Jacksonville Archives - Florida Politics

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.

 

Will the Anna Brosche era be trouble for Lenny Curry?

Just as there are some who look at a tranquil lake and assume the depths are likewise tranquil, there are those who look at a change of leadership in Jacksonville’s City Council and assume a similar tranquility.

For the previous two years, that was true. When Greg Anderson in 2015 and Lori Boyer in 2016 took over the Council Presidency, there was no disquiet in the office of Mayor Lenny Curry.

For two years, there was a calming sameness to events like the August budget consideration in the Finance Committee. While an issue here or there may have been noteworthy, by and large the Mayor’s proposed budget that he released in July ended up becoming codified by ordinance ahead of the Oct. 1 beginning of the fiscal year.

One city, one Jacksonville.

The 2017-18 Council year will be different, however. There will be more pushback.

One major reason: according to some strong backers of the Anna Brosche campaign for Council President, the Mayor’s Office (and allies) went “all in.”

All in, that is, for Council VP John Crescimbeni.

Multiple extremely credible sources have claimed that a senior staffer in the Mayor’s Office — one who deals with Council regularly — was attempting to whip votes for Crescimbeni over Brosche. While that claim was refuted off the record by said staffer, with said staffer asserting that claims of that sort were also made in the past, the narrative is clearly one believed in Council.

Other credible sources have asserted, meanwhile, that the Mayor’s Office is looking for someone to run against certain Council members who backed Brosche over Crescimbeni.

Such narratives can’t be easily refuted — not in the cauldron of gossip that is Jacksonville’s four-story City Hall, a building that once was a May Cohens department store and still does as brisk a business in insider gossip as that store did in mid-priced consumer goods back in the sepia-tinged olden days.

Narratives stick. There are those who say that a big part of a reason John Crescimbeni couldn’t get the votes of his fellow Democrats was that they feel he didn’t understand or care about their districts’ needs. Crescimbeni tried to shake that one, and got the VP slot a year before. But when it came down to running against Brosche, that didn’t fly.

As one backer said, Brosche simply cared more. Her willingness to advocate in real terms for priorities of Jacksonville City Council Districts 7 through 10 was significant … as is her personal history, one that exempts her from consideration for membership in the Good Ol’ Boys club.

So, in that context, Tuesday night is the end of an era.

Tuesday presents the last Jacksonville City Council meeting in which John Crescimbeni is in Council Leadership. And after Tuesday, Crescimbeni is marginalized on committees — but not nearly as badly as Bill Gulliford, who said that he would not serve on a standing committee in Brosche’s administration … and got his wish, despite an attempt to walk it back.

Also marginalized: Councilman Tommy Hazouri, who was described by one Councilor as “having worked harder to get Crescimbeni elected than he worked for himself.” That work, allegedly, included getting Fire Union Head Randy Wyse to pitch Crescimbeni to skeptical councilors.

Hazouri has one committee assignment next term. He wanted Finance. He didn’t get it.

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The changing fortunes of people on City Council are leaving many of those previously empowered apoplectic.

One Council veteran, for example, was rendered “speechless” about committee assignments, which we reported on first last week.

Other veteran pols on the legislative body are getting dishes of comeuppance.

During a discussion last week, Hazouri was barbed by a fellow Democrat, current Rules Chair and incoming Finance Chair Garrett Dennis, a Brosche ally.

“Maybe you’ll chair a committee someday,” Dennis said to Hazouri, in that joking way that was clearly all too real to Hazouri, a man many say was expecting a position on Finance if Crescimbeni got the top job.

Likewise, a bill that normally might have been a feel-good measure of the sort everyone on Council co-sponsors because they want to Do Something became a hotbed of controversy last week in committee.

Councilman Gulliford’s bill to spend $1.5M on a six-month pilot program for opioid treatment got shelled during council panels last week, including a no vote in one committee.

Finance Vice Chair in waiting Danny Becton referred to the opioid program as “taking dollars and throwing them out at something that is not clearly defined.”

“We’re supposed to just say yes to the bill sponsor, but two weeks ago I was getting schooled [by him] … on doing this through the budget process,” Becton said, referring to his bill putting 15 percent of future budget increases into pension relief that got torched in Finance a fortnight ago.

That bill was re-referred, re-worked and deferred — and it will certainly find more traction on Finance in July under the committee’s new configuration.

“Are we tracking the source? Once we bring the individual back from the doorstep of death, we need to ask where the drugs are coming from,” Dennis asserted, characterizing Gulliford’s bill as one longer on proposed hard costs than tangible benefits.

Gulliford is the best operator on Council, in terms of changing debates within the rules. But when the crowd turns on you, it turns on you. And while he may get this bill through to the Mayor’s desk, committees taught him that, for at least the next year, his incontrovertible influence on Council is on the wane.

And in reality, there is this to consider: Tuesday’s meeting may well represent the last hurrah, in a meaningful sense, of those Councilors originally elected in 2011.

While there is no need to bring an autograph book Tuesday night, there will be those who will be looking at the scoreboard by the end of the evening.

And a few people, metaphorically at least, will be staring at the lights.

And while the Mayor’s Office has veto power, and the ability to sit on contracts it doesn’t want to execute, the lingering feeling among Council members was that a power play was made — and failed.

