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Foreclosure auction Thursday for Jax Councilor’s BBQ sauce plant

From sauce to loss, the story continues.

Thursday sees a foreclosure auction of the former Jerome Brown BBQ sauce plant in Northwest Jacksonville.

There is an interesting gap between the assessed value of the plant ($958,700) and the final judgement amount ($2,795,533.89).

CoWealth LLC, one of Councilwoman Katrina Brown‘s family’s shell companies, entered into an economic development deal with the city of Jacksonville, with a Small Business Administration loan helping the Browns secure the warehouse on Commonwealth Ave.

The cheerless space, an older building in one of Jacksonville’s more economically distressed areas, was intended to be a job creator for the neighborhood — 56 jobs were to be created, and the idea was that Jerome Brown BBQ sauce would be a national success story.

Alas, it didn’t quite go down like that, and now everyone is suing the Browns’ companies for whatever they can get

CoWealth originally borrowed $2.65 million from Biz Capital, via the SBA loan, in addition to $380,000 of loans from the city of Jacksonville and $220,000 of grants, for the sauce plant.

However, after five years plus, the plant created exactly zero permanent jobs, 56 jobs short of the 56 job goal.

And now everyone wants their money.

The city of Jacksonville is suing the companies for $220,000 in clawback money for failure to satisfy the agreement; however, Biz Capital will get paid first, as Jacksonville is subordinate to the primary creditor.

Despite the failure of the BBQ sauce plant and the legal morass described over and over again on our site, the fortunes of the companies’ title manager have only gotten more favorable.

Brown is a first-term Jacksonville City Councilwoman who will spend her second straight year ensconced on the Finance Committee, in which capacity she evaluates economic development deals that, in all likelihood, will work out better in terms of tangible goals than the BBQ sauce swamp in which millions of dollars of incentive money was sunk this decade.

Brown, who drives a Porsche SUV, had shown up recently at the Jacksonville City Council for an Ethics Meeting, at which point we attempted to ask her the status of this case.

“I continue to tell you no comment. You can ask me a thousand times and I would still say no comment,” Brown said.

This sad story goes unremarked on the record by anyone in City Hall, as they like Brown and are too polite to offer criticism.

Union head, Council leaders laud Lenny Curry family leave proposal

In a move that will certainly shore up union support for his likely-uncontested re-election bid, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry rolled out a paid family leave proposal Thursday for all city employees.

Family leave for city workers was an agenda item for Curry, which the administration had to get pension reform resolved to make happen.

This is, we are told, part of a larger commitment to ensuring that city policy facilitates strong, healthy families, a comprehensive vision that will encompass reforms of programs involving what Curry calls “at-hope kids,” and economically-challenged neighborhoods.

“I know first-hand the tremendous value and benefit our family received when Molly was able to stay home with our new babies. I believe all families deserve an environment where parents and newborns get an opportunity to bond without the worry of work demands and stresses of a reduced income,” Curry said.

Sen. Marco Rubio, meanwhile, added the following in the press release.

“I’m excited Mayor Curry is working to provide paid family leave to City of Jacksonville employees,” said Senator Marco Rubio. “From the rising cost of living to the historically high cost of raising children, affordable family formation is one of the great social challenges of our time.”

Conceptually, the proposal aligns with talk from the Donald Trump administration, where Ivanka Trump has spoken out in favor of family leave policies.

Meanwhile, City Council President-Designate Anna Brosche, who will be President later Thursday after an installation ceremony, offered conceptual support — a quote not in the press release.

“I conceptually agree with the Mayor’s plan to support families and provide a great start for children. The Mayor’s history shows he doesn’t introduce proposals without study and understanding fiscal impact. I look forward to seeing the details and timeline,” Brosche told us Thursday morning.

Incoming Finance Chair Garrett Dennis — an important ally as this will have a financial impact — likewise backed the play.

“As usual,” Dennis told us Thursday morning, “Mayor Curry puts families first.  Whether it is promoting safe neighborhoods, creating jobs, or helping kids learn how to swim to prevent drowning, Mayor Curry is always thinking about improving the quality of life of every citizen in Jacksonville.   I can’t wait to see the details and I will be a partner with the Mayor as he works to improve lives in our city.”

