JaxPoliticsOnline.com

Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

To Hike Taxes or Not To Hike Taxes, That is the Question

As Jacksonville prepares to enter a tax hike debate that is certain to eclipse the contentious Trail Ridge debate, a civilized conversation about the future of Jacksonville and its finances is looking like a goal that may be rather difficult to acheive.  Several days ago, JaxPoliticsOnline.com published an article that included some of the public responses to the Mayor’s millage rate increase proposal.  The responses reviewed, which came from the Times-Union public message boards, were overwhelmingly negative.  While some were politely worded and focused on opposing the concept of a “growing government” and tax increases, many were devoid of civility in stating their opposition.  Part of the reason for the harsh tone may be a defensiveness of taxpayers who are nervous about the current economic state of the country, but a great deal of it might also lie in the manner in which the Mayor rolled out his plan.

Radio talk-show host and former Florida House Representative Andy Johnson was one of the most vocal in expressing his displeasure with the Mayor’s approach.  Johnson called the Mayor’s discussion of closed fire stations “unfair”.  Johnson argued that it was “wrong” for the Mayor to “threaten that [he would] close fire stations if [he] didn’t get what he wanted.”

Johnson’s reaction was hardly unique, as another e-mail respondent insisted that the Mayor “stop these fear tactics.”  Another e-mail from Don Welfare, a city employee, asked the Mayor if he planned on personally embracing some of his own recommendations by having he and his staff take the furloughs he proposed for the rest of city employees.

In Sunday’s paper, the Times-Union editorial board said it best when they expressed their concerns over “another rush job” by the Administration.  Perhaps more than anything, that “rush job” is at the core of what troubles Duval County voters.

The Mayor has cited the recent JCCI study that called for additional revenue sources in proposing his tax increase, but he has chosen to ignore another crucial recommendation in that JCCI study—rebuilding public trust.  An Administration with a series of high-profile missteps will not rebuild public trust by proposing a property tax hike without first engaging the public.  That failure to engage before a major decision is something that has plagued John Peyton from day one.  People do not wish to be told you are “open to listening” after you spring a “recommendation” on them, they want to see you out listening before the “recommendation” is made.  Jacksonville’s budget woes are hardly new, so why the need to spring a tax hike on voters with barely a month for voters (and the City Council) to react?  Wouldn’t it be likely that responses would be less reactionary if an ongoing conversation between the Mayor and voters had been taking place for several months?

Tax hikes are never easy and the public is rarely thrilled.  However, increases are much more palatable when the public is firmly convinced that its government has taken every possible step to ensure existing dollars are being well spent.  While Duval County’s millage rate is one of the lowest of any major metropolitan area in the country, there are still concerns over the expenditure of current tax revenues.

In early May, JaxPoliticsOnline.com published an article that discussed the continued growth of AMIO positions.  For those not familiar with these positions, AMIO’s are Assistant Management Improvement Officers and are often special positions that are typically filled through a process that involves no formal job qualifications, established responsibilities or pay ranges for the positions.  While the Mayor pledged to reform this process four years ago, these positions have grown dramatically—from 125 AMIO’s making $7.5 million in 2005 to 166 AMIO’s making nearly $11.2 million today.  The individuals in these positions currently include the children of a former council member and a former mayor, as well as a former council member himself.

The situation with AMIO’s is hardly unique in Jacksonville government.  Voters have repeatedly expressed frustration over issues ranging from the ongoing pension crisis to the assertion that the budget for the Mayor’s Office and the City Council has burgeoned over the past eight years.  All of these unaddressed issues make acceptance of a tax increase incredibly difficult for the average Jacksonville resident.  The many who are passionate about funding the arts, believe in the missions of the city’s non-profits and are absolutely convinced the city must invest in its decaying infrastructure, are wary of a tax increase being proposed before they have witnessed a good faith effort to clean up wastefulness within the existing budget.