While those on the winning side want to be civil, they also are not afraid to assert prerogatives as the “policy-making body.”

As with all declarations of resolve, it will be interesting to see if this one holds up, and what it means through the summer’s budget process in Council.

$11M in HUD money for Jacksonville for FY 2017

Jacksonville is in line to receive just over $11M in money from Housing and Urban Development for FY 2017, per a letter from HUD dated Jun. 15.

Over half of that sum — $5.661M — will come in through Community Development Block Grants, a category that the Donald Trump Administration has questioned.

This is down significantly from the $17M figure stated by a city employee at a press event promoting CDBGs.

All told, the city has secured almost $400M in CDBGs since 1975.

HOME Investment Partnerships offer another $2.258M.

HOPWA — Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS — deliver another $2.644M.

And Emergency Solutions Grant money comes out to $506,000.

For locals who made a call for CDBGs, such as Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis, this award letter means that — at least for another year — federal money will boost Jacksonville’s budget to deal with populations that need the help.

Given President Trump’s position on these grants, the Curry Administration was agnostic on the future of these programs when asked earlier this year.

“As long as the program exists and funds are available, we will utilize them,” spokeswoman Marsha Oliver said.

Oliver stressed that the mayor was not taking a position on whether the program should or shouldn’t be in existence; however, as budget discussions loom, Curry’s financial team likely will have to factor in the current uncertainty from the White House.

Health Department concerned about infant mortality in Jacksonville

Jacksonville, like all major Florida cities, faces health challenges. And the Health Department budget, via City Hall, is a great starting point to seeing priorities.

One such priority has to do with Jacksonville’s youngest residents: the aftermath of a lapsed co-location with Agape Health Services, which has now secured other space on the Westside. They previously had shared a building on Wesconnett.

The department of health wants to expand its services in that location to make up for the move, including immunization, pregnancy services, and STD testing and care; cost: $150,000.

“We’ve got to fill the void that they left,” said Health Director Kelli Wells. “We anticipate there to be a gap … because it was by virtue of our MOU with them that we were certain they weren’t turning these clients away.”

“Specifically, walk-in immunizations … there are some barriers that are created,” Wells added.

Wells is especially concerned about STD testing and treatment for those between the ages of 15 to 24. Without promotion of these services, the “capture rate” of those who are positive for these diseases could decline.

Also a worry: infant health, in that pivotal first year.

“We could see an uptick in infant mortality in that area,” Wells said, noting that infant mortality jumped five years ago during a rollback in services that required these “at-risk” populations to travel across town to 6th Street.

“If you’re talking about a pregnant mom, what that translates to is no pre-natal care,” Wells said, and “significant risk for infant morbidity.”

Wells sees that $150,000 as start-up costs, with the practice building up toward financial self-sufficiency. That ask is on the fabled “short list’ of potential enhancements after Monday’s budget review.

Another interesting takeaway: the Department of Environmental Protection ceded the city $549,000 for septic tank removal studies and analysis; Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa notes that the money would be better used for removal, as the city has done the study already.

Jax Mayor’s Office plows through Finance & Administration budget

The office of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry continued its budget review Monday, with a romp through the Finance and Administration budget.

The department is more fully-staffed than it was two years ago, when it was “decimated,” per Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa, yet points for discussion abounded.

As is often the case with these hearings, the news bubbles up via anecdotal tidbits.

Mousa noted that there was slight under-performance in payouts for contracts for Jacksonville Small and Emerging Businesses; awards, it was revealed, were on track.

As well, the Jacksonville Beach pier is under contract for review and repair after Hurricane Matthew damage. There may be revenues coming in next year, if a contractor reveals that some of the structure is safe enough for businesses to return.

A discussion followed of converting older files from microfiche to electronic format; no reliable estimate could be provided of that cost, which remains theoretical.

Motor Vehicle Inspection fees are adversely affected by a downtick in Vehicles for Hire revenue (suspending taxi cab medallion inspection fees, as a result of inconclusive rule making relative to Uber/Lyft in Council), which means money to prop that subfund up is coming from the General Fund.

“We really need to make a decision,” CFO Mike Weinstein said.

Money manager fees are up in pension funds; treasurer Joey Greive deemed that to be a “good problem to have,” as pension funds perform well of late.

There are apparently six years of records related to grants, dating back to the Peyton administration, that need to be scanned in. The company contracted to do such went bankrupt; there isn’t the manpower to do such in-house. Mousa urges outsourcing the work, as it would be cheaper than hiring a new employee with benefits and the like.

The department has been doing a lot of additional work, including “cleanup,” in capital projects; the desire is to have an extra FTE to oversee the end of capital projects and ensure that funds are swept and so on for clearer accounting.

 

 

 

Jacksonville Bold for 6.23.17 — New blood rising

The two most powerful people in Jacksonville politics starting in July: Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Council President Anna Brosche.

The two have similarities: introverted personalities, CPAs, Republicans in their mid-40s.

And they have differences — which will soon need resolution.

There are those who lined up with Brosche in the Council presidency race who allege that one of Curry’s senior staff twisted arms to get people to support John Crescimbeni. There are also those who claim Tommy Hazouria Curry ally like Crescimbeni despite being a senior Democrat, had the head of the fire union making calls for Crescimbeni in a classic hell-freezes-over moment.

