“I am thrilled to serve as Chair during this time of incredible growth and opportunity for our port,” she said. ”From harbor deepening and the build-out of the Blount Island terminal to rising to the business challenges created by the pandemic, CEO Green and the port’s leadership team have done an incredible job positioning JAXPORT for the future. The JAXPORT team has the full support of our Board as we work together to maximize the jobs and business opportunities a modern deep-water seaport creates for our community.”

Hamilton and the other newly elected Board officers will serve a term beginning Oct. 1 and ending Sept. 30, 2022.

18 and life

For the first half of Sunday’s game with Arizona, the Jaguars looked like a team ready to put its losing ways behind them. Unfortunately, it’s a two-half game, and instead of celebrating, Jacksonville was left to ponder its 18th consecutive loss.

The undefeated Cardinals did what top teams do when confronted with a challenge. They overcame a six-point halftime deficit with a dominating run in the final 30 minutes to secure a 31-19 victory.

It’s been a record-breaking run for the Jaguars, and not in a good way. Image via Jaguars.

“We’re going to get this thing going,” Jags coach Urban Meyer said. “I know I said that last week. Our players played their asses off. We just have to eliminate some mistakes and learn how to win. The locker room is as good a locker room as I’ve ever had.”

The loss left Jacksonville tied with the 1972-73 Houston Oilers for the fifth-longest losing streak in NFL history. If the Jaguars lose Thursday’s game at Cincinnati, they will tie the Detroit Lions and Oakland Raiders for the third-longest streak.

They are still 10 losses away from equaling the longest losing streak of 29, set by the Chicago Cardinals throughout four seasons.

Jags quarterback Trevor Lawrence had another rough day Sunday, throwing two more interceptions and losing two fumbles.

The critical mistake was a botched flea-flicker attempt the Jags attempted while leading 19-17. Under heavy pressure, Lawrence’s pass was intercepted and returned for an Arizona touchdown.

It was all downhill from there.

“As far as making better decisions, that’s got to change for sure,” Lawrence said. “But I’ve got to be the same guy. I still have to go play; I can’t play timid, not take any shots or chances. I feel like I am learning a lot.”

The Jags have a short week to prepare for Thursday’s game against the 2-1 Bengals. It will feature the top selections in the last two NFL drafts — Lawrence, and Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow.

Staff Reports



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