And Fraternal Order of Police head Steve Zona likewise lauded the Mayor’s move.

“I have always told people that work with me “family first always”. There is nothing more important. I applaud Mayor Curry for his leadership on this issue and willingness to take a bold step in that direction,” Zona said.

While costs of the plan have not been disclosed, the conceptual support and the obvious need for the initiative, coupled with Curry’s own political machine and capital, mean that any resistance to this proposal likely is futile.

 

More state House members endorse Jay Fant

For the second straight week, Rep. Jay Fant rolled out more endorsements from State House colleagues.

The troika of endorsements, announced Wednesday afternoon, include Reps. Chuck Clemons, Jason Fischer, and Bobby Payne.

Fischer is a member of the Duval Delegation, and the first to endorse him. Payne represents Putnam and Clay Counties. Clemons hails from Newberry.

“I’m honored to add these colleagues and friends to the list of leaders backing our campaign,” said Fant. “They are conservatives with a vision to improve our schools, create jobs, and keep us safe.  I look forward to continuing to work with them in our drive to make Florida the best economy in the world.”

Last week, Fant announced backing from Rep. Mike Miller of Orlando; Rep. Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs; Rep. Rene Plasencia of Titusville; Rep. Joe Gruters of Sarasota; Rep. Stan McClain of Belleview; Rep. Colleen Burton of Lakeland; and Rep. Julio Gonzalez of Venice.

Anna Brosche, Lenny Curry discuss the path forward

Jacksonville City Council President-Designate Anna Brosche was not Mayor Lenny Curry‘s first choice for Council President – a term starting later this week — according to some sources.

But the two first-term Republicans are pragmatists, and with Curry a believer in the importance of relationship building, a notable event on the Mayor’s Tuesday schedule was a meeting with Brosche and Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa.

So, how did it go? We asked both Curry and Brosche their thoughts.

On Tuesday afternoon, Brosche said it was a good meeting, but in terms of potential pyrotechnics, there were little to be found.

The goal: “to establish good, open lines of communication,” with the idea of having a “great third year.”

Whether Curry backed Brosche or John Crescimbeni in the Council President race, Brosche said, was ultimately not relevant in the current context.

“You can’t make money yesterday,” Brosche said.

Specifics — such as an expected expansion to the capital improvement program budget — were not discussed.

However, on what Brosche called the “eve of transition” between one Council Presidency and the next, the incoming Council President and the Mayor established a dialogue — an important move for both as they prepare for the year ahead.

On Wednesday, Curry offered his own take on a “standard meeting,” one designed to continue the trend of “two years of winning.”

When asked if he had concerns about a Finance Committee that will be different in both policy and rhetoric than that of the last two years, including a Democrat majority on Finance and frequent GOP gadfly Danny Becton as Vice-Chair, Curry said he wasn’t worried.

“I don’t view Council as groups,” Curry said, “but as individuals.”

Curry noted also that his first two budgets had allocations for the entire city, and his third budget will be no different.

The Capital Improvement Budget, he said. will include “some of what you’ve seen the last two years …. core stuff,” including such as “road resurfacing.”

The holistic goal, as it’s been for two years now: “to keep working together, to keep winning.”

Whatever internal Sturm und Drang there may have been about the Council Leadership race, Curry seems to believe that going forward, it is business as usual.

Lenny Curry on beach restoration: ‘We’re done’

Duval County’s beaches took a hit from Hurricane Matthew last year. As another Hurricane Season is upon us, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, Beaches Mayors, and Jacksonville City Councilman Bill Gulliford discussed beach restoration on Wednesday in Atlantic Beach.

Among those efforts: beach re-nourishment, planting of dune vegetation, dune restoration, and other efforts via the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to ensure that Duval’s beaches provide a protective buffer for beach communities.

While Jacksonville still waits for $26M from FEMA for reimbursement from damages created by the last storm, these ongoing beach recovery efforts continue, Curry and the Beaches Mayors said Wednesday.

“This is an example of government working,” Curry said, of recognizing the “urgency” of the “crisis” and reacting.