Brosche, in short, has no incentive to play ball. Allegedly.

Smart folks in City Hall will watch what happens July 17, when Curry drops his budget, and in August, when a reconfigured Finance Committee makes its tweaks to the document … with Sam Mousa and Mike Weinstein from the Mayor’s Office reminding those on hand how the game was played the first two years.

Will the new blood on Finance care? And will Curry’s allies have enough juice?

Of course, Council can’t sign contracts — that’s the mayor’s role. Whatever tension might exist between Council Leadership, and the Mayor’s Office (and the pressure inside Council itself) will need resolution — otherwise, it will be a quotable, newsworthy third year for Lenny Curry … which would not have been the case had Crescimbeni prevailed.

Lots of City Hall in this edition, but there is other news as well. Including a congressman sticking close to President Trump

John Rutherford doesn’t worry about Trump/Russia connection

On Tuesday in Jacksonville, U.S. Rep. John Rutherford — an ally of Donald Trump — discussed the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the parallel investigations of the Trump Administration.

On issue after issue, no daylight between White House and John Rutherford.

“I want them to look at Russia’s attempt to interject themselves into our election process through cyberactivity and all that,” Rutherford said, “but I don’t see any collusion, I don’t think they’re going to find any collusion. It’s been almost six months now.”

“If they were going to find collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, I think it would have already been uncovered. So I’m not concerned at all about that. And I’m also not concerned about this idea that somehow … whatever the conversation was with [former FBI Director James] Comey, obstruction of justice,” Rutherford said.

Rutherford believes that much of the maelstrom around this story is politically motivated.

“Not the investigation that’s dealing with the cyberattack. Obviously, that occurred; we know it occurred; we know it’s been occurring. In fact,” said Rutherford, “we have to address not only the Russian hacking and others — China, others — who hacked not only our voting system but also our electrical grids and all sorts of attacks we’re experiencing.”

New blood rising

Was the fix in? Some in Jacksonville’s City Hall claim a quid pro quo was in play when President-Designate Brosche announced her new committee assignments.

The big takeaway: four African-American Democrats backing her for the presidency ended up on the Finance Committee.

Anna Brosche will be a change agent in the Council presidency.

The priorities of their historically underserved communities will take a prominent place in the budget process, as the city digests its “budget relief” to come. The four members will be a decisive bloc in the process, signaling a shift from previous years.

There is grumbling, of course, from some in City Hall about these picks: off-record comments about “deals” and the like. Whatever the case, though, it worked out in the short term. Brosche got the presidency, and African-American Democrats will call the shots on Finance.

The big losers: Brosche’s opponent, John Crescimbeni, along with key backers Tommy Hazouri and Bill Gulliford — the latter of which vowed early on that he would not serve on a standing committee under Brosche — and that came to pass.

Gulliford noted that he is “conspicuously absent” from committees.

“I offered my services,” Gulliford said, “but I guess she didn’t need me … time for new blood, I guess.”

Offices are being moved. Seating is being shuffled. And the good ol’ boys are having a bad time so far.

Lenny’s Landing

Curry made it clear to the Florida Times-Union editorial board Wednesday that he wants the Jacksonville Landing back under city control.

The riverfront mall, a novelty in 1987, is an eyesore in 2017.

In 1987, the Landing and Rick Astley were among the novelties.

He said he’s made “soft offers” to buy the buildings, but the owners have “drawn a line in the sand.”

“We’ve got a plan internally to put the screws and keep pushing this,” Curry said during a meeting with the Times-Union editorial board. “The city ought to have that property now and be working a plan to find the best and highest use for it, maybe with a private entity, perhaps not.”

Opioid apocalypse

The opioid overdose epidemic continues unabated in Jacksonville, with more details coming out on the city’s strategy to address it.

911 calls for overdoses: up 3x in two years, with 421 this February. $4M of a $1.1B budget for transport, and more money for Narcan.

The proposed plan: $1.5M for a program called “Project Save Lives.”

Bill Gulliford will move to Montana once he leaves Council in 2019. Some of his colleagues will miss him more than others.

A measure of Gulliford’s declining stroke in Council was to be found during committee discussion of the bill; while it got through the panels. Gulliford was buffeted by criticism that bordered on the personal, especially by Finance Chair-Designate Garrett Dennis and Finance Vice Chair-Designate Danny Becton.

What do they pay you to do?

Community Rehabilitation Center, the non-profit run by Councilman Reggie Gaffney, is being sued by a whistleblower who asserts she had to deal with HIV-positive clients without state-mandated training.

Gaffney ducked responsibility, saying that staff trained people, despite the plaintiff arguing that she went to Gaffney but got no recourse — and ended up fired for her trouble.

Reggie Gaffney works Doyle Carter during a meeting in 2016.

Gaffney’s cover story? He was too busy with City Council to handle CRC business. However, Gaffney managed to make $90,000 a year while on City Council — working 50 hours a week, according to CRC’s 2016 tax return.

When we asked Gaffney about these seeming discrepancies Tuesday afternoon, specifically how it was that he was able to spend his “time being a City Councilman,” while pulling down $90,000 a year for a 50-hour workweek, Gaffney offered a “no comment” before asserting that he works “80 hours a week, seven days a week.”

Responsibility for training, he said, rested with his HR person and his staff.