With the cat already out of the proverbial bag it’s hard to know where to start on the current proposal.  It’s problematic to have a discussion when one party’s mind is already made up before the conversation begins.  Nevertheless, it is time Jacksonville begin a conversation on our future.  If the Mayor has any hope of convincing a wary public to back his plan, he might want to restart the process.  If he could rush through a tax hike, perhaps he could also move quickly to engage the unions on the pension issue.  He could move to immediately scale back AMIO’s within his Administration and eliminate any position that exists without clearly defined job responsibilities, qualifications and a pay range.  He could also trim his staff, as well as the City Council’s.  He should engage the public in requesting recommendations for areas that can be trimmed.  Then, and only then, should he move forward with a tax increase.

The hike may very well be inevitable, but shouldn’t it be the last step in solving our budget woes, not the first?

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Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, Mayor of Jacksonville, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Council Auditor Releases Sunshine Law Compliance Report

On May 29th, the Council Auditor’s Office released its Sunshine Law Compliance Review Report of City Council.  Overall, the Council Auditor did not find any evidence of non-compliance with the Sunshine Law, but there were a few problematic issues.

1. The Council Auditor noted that nine (9) out of 52 meeting notices did not include the time to be posted and one (1) out of 52 meeting notices did not include the date and time to be posted. Section 15.103(a) of the Ordinance Code states that “the notices required shall include at a minimum … (ii)the date and time the notices are to be posted…” The date and time the notices are to be posted informs Legislative Services Division of when to post a meeting notice in order to meet the 24-hour requirement, ensuring that the public has sufficient notice to attend meetings. This finding was noted in the previous Sunshine Law Compliance report #651. It appears that the Council Director/Secretary has taken the necessary action to address and correct the issues identified in our initial report.

In addition, all 10 instances of noncompliance with this requirement occurred in May and June 2008, prior to the issuance of Report #651, and prior to the annual Sunshine Law Training provided in June 2008. Although these were technical exceptions, all 10 meetings were correctly posted at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting date.

2. The Council Auditor noted that seven (7) out of 52 meeting notices did not include the meeting
initiator. Section 15.103(a) of the Code states that “the notices required shall include at a
minimum: …the Council Member calling the meeting…” This finding was noted in the previous
Sunshine Law Compliance report #651. It appears that the Council Director/Secretary has taken
the necessary action to address and correct the issues identified in our initial report through the
use of Council Member letterhead on initiated meeting documents.

In addition, all seven instances of noncompliance with this requirement occurred in May and
June 2008, prior to the issuance of Report #651, and prior to the annual Sunshine Law Training
provided in June 2008.

3. The Council Auditor noted seven (7) out of 52 meeting minutes did not include the date of the
meeting. Section 15.106(c) states that “the minutes of every Council Public Meeting conducted
between two or more Council Members outside of the regular Council meeting or committee
meeting structure shall reflect, at a minimum: the location, date and time the meeting
commenced and adjourned…”

4. The Council Auditor noted one (1) out of 52 meeting minutes did not include the meeting
adjournment time. Section 15.106(c) of the Code states that “the minutes of every Council Public
Meeting conducted between two or more Council Members outside of the regular Council
meeting or committee meeting structure shall reflect, at a minimum: the location, date and time
the meeting commenced and adjourned…”

The Council Auditor’s Office noted one opportunity for improvement:

We recommend that the names of the Council Members and other public officials and employees
in attendance be documented in all meeting minutes. This will allow the public to clearly identify
which Council Members, public officials and employees are present at a meeting, especially if
signatures are illegible on the sign-in sheet. The original attendance sign-in sheet should still be
retained with the official meeting minutes for a complete record of all attendees.

The entire Council Auditor’s report can be viewed here.

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, , ,

Council Auditor Releases City’s 2nd Quarter Financial Report

On May 15th, the Council Auditor released the City’s 2nd quarter financial report – and as you might expect, the news isn’t good.  The Council Auditor notes that many of the City’s subfunds presented in the report are financially challenged – with many of the same comments being repeated for several subfunds.  Overall, the Council Auditor is concerned with the negative cumulative effect these subfunds have on the City’s overall financial health.  Add to this a projected $15 million tax shortfall, and the City’s budget process, beginning with the Mayor’s budget presentation in July, could get very testy.