This project — a “culmination of what we’ve seen in Jacksonville the last couple of years” in terms of cooperation — was completed despite the Beaches being “devastated” by Hurricane Matthew.

“Bill Gulliford stepped up, the Mayors stepped up,” Curry said.

Of the $22 million that went into beach restoration, $7.5M of that came from the Jacksonville City Council, and Councilman Bill Gulliford was key in ensuring those funds came to pass.

Gulliford, who lives just a short walk from the presser, deemed it “incredible” that dunes are getting restored so quickly.

“The Mayor was behind us the whole time,” Gulliford noted.

There’s still work to do, of course, beyond restoration.

The Jacksonville Beach pier lost 300 feet of span in Hurricane Matthew; Gulliford noted that assessment is underway to determine what can be saved and, perhaps, reused — though there is no fixed timetable for when that may come to pass.

And lessons were learned also: Atlantic Beach Mayor Mitch Reeves noted that his city and other beach communities are looking to fund walkovers, instead of walk throughs; the idea is to curb erosion during severe storms.

Sea oats — 620,000 of them — are being planted. And the Army Corps of Engineers has provided 5,000 cubic yards of sand for spot repairs.

Lori Boyer looks back on a consequential Jax Council Presidency

Jacksonville City Council President Lori Boyer gaveled out her last meeting Tuesday, one with its share of contentious moments on a couple of bills, contention that reflected the aftermath of a power struggle on Council related to the race to replace her.

However, before all of that, Boyer had quite a year.

On her watch, the Council ratified pension reform — a priority of the city for years now, and one that closed the city’s defined benefit plans to new hires.

The long and winding road of getting pension reform through the voters via referendum, then through the unions in collective bargaining, then through the City Council to ratify the deals — that was completed under Boyer’s watch.

That closed the extant defined benefit pension plans to new hires, creating a new defined contribution plan for them, a mechanism which  — when combined with a future revenue source via a sales tax extension that kicks in by 2030 — offers some budget relief that will go to infrastructure and new hires for long-suffering city departments.

As well, the Council ratified an expanded Human Rights Ordinance, protecting civil liberties for the city’s LGBT population.

That issue had plagued city government for most of the decade, with failed expansion attempts in 2012 and 2016. Boyer was able to ensure the integrity of the process, handling the heated discussions from proponents and opponents in a way that codified protections for LGBT people that didn’t impact religious institutions — a key worry of the religious right.

And Boyer also spearheaded an initiative of value to her personally: waterways activation.

On Wednesday morning, Boyer discussed these matters and more with FloridaPolitics.com.

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Boyer noted, as she prepares to hand the gavel over to Anna Brosche (whom she thinks will be a great Council President), that she is happy to be “free of the imposed neutrality” that comes with being Council President.

Boyer, in the past, watched Council Presidents “challenge others from the chair,” and that doesn’t work well — so she maintained neutrality in policy discussions, serving as a facilitator of the debate.

And that facilitation proved key on issues like pension reform and the HRO; in each case, her process was that of a “deliberate structure,” with a “beginning, middle, and end in sight.”

That structure allowed her to make sure people’s questions and concerns were addressed, so that they didn’t feel “bulldozed,” and so they did feel that a “full debate” was held.

On pension reform, Boyer saw herself as the manager of the process, balancing the timeline that the Lenny Curry Administration had on pension reform with the need to work through process “hiccups” and the need to get information about some things that were less than clear early on.

The referendum, and the Council vote for it, represented a “decision,” Boyer said, that the “sales tax mechanism” that kicks in by 2030 was a “viable tool to pay the debt.”

The bridge, Boyer said, was already crossed by the time Council voted to ratify the collective bargaining agreements.

While Boyer “may have negotiated something different” with the public sector unions, all of which got generous raises during collective bargaining, the choice was clear: to “accept it as proposed or come back next year with a different version.”

“No one argued that,” Boyer said.

Ultimately, Boyer said, the city is in a better place because of the reforms, which are not just a “short-term thing,” but a way to earmark revenue to a problem that had stymied the city for years.

Pension reform: “a huge win for our city,” Boyer said, with a “lot of credit” due to Curry and his team.