“I do know this: last 24 years, I probably hired 500 or 600 [staffers], and we’ve trained them all the same,” Gaffney said earlier Tuesday.

JEA to move HQ

WOKV reports that JEA has finally worked out a plan to get out from under the JEA Tower, an older building in need of tens of millions of dollars of repair work.

That plan: a land swap.

A view of the tower’s top from Jacksonville City Hall.

“We commissioned a consultant to look at the study for us and look at some of the options that we have for our Downtown campus, and between their work and ours, we’ve concluded the best path forward is to build a new campus,” said chief financial officer Melissa Dykes Tuesday.

The land is adjacent to the Duval County Courthouse, in an area of downtown characterized by sparse, outmoded development and blight.

JTA on the move

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority is making some audacious moves that they hope will offer regional transportation solutions.

Electric buses: part of the conceptual future.

Richard Clark of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority contacted Mayor Curry for support on a federal grant application last week.

“JTA is submitting a Low-No grant application for electric buses that will help serve the Amazon facility on the Northside. This will be the beginning of JTA’s electric vehicle/bus fleet,” Clark wrote in a June 14 email.

The program, asserted Clark, will use JEA’s “Solar Smart” program, which “ensures the powering of the buses will be from their solar system … 100 percent renewable.”

Pols and dignitaries pick up shovels at a long-awaited groundbreaking.

Meanwhile, JTA had a groundbreaking this week on its Regional Transportation Center.

The JTA center, to be constructed in Jacksonville’s historic LaVilla neighborhood, will accommodate Greyhound, Uber, Megabus, the Skyway, First Coast Flyer and other modes of travel, in what is designed to be a regional focus.

Greyhound will go online in January 2018; construction of the whole 50,000 square foot center will be completed by the fall of 2019, a process abetted by JTA having “$33 million in pocket” for the work on the $50M project, one that is expected to turn LaVilla into a “live, work and play” center for this part of town.

Jacksonville mulls raising emergency reserve

Some Jacksonville City Councilors wanted to boost the city’s emergency reserve from 5 percent to 6 percent in January, but were advised to hold off until pension reform was finalized.

With that herculean task complete, the Mayor’s Office is set, via its new budget, to raise that level — though the operating reserve would be cut to 7 percent from 8 percent, meaning reserve levels would be the same.

What’s more thrilling than a discussion of sound accounting practices?

A big story of the budget season has been the Mayor’s Office cautioning various departments that budget relief does not mean a spending spree, with some grousing about Councilors wanting to dip into the general fund for spending outside the budget process.

In that context, the proposed raise of the emergency reserve is significant, in seeing what the priorities of the Curry Administration will be going forward.

Eight ain’t enough

Term limits were imposed by voter plebiscite on the Jacksonville City Council decades back, yet Councilman Matt Schellenberg believes that institutional knowledge outweighs voter predilection.

Don’t throw shade at Matt Schellenberg; his chapeau has that covered.

To that end, he introduced — for the second time in just over a year — legislation to repeal two-term limits.

It would be for councilors, School Board members, and constitutional officers — except for the Mayor.

The legislation cleared committees February but was pulled, as the referendum would have competed with the pension reform referendum on the August ballot, and the Best Bet slots referendum on the November ballot.

With those referendums in the rearview mirror, it’s all-clear to bring back the bill.

The sub proposes three four-year terms, rather than the abolishment of term limits.

“In four years, do we change it to four, maybe,” Council VP John Crescimbeni quipped.

Reform coming for Jax children’s programs

The Jacksonville Children’s Commission and the Jacksonville Journey — two programs that serve “at-hope” Jacksonville children, with the idea of keeping them away from temptations of crime and vice, are under scrutiny, Mayor Curry told us this month.

“We are beyond tweaking when it comes to these programs we deliver to children, and big reforms are coming,” Curry emphasized.

Lenny Curry reads to a child in 2015, during Jax Journey fact-finding tour.

“We’re working through exactly what those reforms are going to look like. I will have reached a decision inside of two weeks.”

“I’m looking at making sure that we have programs that are very clear and meeting the needs of specific ‘at-hope youth’ that are the solution to prevention and intervention,” Curry said, using a phrase he first used two weeks prior when announcing $988,000 of new money available for youth summer camps.

“We’ve got to be very clear about how we deliver those services and make sure we’re getting results, and make sure that the management team is aggressive in terms of pursuing those goals, and that the whole governance structure is aggressive as well, and hold them accountable,” Curry said.

The Curry Administration is not averse to re-orgs: the Neighborhoods Department was reinstated in Curry’s term after being phased out in the previous administration.

Hot hot hot

Folks in the real estate game talk about how hot Jacksonville real estate is — at least in the areas of town where people actually want to live. And external confirmation came this month via MarketWatch, which deemed Jacksonville the seventh hottest real estate market in the country.

The survey “looked at 120 metropolitan areas that had at least 100,000 single-family homes and condos. Those that scored the highest combined affordable homes with access to jobs.”

Jacksonville’s “tale of two cities” narrative has long since become a cliché. But — at least for now — there are “great expectations” for Jacksonville’s real estate market. Location, location, location.

Riverkeeper decries dredge; water is wet

The long-awaited dredging of the St. Johns River to 47 feet near JAXPORT delights most politicians, yet appalls the St. Johns Riverkeeper.

