DUVAL COUNTY, Fla. - With Mayor Brown deciding not to veto any spending items in the city budget, the St. Johns River Ferry will get its $450,000 dollars to operate over the next year. But some city leaders are still staunchly divided on the issue.
“The ferry is one of the worst investments our city has ever made,” Councilman Stephen Joost tells WOKV.
Joost says the city’s budget for the ferry went up 325 percent this year – from $200,000 to $649,000. About $450,000 of that money goes towards keeping the ferry operating for a year, while the other $200,000 goes towards a CRA study.
In addition to that money, Joost says the city has committed to $8 million from its Capital Improvement Projects (CIP).
“They’re talking about the engine needing replacement,” he says. “Wouldn’t the taxpayers rather put $8 million dollars in our port and deepening? That’s big time. That’s the big picture. That’s where we produce jobs. That’s where thousands and thousands and thousands of people can be involved.”
Joost says Florida tourism is at a record high this year, yet ferry ridership went down 15 percent.
“I mean if they’re not gonna get more tourists now, then when?”
He also refutes ferry supporters’ argument that the ferry is a strategic roadway connecting Florida.
“Well you can’t tell me it’s strategic when, in their own numbers, only 614 cars a day use it. I got more cars going by in my neighborhood than I have using the Mayport Ferry.”
Neptune Beach Mayor Harriet has been a vocal supporter of the ferry.
“My personal opinion is shame on Stephen Joost,” she tells WOKV.
“From everything that I’ve been told, he has an attitude – a very negative attitude – about the beaches. It’s very evident.”
She says most of the Jacksonville City Council worked hard on this year’s budget, and she’s happy they supported ferry funding overall.
“I think Mr. Joost needs to come to the beach and try to work with us,” she says.
Mayor Pruette says, in her opinion, the St. Johns River Ferry is vital to Northeast Florida.
“We all know that,” she says.