Regarding the hot-button HRO issue, Boyer noted that the debates of 2012 and 2016 offered a foundation for what happened this year. Lots of opinions and specifics had been advanced previously.

“This was not a brand new issue,” Boyer related, with “debates around the country and here” ahead of the Council vote this year.

Boyer gave the committees room to operate, not forcing votes. But she had a predilection.

“I’m action oriented. Either do something or don’t, but stop talking about it,” Boyer said, even as she wondered if the Council was at a place where “we have consensus or not.”

As well, Boyer noted that issues like the HRO can “exhaust the Council to where they don’t get other things done.”

In that context, she wanted — and got — an orderly process, and the issue in Jacksonville’s rear view mirror.

Meanwhile, waterway activation, said Boyer, still has a way to go.

“It’s not well-understood at this point,” Boyer said, adding that it’s more than just boat docks and expanding the Riverwalk; indeed, it’s an issue of civic identity.

She noted that when on an economic development trip to London, she had given thought to the lackluster nature of Jacksonville’s brand, which can and should be more than generically asserting that Jacksonville is a place to live, work, and play — especially in light of the city’s unique assets.

“1,200 miles of shorelines,” Boyer related, and a “downtown river … that compares to all the great river cities,” and beaches that compare with others in the state, along with Talbot Island and preserve areas that are “every bit as interesting as Asheville.”

The river and those assets have been a draw, Boyer said, for everyone from the Timicuan Indians to the United States Navy — and in that context, waterway activation is akin to civic activation, with potential ROI huge given that the city has “already built so much of this.”

“It needs to be marketed,” Boyer said, to “tell a story that includes our history,” a story that is genuine and authentic.

The city could build a narrative around what could be done on the water here: Jacksonville’s unique value add, which could solve both economic development and branding problems — if the assets are maximized.

Looking at the Council as it is and as it will be next year, Boyer is encouraged by the development of those first-term members who served as chairs of committees; they “learned the role and understand the process.”

Others, she suggested, can stand to develop “maturity in the relationship aspects” of being on Council.

“The risk is in not knowing how the process works … there’s always another bill, another occasion, another deal where you’ve got to work with somebody.”

Jax City Council greenlights opioid treatment pilot program

The skinny: A bill that got pilloried while making its way through committees — $1.5M for a six-month opioid treatment program — passed the Jacksonville City Council Tuesday night.

The vote: 16-1, with Danny Becton as the no vote … after a lot of noise and drama, documented below.

But as in committees, discussion was robust at times. And surreal at others. And — underneath it all — intensely personal against the sponsor, with a cadre of Councilors pulling out every procedural trick imaginable to kill the bill and to frustrate said sponsor.

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Specifics of the bill: Councilman Bill Gulliford‘s bill, intended to address the mounting body count from fentanyl and derivatives, would see a local emergency room used as a feeder for two in-patient treatment programs, which would (at least in theory) help some of Jacksonville’s addicts beat the habit.

Gateway and River Region would be the in-patient facilities; UF Health will be involved to aggregate data, and a competitive process will determine the ER facility that would feed them (likely, St. Vincent’s in Riverside).

The program includes the following: residential treatment; outpatient services; medication costs, physician fees; access to medical and psychiatric treatment; and urine fentanyl test strips.

The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department was going to coordinate with the Florida Department of Health to identify participants, but a floor amendment struck that condition.

Factors such as reduction of recidivism, relapse, and other indicators will be metrics of success — key, given that one of the pervasive impacts is repeated emergency calls involving the same users, sometimes multiple times in a day.

Drug testing, early and often, will be a hallmark of the program — covering all substances of abuse and analogues thereof, including fentanyl and carfentanil.

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Weirdness started early: Discussion Tuesday night got weird. Because of course.

A speaker discussed her expectations of getting funding from the program for her non-profit, which confused Council members, and got Councilman Garrett Dennis to ask why she thought she would be getting funds.

The explanation was perplexing, and Dennis wanted to ask Gulliford about why she thought she was getting money, but had to wait to reprise the committee contretemps from a week prior.

Gulliford instead discussed the crisis — mentioning drug dealers, unscrupulous doctors, and the people dying, at a rate of two a day, in the streets and elsewhere.