On Thursday, the Riverkeeper decried the “deep dredge runaround” of late from pro-dredging forces in the press.

Riverkeeper wants Jax to hedge on dredge, but momentum is with the dig.

The news release describes dredging advocates as “frustrated by the lack of funding support” for the project backed by port advocates, an interesting tack to take in light of $17.5M in federal money and support for the project from the state as well.

The frustration, the Riverkeeper says, resulted in a scaling down of the project from 13 to 11 miles.

The Riverkeeper also cites evidence of contravened transparency, including a lack of public hearing, a lack of local funding or a cost estimate meeting the Riverkeeper’s muster, no analysis of the new specs from the Army Corps of Engineers, and an ongoing lawsuit from the Riverkeeper.

Meanwhile, projections of jobs and other economic impacts are deemed to be overblown.

Bring a checkbook to the Yacht Club

Save the date!

On June 29, Jacksonville’s Florida Yacht Club will be about more than yachts: the exclusive location will hold a fundraiser for one of Duval’s own sons as he mounts a statewide campaign for Attorney General.

From the FOP to the Florida Yacht Club, Jay Fant hustles for votes and ducats.

State Rep. Jay Fant‘s event, which promises “fellowship” and an opportunity to “hear about the campaign,” runs from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.

The biggest name on the host committee: former Jacksonville City Council President Greg Anderson, who may be double-booked that evening, as the installation of new officers for the Jacksonville City Council will be held at 6 p.m. June 29 at the Times-Union Center.

Contributions are to be made at attendees’ “discretion.”

In May, Fant showed some fundraising momentum with the Northeast Florida donor class.

Fant emerged with $79,575 of new money; of that sum, $8,000 came from Fant, and $3,000 came from his political committee, “Pledge This Day,” which raised $9,000 in May.

 

 

Save the date: Clay Yarborough fundraiser

State Rep. Yarborough hosts a high-profile fundraiser for his House District 12 re-election campaign Tuesday, June 27, beginning 5 p.m. at the Jacksonville offices of Foley & Lardner, One Independent Dr., Suite 1300. Guests include State Sens. Aaron BeanRob Bradley, and Travis Hutson; State Reps. Cord Byrd, Paul Renner, Cyndi Stevenson, Travis Cummings and Jason Fischer; Jacksonville City Councilman Gulliford and Marty Fiorentino, among others.

Bean named 2017 Child Advocate of Year

The Fernandina Beach Republican was awarded Northeast Florida Pediatric Society’s (NEFPS) 2017 Child Advocate of the Year. This award recognizes support and commitment to pediatric medicine and the delivery of quality health care to the children of Florida.

Aaron Bean receives Northeast Florida Pediatric Society’s (NEFPS) 2017 Child Advocate of the Year award.

“As a longtime advocate for pediatric health care and a former chairman of the Senate Health Policy Committee, I understand the importance of constantly working to improve the health of our children and making sure all of Florida’s youth have access to exceptional pediatric care,” Bean said in a statement.

Volunteers needed for July 5 Beach Cleanup

Keep Jacksonville Beautiful and the City of Jacksonville join Beaches Sea Turtle Patrol to call for volunteers for its annual July 5 Beaches Cleanup following the Independence Day holiday. From 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., volunteers will be given litter collection bags and gloves at Atlantic Boulevard at the ocean, Beach Boulevard at the ocean and 16th Avenue South at the ocean to remove litter and debris along the shoreline, weather permitting. Participants must be at least 18 or accompanied by an adult, should wear sturdy footwear and sun protection, and should bring their own drinking water. For more information, call Keep Jacksonville Beautiful at (904) 255-8276 or the Beaches Sea Turtle Patrol at (904) 613-6081.

Downtown Jax rising

More than dozen projects in the works for Downtown Jacksonville. Some are under construction, while others are moving through the approval and planning process.

According to the Jacksonville Daily Record, projects include: The Lofts at LaVilla, a 130-unit apartment project (30 percent pre-leased) near the Prime Osborn Convention Center; Laura Street Trio, planned to have a Courtyard by Marriott hotel, bodega, café, restaurant, rooftop bar and retail space; Barnett Bank building, with nearly $1 million in construction permits are pending for the project that will house about 100 market-rate apartments, a ground-floor bank and retail space.

Other projects are Lofts at Monroe, which begin August in La Villa. Plans call for a five-story, 108-unit affordable housing complex marketed to people making $29,000 a year or less.

Elena Flats is one of more than a dozen revitalization projects in one stage or another in Downtown Jacksonville.

Developer Mike Balanky wants to turn a Downtown Cathedral District block into a mixed-use project, featuring 115 to 120 apartments, and retail space at the former Community Connections, Inc. building. Vista Brooklyn is a rooftop pool and beer garden to include 14,000 square feet of retail space, 308 apartments, and an eight-story parking garage. Doro District will transform a vacant industrial building at Forsyth Street and A. Philip Randolph Boulevard into an entertainment complex. Elena Flats, one of just three remaining Downtown apartment buildings constructed in the 20 years after the Great Fire of 1901, is being restored to its original historic state.