Read more about the Council Auditor’s 2nd quarter financial report after the break.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, Mayor of Jacksonville, , , ,

Is This an Unofficial Mayoral Candidate Announcement?

Councilman Ronnie Fussell released his list of Charter Revision Commission members according to the Jax Daily Record.  The members, who must now go through a City Council review and approval process, are:

District 1 – Beverly Garvin, vice-President of Watson Realty.
District 2 – James Catlett, consultant with Agency Approval & Development, a consulting, land development and lobbying firm.
District 3 – Allison Korman, director of marketing and community relations for Stellar.
District 4 – Mechelle Herrington, assistant public defender.
District 5 – Robert Flowers Sr., DCSB administrator.
District 6 – Gary Oliveras, JSO police officer and local FOP director.
District 7 – Geoffrey Youngblood, CEO of Tools for a Time.
At Large – Edward Austin, former Mayor.
At-Large – Martha Barrett, Bank of America Senior VP of Market Development and DCSB member.
At-Large – Billy Catlin, VP of sales of Stare Decisis FL, LLC.
At-Large – Wyman Duggan, shareholder with Rogers Towers.
At-Large – Teresa Eichner, Senior VP with Access Public Relations.
At-Large – Jeanne Miller, General Counsel for Florida State College at Jacksonville (formerly FCCJ).
At-Large – Mary O’Brien, chief marketing officer for Advanced Disposal Services.
At-Large – Curtis Thompson, retired from Anheuser Busch and Kaiser Aluminum Corp.

Yep, if I were considering a run for Mayor, that is certainly the team I would want behind me.

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, Mayor of Jacksonville, , ,

Mayor’s Office doing advance spin

We guess there is going to be a TU story on the courthouse.  The Mayor’s Office is already spinning the story to City Council members before it appears in print.

Council Members,

 

Today, per their request, we provided the Florida Times Union with an update on the Duval County Courthouse project.  I wanted to take a minute to convey to you the same information we shared with the newspaper. 

·      We continue to work with the design/build firm on the design of the courthouse, identifying opportunities for cost savings wherever possible. To date, the construction documents (the designs by which the structure is built) are approximately 70 percent complete. We expect the construction documents to be approximately 75 percent complete by the end of January 2009. 

·      As they approach a point where the design is approximately 75 percent complete, the design/build team will begin soliciting bids on the various elements of construction.  We expect that there will be 25 to 30 separate Requests for Proposals (RFPs) issued related to the construction phase of this project.  This will encompass every element of the structure; from foundation and exterior structure to electrical and mechanical elements. 

·      After all of the bids are received and evaluated and the costs outlined in the various bids are compiled, the design/build team will provide the city documents outlining their Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) for the project and a proposed schedule for completion.  If the cost estimates come in below the amount previously authorized by the City Council, the city can at that point move forward with the notice to proceed on construction of the building. We expect to receive a GMP and the proposed construction schedule sometime in mid-April. 

·      While there had been some discussion of expediting the construction by moving forward with work on the foundation of the structure before the GMP had been issued (a practice that commonly occurs in public works projects) a joint decision was made between the administration and the Council President to wait until the GMP had been issued before construction work begins.   

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. 

 

Thank you,

 

Sherry L. Hall
Policy Director
Office of the Mayor
630-7581
sherryh@coj.net

And Councilman Hyde’s assistant replies to him:

 

From:  

Miller, Alison

Sent: 

Thu 12/18/2008 9:02 AM

To:  

Hyde, Kevin

Cc:  

 

Subject:  

FW: Courthouse Update

Attachments:

 

 

I’m sure you heard about this on the radio.  Sherry sent us this e-mail at 10:46 p.m. last night.  Thanks?