“Some have asked what is the rush … ask someone close to” one of the victims, Gulliford said.

“Doing nothing and continuing to repeat this folly is not an option,” Gulliford added.

Councilman Jim Love spoke up in favor of the program.

“If this works, we may see the 700 [overdose victims projected for 2017] drop,” Love said.

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Floor Amendment Gets Pulled: Dennis, a co-sponsor of the bill, offered a floor amendment to appropriate half of the $1.5M for a three month period; the other half would be dropped into a contingency pending a report on “exactly where the program is and how much progress it made.”

Dennis will be Finance Chair starting in July.

This met with “hesitance” from the administering doctor, Dr. Raymond Pomm, given his intention to review the program regularly anyway.

“The $1.4M is fully budgeted for,” Pomm protested. “Every single penny.”

Dennis compared the allocation to a $25,000 allocation for swimming lessons in last September’s budget, damning the program as a “work in progress.”

“The nineteen of us, we have to be very good stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars,” Dennis said. “I do feel like they need to come back to make sure there is return on investment.”

Gulliford urged that his colleagues vote against the floor amendment, saying that “trouble” could ensue if funding got held up, and that most of the commitments have been finalized with service providers.

Other issues brought up: the need to standardize outpatient and in-patient treatment among the providers, and the need to make sure the pilot program works efficaciously, serving 100 people a month.

Councilman Reggie Brown reiterated claims made in committee about the perceived lack of specifics in the program.

“I’d like to see the plan … I’d like to see the contract … I don’t oppose the bill … what I oppose is the process,” Brown said in support of the Dennis floor amendment.

Eventually, Dennis dangled the possibility of withdrawing his floor amendment — but said that more “dialogue” and “information” needed to be provided about the program that Gulliford discussed in committees last week.

Jacksonville CFO Mike Weinstein noted, in response to a question, that the bill came out of an emergency in Council; the administration supports the bill, but has no guarantees as to how the program will work out.

With the floor amendment dead, Dennis continued thundering into the mike about “$1.4M of taxpayers’ money,” before the discussion moved on.

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Re-referral Motion: The discussion continued, with a rift between Gulliford and those who hadn’t paid attention to the plan as it was laid out in recent weeks.

For Gulliford, the $1.4M pales in comparison to rescue transport hard costs, and other soft costs related to the overdose epidemic — including taxing the resources of city personnel.

In a different time, with a different power dynamic on Council, Gulliford would have an easier time making his case.

But, marginalized on Council, the moral authority he brought to the discussion — and the months he spent raising awareness of the problem, and attempting to figure out a way forward — was rendered moot in discussion with a few councilors … even though he likely had the votes, as none of the 17 people in attendance were willing or able to just call the question and put the circular discussion out of its misery.

A representative of JFRD noted that there were checks and balances in the program, and Gulliford tried to close.

“We can keep kicking this dead horse,” Gulliford said, “but it’s pretty obvious what we need to do.”

It wasn’t obvious to Danny Becton, who said that Gulliford was trying to “guilt council members to death over people dying.”

“I’m not going to be guilted into pressing the green button,” Becton vowed. “Where’s your business plan? I don’t see it. I see a white paper about a 10,000 foot view of what you want to do here.”

“You can look at other colleagues,” Becton said, ” and say help me here.”

However, Becton predicted that the program had a 90 percent chance of flopping, and that the documentation provided didn’t meet his muster.

“I’m not comfortable sitting here and making a $1.4M decision … people are dying every day … we can’t solve everything,” Becton said, wanting the bill re-referred to Finance — where he would be Vice-Chair, and where the most strenuous objectors would be able to vote it down.

Gulliford found the re-referral “questionable,” given the fact that the bill cleared committees — with only one no vote. And questionable, given Narcan costs are spiking, and estimated transportation costs are approaching $5M this year.

Councilman Brown (who will also be on Finance starting next month) backed Becton’s play, saying the bill was “like a guilt thing,” without clear parameters.

“I support the bill — I do. We just need to make sure we ensure the taxpayers’ money was well spent,” Brown said, urging a one-cycle deferral.

