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Could your tax dollars fund a study of non-city real estate?
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Could your tax dollars fund a study of non-city real estate?

Could your tax dollars fund a study of non-city real estate?
Photo Credit: Stephanie Brown

Could your tax dollars fund a study of non-city real estate?

This week on WOKV, I’ve told you about the city’s proposal now moving through City Council on getting an accurate roll of city-owned real estate.

I’ve now learned the current roll may be more problematic than first thought- and that could cost you.

I’ve discovered a 1997 city ordinance which transferred roughly 1500 parcels of city land to JEA, happening the same time as when water and sewage management for the city was passed to them as well.  The problem we’re facing now is the name on the title was never swapped.

“It would have been in the tax payer’s and rate payer’s best interest not to incur the expense by surveying and creating legal descriptions and all the associated legal work,” says JEA Director of Real Estate Services Donald Burch.

In the interest in saving that money in 1997, the city and JEA worked out a system where any inquiries on properties go through the city’s real estate office and people there can see if JEA has ownership or partial ownership, at which point they’re brought in to the conversation. 

“The process may not be perfect, but the process works and it’s the best process that we have in place at this time,” he says.

To anyone outside of that office, however, the system is not quite as smooth.

“Do I know that they own them, yes.  Can I easily discern which ones they own and which ones we own from the Property Appraiser’s site? No,” says City Councilman John Crescimbeni.

Crescimbeni first became aware of this deal as part of the Ferry Commission.  In 2007, the city transferred several parcels of land to JAXPORT along with ownership of the ferry.  When the Commission reclaimed ownership this past year and the land was getting passed back, JEA was flagged because the land was theirs, and shouldn’t have been swapped in the first place.

Burch says that’s the only case of improper management of the land that he’s seen in his time at JEA, and he’s worked there since 1999.  The case did, however, bring the ownership issue back in to focus.

It’s more relevant now that the city is working on getting an inventory of its property together.  While there was never a formal roll of land handed to JEA, the agency estimates about 1,500 parcels of the approximately 2,800 parcels of land listed under Jacksonville ownership on property rolls are actually owned by JEA.  With there being little clear distinction between them on the surface, however, it seems the JEA properties could get involved in the inventory which Jacksonville’s tax payers are funding.  The problem with that, is the city is not able to take any action with the recommendations on the JEA owned land, or if there is partial ownership then JEA needs to be consulted.

“We have not been specifically consulted as far as the city conducting an inventory of their assets.” Burch told me.

I asked Crescimbeni, who is head of the Finance Committee that will start diving in to the finer points of this proposal next week, whether the current action puts Jacksonville’s taxpayers on the line for assessing land the city doesn’t own, and he told me that’s one of the big questions they will look to answer.

I took those same questions to the office involved in getting this inventory underway- the Office of the Mayor.  I asked the administration specifically whether they would be able to carve out JEA’s land, if JEA would be asked to contribute to the study, and if they were of the impression they could act on the land in question without JEA consultation.  I received a statement that “these types of questions are exactly why we plan to conduct a detailed inventory of all properties in which the City of Jacksonville has an interest.” They further say they want to see city-owned property reach their highest economic potential, but did not respond to follow-up questions more specifically focused on the cost and liability to the taxpayers.

The $150,000 allocation will come before two committees next week and I will be there to follow these questions as we continue to track the solution to keeping your tax dollars tied in city real estate.

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