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Stories About The 2018 Jacksonville Budget

    With funding for the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens’ Master Plan now in motion, WOKV is learning more about when you will start to see the changes. As part of the City of Jacksonville’s annual budget process, a plan was approved to borrow $5 million each of the next five years, with the Zoo matching that amount in private donations, and all of the money dedicated to the ten-year Zoo Master Plan. While the total $50 million will not cover the entire tab, Zoo Executive Director Tony Vecchio says he was satisfied and excited to see the City sign on to the funding. “We’ve been working on it so hard, for so long, for it to finally come together,” he says. FULL COVERAGE: Jacksonville’s $1.2 billion City budget WOKV has learned from the Zoo that the first project under the Master Plan that is already in motion is a $3 million overhaul of the parking area. Planning is already well underway, with construction expected to start in then next couple of months. Vecchio says it’s important to start with parking, because as the Zoo has grown in popularity, so has the traffic to get in and congestion in the parking lots. “I don’t want people to start their visit here with a negative experience, so being able to fix that from the very start is really exciting,” he says. FULL COVERAGE: In-depth look at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens Master Plan They are reworking their retention ponds, to create a water feature at the entrance point to the Zoo. There will be an entrance bridge over that water, which funnels cars on to a landscaped lane that encourages cars to continue moving toward the front of the lot to park- near the main Zoo entrance, which is also being moved under the Master Plan. Traffic can navigate off the main drag and in to the various rows to park, as well. This new central flow is aimed at not only making traffic more streamlined, but improving your safety, because you’ll now be walking with the flow of most of the traffic. The lots themselves are being repaved and marked, and about one hundred new spots are being added as well. The exception is Lot C, where they won’t be paving everything, but they will be more clearly marking spaces, in order to ensure the parking lot can be used in an orderly manner, even if there is no attendant. The parking overhaul is expected to take inside of a year to complete. A few months after construction on the parking begins, Vecchio says they start work on the new entrance. The main gate and the education center are being flipped, under the Master Plan. The intent is to have a more centrally located main entrance, which creates two possible “loops” through the Zoo, as opposed to the current set-up, which requires a long walk to get to the end. The new entrance will have a restaurant and gift shop, as well as admissions area. Tandem with that project is adding a new entrance exhibit, which will be “Manatee River”. The exhibit will highlight the species, while also showcasing the work that’s done at the Zoo’s Manatee Critical Care Center, which is not open to the public. The Center cares for and rehabilitates manatees until they can be released back in to the wild. Two of the manatees currently in the Center- Percy and MJ- have been there more than a year, but could be released as soon as next month, according to the Zoo. The exhibit will feature a long-stay manatee or one that can’t be released back in the wild, in a natural setting. The new education center, when it’s moved, will also serve as an event space. It will overlook the to-be moved and rebuilt lion exhibit, which will be “wellness-inspired”, meaning the lions will have a lot of features that allow them to climb or otherwise entertain themselves, to ensure they’re healthy mentally and emotionally, as well as physically. The Zoo’s “Range of the Jaguar” and “Land of the Tiger” are other big cat exhibits that have “wellness-inspired design”. The new “Great Apes Loop” in the African Forest embraces that as well. “We want our animals to thrive and be happy, and we’re using that philosophy as we design our new exhibits,” Vecchio says. Vecchio says they’re doing everything they can to keep the impact on you minimal, including planning construction around high-traffic months, looking at phased approaches, and more. “We want every day to be a great experience at the Zoo. We don’t want to say, ‘Well, yeah, you’re having a crummy time today, but come back in a year because it’s going to be better’. We intend it to be a great experience every day, so we’re very careful about how we time construction and the logistics of what’s going to be closed,” he says. There is a lot involved in this Master Plan beyond this first phase as well- a new attraction, and overhaul of “Wild Florida”, the addition of an “Orangutan Reserve”, a flex exhibit that can feature different animals, a new “Nature Play Zone” outside of the main gate to use for education and programs targeting at-risk youth, and more. “Hold on to your hats. It’s gunna be an exciting ten years here at the Zoo,” Vecchio says.