Following loss, Armada goes back to work against Puerto Rico FC for Heritage Night

Following a loss in Miami Saturday that dropped the Armada eight points behind the first-place team from South Florida and into third in the NASL table, Kartik Krishnaiyer reports that Jacksonville gets back to work this Saturday against Puerto Rico. For that game, the club will celebrate Puerto Rico Heritage Night. Kickoff is set 6 p.m. at Hodges Stadium on the UNF Campus.

This will be the third meeting in history between Jacksonville and Puerto Rico, and the first in the 2017 North American Soccer League Spring Season. Puerto Rico FC is in last place in the league and if Jacksonville is going to make a final run at the Spring title with four games left they must win this game.

Music from local Puerto Rican music group, Renacer Borincano, will be filling the stands at Hodges Stadium. Fans are encouraged to bring guiros, campanas, panderos, shekeres, and other Puerto Rican instruments to the match and join in the mix of Bomba and Plena music during halftime.

The concourse concessions will be featuring Boricua and Taino Puerto Rican beer for sale. Concessions will also be cooking empanadillas and alcapurrias for those who want a taste of Puerto Rico on this branded theme night.

Also, several Jacksonville Jaguars rookies will be attending as part of the pre-match coin toss. After warmups, fans will have the special opportunity to meet the rookies and get their autographs along the grandstand fence. This is third successive year the Jaguars and Armada have had coordinated event at a soccer match.

Community First Credit Union will be holding a contest before kickoff to upgrade four lucky fans’ seats to the VIP suite at Hodges Stadium. Fans can enter to win at the Community First Credit Union table on the concourse. The lucky winners will experience the exciting action like never before with all-inclusive food and beverages, gifts, and comfortable accommodations inside the VIP suite.

Hard choices loom for Lenny Curry’s staff in Jax capital budget

Just months ago, Jacksonville passed its pension reform package, which will give the city approximately $150M of budget relief from costs of its unfunded pension liability in terms of next year’s budget.

While raises for city workers, to be phased in over the next three fiscal years, will consume a lot of that relief, rest assured that everyone in City Hall has a wishlist.

More employees. New equipment. Other incidentals.

That has been one challenge during the budget process for the city’s Chief Administrative Officer (Sam Mousa) and Chief Financial Officer (Mike Weinstein).

A new challenge manifested on Monday, meanwhile, with the selection of the new City Council Finance Committee — a departure from virtually every year, one in which Jacksonville Democrats from the perpetually neglected Districts 7 through 10 will have the numbers to carry every vote.

Of course, Finance can vote to appropriate whatever; the Mayor’s Office executes contracts, and that will serve as a check against any potential profligacy. Arguably a necessary check, given pressures like $26M of city spending in the wake of Hurricane Matthew that has yet to receive FEMA reimbursement.

In this context, Tuesday’s run through of the 5 year Capital Improvement Program was conducted (see last year’s here).

Mayor Lenny Curry will be challenged by Council this term to deliver on his “One City, One Jacksonville” vision, and that challenge will include calls to make real progress on delayed capital projects in North, West, and Northwest Jacksonville.

Mousa, to be sure, knows the score. Last year, he noted that the city could use a $400M capital budget. However, that’s not happening. Not even close. And, as ever, hard choices are inevitable … even though the total CIP this year will be close to $100M, not including money for sports and entertainment facilities.

For context, last year’s CIP had capital projects at $78M last year — most of that pay-go, Mousa said.

Mousa did note as the meeting began that there may be the opportunity to add “a few more capital improvement projects with one-time funding” at the request of the Mayor or a City Councilor, given budget relief.  And some timetables on projects were to be moved up a year. However, he cautioned, Tuesday’s discussion was preliminary.

Meanwhile, Curry is developing his own CIP list, independent of Tuesday’s process, and that will perhaps amend the final product.

With all those caveats, the highlights.

Pay-go money: $23.2M, comprise part of an almost $100M CIP.

Movement on a recurrent issue: $3.6M for courthouse remediation and demolition; $4.4M for the same for old city hall, which includes asbestos remediation, with the properties will be returned to greenscape. Mousa speculates that implosion will be the end game for these structures.

The last $8M for Liberty/Coastline rebuild, completing a $31M obligation, is also in the CIP.

Roadway resurfacing is in the CIP at $12M, and ADA curb compliance: another $14M.

ADA compliance for public buildings: a $2.6M hit.

Countywide intersection improvements and bridges: $3M, with another million for rehab.

The St. Johns River Bulkhead assessment and restoration: also in the budget this year for $1M, along with $500K for countywide projects for tributaries with bulkheads.

The River Road bulkhead needs repair to the most degraded segments, with a cost of $1.9M total for these — and $600K this year, which comes at the expense of the Mayport Community Center in FY 18.

$3M for Chaffee Road. $750,000 for Five Points improvements in Riverside, which moves up to this year. Willow Branch Creek bulkhead replacement: $1.5M. $720,000 for Soutel Road’s “road diet,” which will go to design of a “highly needed project for the Northwest,” per Mousa.

Fishweir Creek gets $1.6M for ecological rehab.

Mary Singleton Senior Center: $500,000 for maintenance and upgrades. $944K for the Arlington Senior Center. $600,000 for Southside Senior Center, and $1.5M for Mandarin Senior Center expansion, a facility “bursting at the seams,” per Mousa.