Councilman Dennis — again, the next Finance Chair — urged a deferral.

“Dr. Pomm says St. Vincent’s is on board, but I don’t see St. Vincent’s on here … we’re going to push $1.4M on a guilt trip … I support fighting opioids, but I don’t want to be guilted into voting for this emergency tonight,” Dennis thundered, hitting his stride in demagogic high dudgeon.

And Councilwoman Brown spoke up again, as most of her colleagues slumped over, exhausted from the circular debate.

Brown, who has refused comment for a year on a failed economic development deal her family business had with the city, which now includes a $210,000 lawsuit against her shell companies, castigated Dr. Pomm for a lack of transparency.

“Death is death,” Brown said.

Mercifully, Councilman Greg Anderson called the question on re-referral. The re-referral motion failed.

____

Bill discussion resumed, proof that if there is a God, he is a vengeful one, with particular punishment for those following city government for some masochistic reason.

The same points that were made for the last week in committee — made again.

Councilman Reggie Brown chastised locals (as he did in committee last week) for not applying for a portion of the $27M of state funds that filtered down from the Trump Administration.

“It’s obvious that folks are behind this,” Brown said, “for whatever reason.”

Gulliford fired back to Councilman Brown’s objection that the bill didn’t conform to “process,” noting that a four-week delay would coincide with 58 more overdose deaths — the human toll of the “crisis in front of us.”

For Becton, that was just a “guilt trip … a wing and a prayer” — and he vowed to push the red button, voting against a key bill from the man who beat him in a 2011 election for City Council.

Dennis then introduced another amendment, asking for the money to be moved “under the purview of the Mayor” for “oversight.”

Gulliford noted that Fire and Rescue was part of the administration; that wasn’t good enough for Dennis. He wanted CFO Mike Weinstein to handle it.

Of course, Gulliford added, the program could simply be shifted to administration by JFRD — with Weinstein’s green light.

The amendment carried by a show of hands.

And the question was called.

In tennis game of court motions, it’s Corrine Brown’s serve

Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown has already seen the government’s response to her motions for acquittal and a new trial in her court case.

Federal prosecutors oppose both the acquittal motion and the motion for a new trial.

The feds contend, contra Brown’s contention, that evidence was actually sufficient to convict her of 18 of 22 counts in her fraud trial for phantom educational charity One Door for Education.

And, despite best efforts from Brown’s attorney, James W. Smith III, the feds still don’t believe that the Holy Spirit’s ineffable input is compatible with evidentiary-based reasoning as to the former Congresswoman’s innocence or guilt, calling that argument a “self-serving view of the facts” that ignores voluminous case law in a vain attempt to prove that the removal of the Holy Roller was a miscarriage of justice.

Smith had filed for a leave to reply, contending that “Ms. Brown contends that the dismissal of Juror 13 violated
her Sixth Amendment rights to a unanimous verdict, and to a jury of her peers. This contention raises important and novel questions about the role religious beliefs may play in the deliberations of individual jurors. More specifically, it raises important and novel questions about the extent to which the Court may investigate and eliminate religious beliefs from the deliberations of individual jurors.”

Important and “novel,” or not, time is a-wastin’.

With former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown set to launch a run for Brown’s former Congressional seat once Corrine Brown is out of the news and into federal custody, time is of the essence to pull the final curtain on Motion Theater.

And Judge Timothy Corrigan set limits Tuesday on a response to the prosecutors’ rejection of a new trial motion and acquittal motion: no more than a ten-page memo on each, due no later than Jul. 7.

That date is almost one year after Brown’s 2016 indictment, one which effectively ended her political career and delivered her House seat to political veteran Al Lawson of Tallahassee.

Jax Mayor’s Office reviews Downtown Investment Authority budget

The office of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry reviewed the Downtown Investment Authority budget on Tuesday; below, some highlights.

One interesting point out of this — LaVilla development plans are moving apace, with DIA working with consultants.

Also in consultant mode: the downtown parking study, as DIA is responsible for downtown parking now.

Parking revenues are down $152,000 a year, with hourly parking removed from the Water St. garage being the primary mover. Monthly parking in the space is less lucrative.