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, Mayor of Jacksonville, , ,

Peyton and JTA going head-to-head

Looks like Peyton has found himself going head-to-head with JTA and its director, Mike Blaylock.  It seems  JTA is concerned that major projects to untangle traffic snarls at major highway interchanges, provide rapid bus transit, and provide public transportation could go by the wayside or be seriously underfunded under the Mayor’s most recent proposal.  Of course, Jaxport is supportive of Peyton’s proposed plan, as it would provide funding for badly needed road infrastructure now that the port has signed on Mitsui and Hanjin.   

Two City Council members have already expressed concerns.  Councilman Stephen Joost said he’s concerned with how Better Jacksonville projects will jive with other city debts.  Councilman Michael Corrigan said he’s concerned with holding up the plan voters asked for eight years ago.

Already they are fighting over how to spend the extra money, while Peyton’s plan to extend the local option gas tax and dip into a capital projects fund still  has to go through City Council for approval.   I guess that’s only a minor detail to them.

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, Mayor of Jacksonville, , , , , , , , ,

More on the proposed Mayport Cruise Terminal

I guess the JPA forgot about the 2004 TU article below.   Of course, now they have more time to try to work out a deal with the Mayport residents as the bills for the Cruise Terminal were deferred in City Council tonight.

Support weakens for a Mayport cruise ship port

By Christopher F. Aguilar
Shorelines staff writer

 

 A study commissioned last month by the Jacksonville Port Authority is looking at the village of Mayport as a potential permanent home for cruise ships.

Boats are docked at Mayport where the Jacksonville Port Authority is studying building a home for cruise ships. An internal analysis suggests the village may not be a viable site.

But the port authority’s internal analysis suggests the village isn’t a viable site because it would have to condemn or buy dozens of business and homes along the waterfront to build a cruise terminal.

Using Mayport as a cruise ship site would pose a number of problems, said port authority spokesman Robert Peek. “Our analysis shows there is no room at Mayport,” he said. “We would need 40 acres of property along the river. There is not 40 acres of undeveloped land at Mayport. We would have to buy homes and businesses.”

The port authority paid the consulting firm Han-Padron Associates $10,000 to analyze locations along the St. Johns River east of the Dames Point bridge to place a permanent cruise ship facility. The study is scheduled to conclude in a few weeks.

The city currently uses a converted cargo site off of Heckscher Drive as a temporary cruise ship terminal. But cruise ships must travel under the Dames Point bridge and JEA power lines to reach the facility. The cruise ships currently home-ported in Jacksonville, which are older and smaller ships, barely pass under the bridge’s and power lines’ clearance.

The two cruise lines that use Jacksonville as a port, Carnival and Celebrity, are phasing out their older ships and want to bring newer, larger ships to the city, which don’t fit under the bridge or power lines, Peek said.

So the port authority is searching for a new facility east of the bridge and power lines.

The port authority has found a site on Pine Island, a former spoil site near the Sisters Creek on Heckscher Drive, for a possible facility, Peek said. The privately-owned site offers 100 acres of property, he said.

Peek added that the St. Johns River Pilots Association thinks the Pine Island site is ideal for a cruise ship center.

Meanwhile, John Meserve, chairman of the Mayport Waterfront Partnership, said that because of political pressure, Mayport village has been suggested as a home for cruise ships.

The waterfront partnership is an organization that works to improve the appearance and economic development of the village and Mayport Road.

Peek said residents near Pine Island asked the port authority to consider Mayport village.

But the waterfront partnership took a stand against cruise ships in the village last week.

“We got a 1,000 feet of waterfront that is not city-owned,” he said. “There’s absolutely no parking for cruise ship-type things.”

Meserve said the cruise ship operation would destroy the village by bringing a high-rise building and using up a lot of the village for parking.

“To have an 800-foot cruise ship out there and pushing the shrimping industry totally out of the village doesn’t do anybody good,” he said.

Ed Lukacovic, a Jacksonville planner who oversees the Mayport area, said people who recommended the village for a cruise ship don’t realize how small the village is.