As well, Mayport Community Center — a Bill Gulliford request — was budgeted for $800,000 for design, but ends up with $200,000 in FY 18 given other needs and logistical issues.

McCoy’s Creek pipe removal is in the budget, for $750,000 — the idea is to improve river access, a priority of Council President Lori Boyer. And $600,000 for the McCoy’s Creek Greenway.

A backlog of sidewalk projects — a risk management concern — is also on the list. Library projects, by and large, are on schedule, largely funded by library fines.

4th Street Brick Rebuild is also on the list for this year; a “desperately needed job,” per Mousa.

Downtown landscape enhancements: $1 million, per Mayor Curry’s request, though he wants to survey the area before a more specific request is made.

Friendship Fountain repairs: in the budget. As is the School Board building kayak launch, and $1M for Southbank Riverwalk renovations.

Moving on to stormwater projects, the Trout River/Moncrief Project will move forward, though with a reduced scope. And the LaSalle Street Lift Station is moving forward, despite the Governor’s untimely veto of the state appropriation carried by Rep. Jason Fischer in Tallahassee.

Solid waste: $4.5M will complete the current Trail Ridge landfill expansion project, setting up the city for future expansion, with property acquisition part of a previous year’s spend. This will buy the city 3-5 years of dumping time.

Is a turning point imminent for Jacksonville’s opioid crisis?

Jacksonville’s opioid crisis, as is the case around the country, is taking lives and resources from the budget all at once. Is a turning point imminent?

Months back, Councilman Bill Gulliford began sounding the alarm about the increased casualty rate and the increased burden on emergency services from the crisis.

Multiple meetings followed, then a bill was filed in June that would devote almost $1.5M to a pilot opioid program, to stem the tide of overdoses that is wreaking havoc with Jacksonville lives and emergency services budgets.

On Monday, Gulliford held a meeting with other stakeholders (including the Fire and Rescue Department), in which the particulars of the legislation (introduced on an emergency basis, with committee work this week) and the pilot program were discussed.

“I could think of a lot better things we could sit around and talk about spending $1.5M on,” Gulliford said.

However, the crisis is real. And current efforts are not abating it.

Overdoses, at last count, end four times as many lives as homicides in Duval County, with 2016’s count of 464 casualties more than doubling 2015’s count of 201.

Caucasians represent 86 percent of the deaths, and over half of those passing away are in their 30s and 40s

911 calls for ODs to the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department have tripled, with a call every two hours now. Narcan administrations: up 500 percent. JFRD responded to over 3,411 calls in 2016, and the cost of transporting OD victims could near $4.5M this year.

Gulliford noted that the money for this may not come out of fund balance, as the Lenny Curry administration may have another source of money for this.

Also, DCF has advanced a preliminary offer to fund all the Narcan for the pilot program — another potential cost defraying mechanism.

Gateway and River Region would be the in-patient facilities; UF Health was floated as an ER facility, though other hospitals may end up fulfilling that function

The proposal 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 would coordinate with the Florida Department of Health to identify participants; DOH would coordinate reproductive health services and linkage of care for women who are of childbearing age, including work with pregnant women to reduce the risk of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.

“We’re seeing more babies being delivered with addiction. That’s on the uptick,” said Gulliford. “What a horrible way to bring a child into the world.”

Breastfeeding from addicted mothers, meanwhile, presents its own challenge — as do the new fentanyl derivatives, which are increasingly potent and potentially fatal to users.

Monday’s meeting saw a lot of very specific performance data discussed, with deliverables and goals discussed to justify the investment.

“At the end of six months,” one JFRD officer asked, “how do we know it’s working?”

Factors such as reduction of recidivism, relapse, and other indicators would 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.

There are some users who recover via Narcan, only to shoot up again almost immediately after discharge from the ER. And some users require multiple doses of Narcan for recovery.

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

“Your guys can’t keep taking the emotional pounding from these overdoses,” Gulliford said to JFRD, noting that one station alone had 17 overdose responses.

“How long do they withstand that kind of pressure,” Gulliford said, noting that some derivatives are so potent that physical contact with the substance can incapacitate the officers tasked with treatment.

If the program succeeds, other challenges will present themselves, such as recurring funding and scalability. Gulliford asserts that the public and private sectors would have to combine resources. That could also include helping recovered addicts get job placement.

“It’s not just going to be the city bellying up to the bar,” Gulliford said, citing the importance of a “campaign” to educate the public on the non-negotiable need for this program to address this “pervasive” problem.

But that problem is one that city policy makers would find preferable than rescue units hurtling from overdose to overdose, and bodies piling up in worst case scenarios.

Jacksonville considers raising emergency reserve level

As part of our continuing coverage of the budget process in Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s office, we were on hand for Friday’s consideration of non-departmental expenditures heading into the next fiscal year.

The biggest news? A potential increase of the city’s emergency reserve level, something that was discussed in Jacksonville City Council committees months back.

The city may set the operating reserve at 7 percent, and the emergency reserve at 6 percent — a shift from 8 and 5 percent respectively. Reserves would total 13 percent in each case; however, this would be a meaningful policy shift.

If this holds, that jibes with the City Council Finance Committee’s desire in January to move the emergency reserve to 6 percent, a response to concerns expressed by the Council Auditor when the reserve dipped below the mandatory 5 percent level last year.