  • More ambulances will soon be on the streets of Jacksonville, in an effort to ensure the fastest possible response times to emergencies across the city. Under the current budget for the City of Jacksonville, four additional Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department rescue units- or ambulances- were funded. WOKV has confirmed JFRD plans to get these units in service next month, and they’re hope to grow the force even more in the future. IN DEPTH: Jacksonville’s $1.2 billion City budget One of the rescue units will be attached to the new Fire Station 61 off Collins and Old Middleburg in Oakleaf, to address what JFRD Division Chief of Rescue David Castleman calls a “gaping area” that’s not currently directly served. That unit will initially locate in another station, then in a few months they will move to a temporary portable station that’s being built, until the permanent station is up and running. Three more rescue units will be added to existing fire stations- Station 44 on Western Way in Baymeadows, Station 17 on Huron Street in Woodstock, and Station 37 on Busch Drive on the Northside. “The four units that we’re going to be putting in service are the ones that we’ve identified in the areas that have the greatest need for coverage,” Castleman says. In Woodstock, as an example, Castleman says their existing units have been “taxed” responding to a recent spike of shootings. On the Northside, he says the area is so expansive, that they face challenges in getting response times where they want them to be. “Response times and transport times are critical these days, with strokes, with heart attacks, with trauma. Getting people to definitive care i s extremely important,” he says. In the zones that don’t currently have a rescue unit, available units from adjacent areas are dispatched when there is a call. Not only does this mean potentially longer response times, but it can create a domino effect, when a call comes in to a zone that has sent resources to another area. “90% of our day-in-day-out call volume is calls for emergency medical services, so the rescues are imperative,” Castleman says. These new ambulances will mean 53 active rescue units across Jacksonville. That leaves five fire stations without a rescue unit, according to Castleman. One of those- Station 48 on Blount Island- has a historically low call volume and is served well by the rescue unit at Station 40 on Heckscher Drive. Another- Station 9 on Main Street across from the Evergreen Cemetery- has a rescue unit a mile away at Station 15 off Pearl. He says they hope to get the remaining three funded in the next budget year- Station 11 on Main Street north of Downtown, Station 12 around San Marco, and Station 41 in Neptune Beach. “For us to be able to serve the community the way we should, and to meet the needs of all of the community who live throughout Jacksonville, there needs to be a  rescue in every fire station,” Castleman says. Moving forward, he says all new fire stations will stand up with a rescue unit. The Mayor’s Office tells WOKV that there has already been discussion about this funding request, and these units will get “very strong consideration” in the Fiscal Year 2020 budget. Castleman says they plan to bring the units online next month because that’s when a recruit class with around 30 personnel who will ultimately staff the units gets hired. Other JFRD personnel will staff the units while those recruits go through training, and then the existing personnel will be promoted. They’re also currently working through the channels of appropriating all the budgeted funds for outfitting the rescue units and personnel, through a bill that’s currently before the Jacksonville City Council.
  • Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens members will see their annual fee rise in the new year. Membership costs are going up $25 across-the-board beginning January 1st, to generate more funds to support Zoo operations, including salaries, animal food, and related areas. The increase will also allow JZG to put more money toward conservation- $5 per membership, instead of the $1 they do currently. General admission is not changing. “Our memberships haven’t been increased in years and years and years, and so we’re playing a little catch up,” says JZG Membership and PR Supervisor JJ Vitale. Vitale says, along with the price increase, they’re restructuring what memberships look like. Currently, she says there are a lot of different plans available. You will be able to still get all the same benefits, but in a more streamlined way. “It’s going to be an individual, a one-adult family, or a family. From there, we’re kind of doing an a la carte option,” she says. Those options will include adding a named or unnamed guest to your membership. JZG members will also be able to get non-members tickets for a reduced rate of $10, which will make it more affordable to bring a large group of friends or family. Vitale says they are also adding some more events and activities, to try to make up for the increased rate. That includes new member-only events like Painting with Penguins and Breakfast with the Bunny, a book club for children, and new partnerships with local institutions that will be reflected through your membership card. “Better connect our members to our mission, and making it fun while we do it,” she says. The revenue from this boost will specifically go toward Zoo operations, but it comes as JZG is separately fundraising for their Master Plan. The City of Jacksonville has committed to matching $5 million each of the next five years for donations the Zoo can bring in to support this multi-year program. WOKV brought you an in-depth look at the projects involved, which range from improved exhibits to new features. Viltale says some of the early projects will include improving parking and relocating the Zoo’s entrance to be more central on the overall trail.