Fines and forfeitures: also down, $189,000 year over year.

Credit card fees are up, driven by facility meters and on-street meters. Another 300 electronic, credit card accepting meters are on their way as well.

In that vein, hardware and software fees are up, a function of tracking software for these devices.

Meanwhile, there is $270,000 — give or take — available in cash carryover for enhancement requests.

DIA seeks $275,000 for a capital purchase, to add to $275,000 allocated last year, for five garages — specifically entry control systems. These are not leasable, and theoretically last 20 years.

DIA also wants a new vehicle, to be dedicated to four additional Southbank properties that will bring in $12,000 a year total.

Roughly $170,000 of interest accumulated, meanwhile, is sought for historical preservation costs, which could include the Barnett Bank building.

 

Fireworks animate Jax Public Works budget review

The annual review of departmental budgets continued Tuesday morning in the office of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, with Public Works on tap.

Though not exactly a hot topic, the discussion was made more lively by repeated questions from the Mayor’s Budget Review Committee to Public Works people about specific line items.

And made more lively still, as Public Works noted that more people are needed for the city’s ambitious capital improvement plan — which may get more ambitious still in the July budget.

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Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa noted early in the meeting that pending Council legislation will authorize a city arborist for purposes of tree mitigation.

In terms of “performance indicators,” some interesting tidbits:

Pavement management came up early; 92 miles of a total 100 projected have been resurfaced, rejuvenated, or microsurfaced in the past year, said a Public Works rep.

Grass mowing, an eternal struggle for the city, is under projections this year; Mousa observed that it will “blow up” as the summer progresses. There is a cost impact: in the stormwater fund alone, $1.8M is allocated for mowing around retention ponds and the like.

Sign and signal inspections also piqued Mousa’s interest, as he wants more detail on what the inspector is doing, especially when working at night.

A discussion of a preventive maintenance contract on traffic signals also was a point of discussion, including what are called more stringent requirements of both checking and documentation by FDOT.

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Also of note: a discussion of workers comp allocation in public works — an increase in $525,000, according to Mousa — was disputed, with Public Works saying the allocation was essentially “flat” year over year.

LED Streetlight Conversions, meanwhile, are “ripping and running” per Public Works, with 56,000 of 113,000 streetlights converted, and cost savings beginning to surface.

Mousa was surprised, meanwhile, by a general fund allocation for remediating illegal dumping.

After less than half an hour, Mousa raised a troubling question: “How closely was this budget scrutinized?”

The discussion was nowhere near wrapped, however.

Capital projects, such as the Florida Theater, had shortfalls in allocations for workers — which means that the department was working “pro bono” at times.

“There’s only so many people in Engineering, 27 FTEs,” Public Works noted.

Mousa noted that “depending on what the Mayor does with CIP, there could be significant capital projects — could be.”

Public Works, while “super-grateful for capital money,” maintains that a staff shortfall still exists.

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“How do you take into consideration all of the new development and how they will pay for stormwater fees,” Mousa wondered.

Historical growth factors in. As are discussions with the Building Department. And the city’s User Fee system.

Mousa seemed less than convinced, and the discussion bogged down into one of revenue and billing and money transfers.

The user fee increase, YOY in budget: $134,000. Revenues will be up, year over year, over a million dollars.

Mousa wanted verification, showing more disquiet with a budget more elastic than he would like.

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General liability insurance premiums: up $114,000.

“That’s a pretty big jump,” CFO Mike Weinstein remarked. “Such a big percentage increase.”

The theory: that the jump is claims-driven.

This departmental bump is unique to Public Works.

Mousa wanted more insight into the claims process.

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Enhancement requests were relatively sparse.

The department wants more money for hazardous tree removal, which is not doable out of the tree mitigation fund. An extra $250,000 was moved over this current year, pushing the total near $1.1M, with $955,000 dealing with hazard trees.

There may — or may not — be more money in the budget for this.

Mousa also had advice regarding sidewalk remediation, urging the department to pile on “one or two panel jobs” onto contractors already enlisted for bigger projects.

Mousa also wants to put $6,000 into the fund, for various real estate appraisals PW is tasked with. That money won’t go very far, but the department has it to work with.

 

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