Councilman Bill Gulliford urged committee legislation to boost the reserve to 6 percent — which would be about $11 million moved into the emergency reserve.

CFO Mike Weinstein concurred with the “concept,” but resisted moving dollars until “collective bargaining is behind us.”

“Maybe put it in the hopper,” Weinstein said. “The timing is sort of interesting.”

Of course, collective bargaining wrapped soon thereafter between the city and its myriad unions, and from there the City Council approved the deals — which came contingent with raises for all city employees, in exchange for moving new hires from the unsustainable defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan.

This proposal comes at a time when City Council members are wrangling with plans on how to use the “fiscal relief” generated by pension reform.

One proposal, as of earlier this month, looked to be dead in the water.

Councilman Danny Becton filed 2017-348, which would require that 15 percent of all general fund money beyond the baseline FY 16-17 budget go toward defraying the city’s $2.8B unfunded actuarial liability on pension.

Becton’s bill, however, was not backed by the Lenny Curry administration — which seemed to come as a surprise to the first-term Southside Republican Councilman.

Days later, the bill went to its sole committee of reference — Finance — where it seemingly was, to quote Becton, “put out of its misery” with a 4 to 1 vote.

However, in the tradition of an extra life in a video game, Becton’s bill got brought back from the dead, and will enjoy a “Weekend At Bernie’s” moment in Rules and Finance at some future point — though who knows when, as the Finance agenda for Wednesday, June 21, has the bill marked for deferral at Becton’s request.

Budget relief from pension reform, while real, only goes so far. If the Curry Administration seeks to lift the emergency reserve, then there seemingly would be real questions as to where the money would come from for the Becton plan … assuming committees were to receive it favorably in its next go-around.

 

Jacksonville’s ShotSpotter identifies ‘when, where, and what’ of gunshots

A Tuesday morning Jacksonville City Council committee saw an update on the city’s ShotSpotter program from Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Homeland Security Chief Robert Connor.

This much-ballyhooed anti-crime tool does what its name suggests: it identifies, via sound, where a bullet’s origin might be.

For law enforcement, this provides an important tool; for those married to old-school concepts of civil libertarianism, the program arguably marks one more step toward perpetual mass surveillance.

Philosophical questions aside, implementation is “moving along well,” with sensor installation already underway, Connor said. Moves are being made to get permission for sensor placement at Duval County Public Schools also.

Jacksonville has reviewed best practices from other major cities, with progress on pace toward a draft policy and a July training class at the police academy – conducted by ShotSpotter.

“They want to do that training closer to the implementation date,” Connor noted.

___

For Jacksonville, this is the culmination of a journey toward yet another strategy to reduce senseless gunplay in local battle zones.

Earlier this year, the city “appropriate[d] $435,001 already allocated in a ShotSpotter reserve account to an equipment purchase account for installation of the test site … acoustic gunshot detection and surveillance technology in a 5 square mile area of Health Zone 1.”

Health Zone 1 encompasses five Jacksonville Journey zip codes, including 32209, which was described by the Florida Times-Union as “Jacksonville’s killing fields.”

“Although this is less than 1 percent of the land mass, it accounted for 10 percent of the firearm calls and 13 percent of the homicides related to firearms,” Connor said.

Meanwhile, the over 100 installation locations are being kept secret, to prevent malefactors from removing the sensors.

“It’s not exactly noticeable or visible where the sensors are,” Connor said, but the goal is “blanket coverage over the entire five square miles.”

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Connor noted that the cloud-based program is “not just a piece of computer software,” and all information is “vetted by a trained person in their review system.”

“Number of shots, position within 25 meters, and number of shooters” are among the types of information available through the program, as is historical data.

Sensors in the area “capture the data,” providing the “when, where, and what” of gunshots, Connor said.

Once a gunshot is confirmed, information will be sent to JSO, with a “flex alerts console” visible on the laptops of officers on patrol.

“That’s really important as we talk about response,” Connor added.

____

Democratic State Rep. Kim Daniels, a former Jacksonville City Councilwoman who represents part of this area, was successful in getting $325,000 of state funds for the city’s pilot program in the next budget year.

ShotSpotter, a subscription system, has a recurring cost beyond start-up spending.

Connor noted that the system could be expanded in the future, once evidence of effectiveness is provided.

 “This is only one piece of the puzzle,” Connor said.

“As we’ve seen in other agencies … the real value comes in the investigation,” Connor added, with “exact detail” helping Jacksonville’s overstretched law enforcement, and with ShotSpotter experts offering friendly testimony in court cases where the technology is used.

License plate readers, NIBIN (a federal database that identifies bullets from casings), and ShotSpotter: all parts of a larger JSO strategy to fight old crime patterns with new technology and techniques.

ShotSpotter and NIBIN can be married to video surveillance; the goal is for a holistic, surveillance-based solution.

“Really, the sky’s the limit as far as the technology goes,” Connor said.

“Seems to me that if you’re going to catch people, marrying it to video technology” would be the move, said Councilman Bill Gulliford.

While Gulliford noted that this could be expensive, it’s worth it to save lives, he said.

Councilwoman Katrina Brown, who represents one of the areas served by the program, noted that ShotSpotter would give law enforcement tangible data that they can use to go to homes and buildings from which shots could have been fired and ask occupants questions.

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