  • Aiming to provide a more convenient option for you, while potentially bringing in more revenue for the office, the Duval Tax Collector’s Downtown branch is now accepting applications to receive or renew a concealed weapons license. Tax Collector Jim Overton says some 50 other counties in Florida already offer that service, and he feels it is time Duval County catches up. “Absolutely a convenience for the citizens of Jacksonville, so they don’t have to go to the state or some other county,” Overton says. In Northeast Florida, Baker, Clay, Nassau, and St. Johns County Tax Collectors all accept these applications, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Before the Duval County Tax Collector started on Thursday, Jacksonville applications had to be submitted at the Regional Office for the FDACS. Overton says they’ve already had some residents take advantage of the offering.  During the City’s annual budget process, the Tax Collector’s Office had sought the ability to hire more staff to specifically deal with concealed carry applications, in order to ensure they didn’t stretch existing staff too far. Instead, the City Council increased the Office’s employee cap by two, but didn’t fund the positions. At that time, the Office said they hoped to be able to generate revenue through the service to cover the cost for those two employees. IN DEPTH: Jacksonville’s City budget Chief Deputy Tax Collector Sherry Hall tells WOKV they have been able to temporarily fund the positions using money from a few vacancies in the department. While that is a temporary solution- until the positions are filled- she says they hope that once they start generating revenue from the service, they can fully appropriate the funds for the positions. Hall estimated during the budget process that they could hopefully see more than $80,000 annually from adding the concealed carry licensing services. Because of how they’re rolling it out, Overton says the new addition will not affect wait times for any other services. “We stood this up as a separate thing, so it won’t affect any of the other operations,” he says. You can submit an application and get fingerprinted at the Tax Collector’s Downtown branch at 231 E. Forsyth Street from 8AM through 4PM on weekdays. Overton plans to roll this out to other branches in the new year. You can make an appointment online to reduce your wait time, but walk ins are also accepted. You must bring a picture ID, certificate of training, and payment to your appointment. If you are doing a renewal, Overton says you will get your permit that day. If you are applying, he says they send the information to the State, so you will get your license in the mail weeks after.
  • Duval County students will soon have better access to mental health therapeutic services.  The number of therapists providing services for local students is increasing, as are the number of schools who have a dedicated therapist, following boosts in both local and state funding.  One batch of changes is for the “Full Service Schools” program. It began in 1991, and connects students and families with therapeutic, health, and social services by creating “hubs”, from which therapists serve schools. Leading up to now, there were 26 therapists serving 75 schools.  Through the Duval County Public School District, the City of Jacksonville, and private funding, that therapist-to-school ratio is being improved to 26 therapists over 57 schools, meaning each of the existing therapists has fewer schools and students to manage. Tuesday night, the Duval County School Board further voted to approve a $2,321,000 million expansion of their contract with the United Way of Northeast Florida for the FSS program, to add 36 more therapists to cover an additional 63 schools. That funding comes from state dollars, as part of new school safety laws passed in response to the Parkland mass shooting.  In all, this means FSS will soon cover 120 schools with 52 therapists.  “Have helped make possible an opportunity for us to expand mental health services to every child in the whole District,” says United Way of Northeast Florida President and CEO Michelle Braun.  United Way of Northeast Florida manages the contracted providers under this program, which are currently Jewish Family Community Services, Child Guidance Center, Daniel Memorial, Children’s Home Society, and Family Foundations.  Additionally, the “Full Service Schools PLUS” program is growing. This started as a pilot in 2015, but those involved say they’ve seen huge success. Under this initiative, there is one therapist assigned to one school, due to “Early Warning Indicators” like low attendance and high discipline rates. Until now, there were 12 schools in this program, but $1.7 million in additional funding from the City of Jacksonville’s new budget- which effectively doubled last year’s allocation- will add 28 more sites. That means 40 total schools will each have a dedicated therapist, with the program managed directly through Jacksonville’s Kids Hope Alliance.  “It’s a true collaboration, a true partnership, and it will pay huge dividends for our students,” says School Board Member Ashley Smith Juarez.  IN DEPTH: Jacksonville’s $1.2 billion City budget The total budget for FSS and FSS PLUS was $5.5 million in the prior fiscal year, between the City, DCPS, private donations- largely the United Way- and Medicaid billing. That is now up to around $7.2 million, according to KHA.  While the focus is increased mental health services for students, there is also after-school tutoring, mentoring, family counseling, health services, and more. School Board Member Becki Couch says the expansion is especially important for some of the more rural areas, like where she represents.  “We’re able to reach communities that really have very little access,” she says.  A student can be referred for counseling from anyone, including non-school personnel like family. The counselor vets the request, then obtains consent from a parent. Services under the programs are handled during school hours, in a dedicated office on the campus.  Data obtained by WOKV shows the number of referrals for FSS mental health counseling and social services has gradually risen each of the last three years, which the District credits to heightened awareness and a move that started a few years ago toward improving the program.  “I want to say a tremendous thank you to those partners who knew at that time and in that moment that there was a growing need and an acute need for more mental health services,” Smith Juarez says.  Since then, she says they’ve seen wait times for services fall, and she expects improvements to continue as more resources are put in.  FSS data provided by the District further shows that nearly all of the students who go through counseling see improved overall functioning, when rated with an assessment used in the state. Some of the measured gains in the last year include students going through treatment and then advancing to the next grade, or a parent or guardian finding an improvement in behavior.  Therapists under this program must be at least a therapist or clinician with a Master’s degree in mental health counseling, social work, psychology, or marriage and family counseling, with all appropriate licenses, according to the contract between DCPS and the United Way of Northeast Florida. They go through background screenings as well.  Anyone who thinks a student needs help can make a referral, and there are some services available for certain communities as well. DCPS has a full list of those locations and referral instructions on their website.  DCPS says their understanding is that the State funding will be recurring, allowing them to continue this high level of service. The City and DCPS dollars have likewise been baked in to the respective budgets, at this point. DCPS says they continue working with partners to ensure this program will be sustainable.