Board member Barbara Goodman said she thinks that Mayport village will be reviewed and then dismissed as a possible site.

Residents along Heckscher Drive also don’t want the cruise ship terminal.

“Don’t put it on our side either,” said Heckscher Drive resident Jessie Sammons.

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, , , , ,

Mayport Cruise Terminal up for public hearing and vote

From the TU:

ISSUE: Mayport cruise ship terminal

 What it means: There will be a public hearing and vote on three separate bills that pave the way for a cruise ship terminal to be built in Mayport. The bills address the land use, zoning and Jacksonville Port Authority master plan changes.

 Bill No. 2008-892, 2008-893 and 2008-970

Let’s follow the JPA’s trail of folly to figure out how the Cruise Ship Terminal ended up being proposed for Mayport.

The problem:  the Port wanted to expanded their operations (Mitsui and Hanjin) without enough available land.  Hmmm…let’s see, they said, we can just move the Cruise Terminal and put Hanjin where the Cruise Terminal was located.  But where to put the Cruise Terminal?  Where?  Where?  They had to have a piece of land for Hanjin.

Let’s take a look at the places the POrt has considered for the Cruise Terminal.  First, they decided to put the Cruise Terminal near the Timucuan Preserve at the Joe Carlucci Boat ramp, but they neglected to tell Barbara Goodman, the federal overseer for the Preserve.  She fought it like a cat taking a bath.  The Heckscher Drive Community Club and  Save Our River Environment joined her.  My favorite quote from the battle is Neil Armingeon, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, who said at the time:  “The Port is either very ignorant or very naive.”   I would submit they are both.

Then, they decided on a piece of property owned by a Mr. Zion.  Unfortunately, they neglected to tell Mr. Zion first ,and as it turned out, he was not a willing seller.  JPA tried a quick take of Keystone Coal owned land, but the cost for the land ran into the tens of millions of dollars, and so they dropped that.  They also tried leasing land from the Navy.  You can read about that here.

Having lost those battles, the Port wandered the shores of the St. Johns River looking for a place for the Cruise Terminal that wouldn’t raise such a fuss for ships 20 stories high (with tall stacks that belch smoke and clanging bells and loudspeakers that call for passengers) along with a parking garage 5 stories high.  When along came the Mayor’s old friend, John Rood, and his company Vestcor. 

JPA  bought Vestcor’s property without so much as a blink and began their efforts in earnest to bring the Cruise Terminal to Mayport.  Unfortunately, they forgot to talk to the Mayport residents first.  Business as usual for Port officials.  And now the Mayport residents are in the fight of their life to preserve the fishing village.

City Council will take up the matter tonight.  I wonder how willing any of them would be to have the Cruise Terminal in their back yard?

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, Mayor of Jacksonville, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Dutch treat?

Evidently some City Council members are listening.  After an extremely critical Ron Littlepage column on the matter, City Council’s Finance Committee proposed today that they and the Tourist Development Council go dutch treat for the ACC championship game deficit of $430,000.

I guess only paying out $215,000 is better than having to pay out the whole amount.  But why is the City paying out anything at all?

Read the TU article here.

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, Mayor of Jacksonville, , , , , ,

Horror of horrors: Peyton uses the “T” word

Mayor Peyton has unveiled a $100 million road building proposal according to today’s issue of the Jacksonville Business Journal.  Under Peyton’s proposal, $50 million would go towards infrastructure investment in and around Jaxport, with the remainder going to Better Jacksonville Plan road construction projects.  

Although Peyton is calling the proposal a stimulus package, he used the “T” word (“taxes” !) in his announcement.  In order to finance the projects, Peyton is proposing that City Council extend the the six-cent local option gas tax past its 2016 expiration date.  In addition, Peyton is also asking the City Council and the JTA to change how much sales tax revenues the city gives the authority. Under his proposal, the annual rate increase would be changed from 6.5 percent annually to a rate that is reflective of the performance of the sales tax revenue.

Here is a related article in the TU.

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, Mayor of Jacksonville, , , , , , ,

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