  • From the outset of Jacksonville’s budget process weeks ago, City leaders have said their priority continues to be public safety. Just ahead of Tuesday night’s final vote approving that $1.2 billion spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year, the City Council put an exclamation point on that priority, by adding even more funding toward a new program trying to stop violence at the community level.  The Council approved a bill to take $64,550 from leftover Council Contingency funds, to use toward the “Stop the Violence” small grant program. This is run under the Kids Hope Alliance, and allows small community organizations and faith-based groups to apply for grants of up to $10,000 for anti-violence efforts. The program is designed to better empower those who are already on the ground and entrenched in communities that are dealing with crime.  “We feel really strongly that allowing grassroots organizations- particularly if they’re small churches or community-based organizations- opportunity to get funding is unprecedented for the City. And it gives us tremendous opportunity to leverage these groups that are working with our young children and provide them with resources to continue to do that in a material way, and we think that’s going to have a tremendous impact on reducing violence in some of our at-hope neighborhoods,” says KHA CEO Joe Peppers. That $64,550 is being added to another $350,000 that is being put toward that program under the City’s budget- $50,000 as part of KHA’s annual budget and $300,000 that the Council Finance Committee is committing, out of funds that were discovered through the budget review process. When combined with $50,000 committed by Mayor Lenny Curry, from executive reserves, the program stands to have a total of $464,550 for the next fiscal year.  “These grassroots organizations that provide these services, that’s who’s going to help us make a difference. These are the organizations that we often see crying out ‘let us help’. We’re giving them the opportunity to help us now, and I expect results of it,” says Councilman Reggie Gaffney, who was a driving force behind this program. Peppers says they are still finalizing the exact process for distributing the grants, but he believes it will be a first-come first-served approach, with each grant award based on the merit of the program. He says there will be rigorous standards enforced to ensure the dollars are being used appropriately, in line with the other contracts they manage. He hopes to begin accepting applications by mid-next week, with funds being disbursed by mid- to late-October. They will continually review applications until all funds are exhausted. That is just one portion of the overall City budget that’s now been approved unanimously by the 19-member Council, which WOKV has covered extensively through the last few weeks.  IN DEPTH: Jacksonville’s City budget  “City Council just passed my budget. It was unanimous. 4 for 4 unanimous. Together we have produced four budgets that demonstrate a commitment to public safety, supporting kids and families, investing in infrastructure, and economic development leading to job creation. There is always more work to do, but these four budgets have helped Jacksonville be positioned for a prosperous future,” tweeted Curry, following the Council’s vote. On the anti-violence front, the budget also funds the startup of the “Real Time Crime Center”. This is an initiative that will bring different data lines and systems JSO has access to- from dispatch calls to ShotSpotter- to filter through a uniform system to better streamline information to first responders. That can then be synched with surveillance, footage, historical crime data, and more to provide a more comprehensive view of the scene, and can further track crime trends.  Closely tied to public safety, an expansion of the opioid treatment pilot program is included, as is more than $42,000 for grief counseling, trauma care, and burial costs for children exposed to or victims or violent crime; $120,000 to bring housing assistance and mental health services to the Sulzbacher Center; $3 million to replace and upgrade City security cameras; more therapists in Duval Schools; and much more.  To provide children and the community at large a safe place to spend some recreational time, this budget expands library hours, to ensure every branch is open at least six days a week, with some locations open all seven days. It also moves forward plans for an Oceanway library.  Public Works is another big spend, from an increase in litter cleanup services, to an additional $360,000 vacuum truck to drain inlets and pipes. There’s a large Capital Improvements Program, which includes everything from a Downtown dog park and repairs to historic African American cemeteries, to big investments in maintaining the Prime Osborn Convention Center. There is road paving, sidewalk repairs, bridge and dock work, and much more. In the CIP, $3 million will start replacing portions of the Northbank bulkhead. This comes as the result of “growing” and “more problematic” bulkhead failures that have been taking place since Irma, as characterized by City Councilwoman Lori Boyer.  $12.5 million for taking down the Hart Bridge ramps in Downtown is also included. WOKV has taken you in depth on the reason behind the project and other funding the City is still working to line up, but this portion matches $12.5 million from the Florida Department of Transportation, which keeps the project in motion.  Both the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens and UF Health are getting multi-year capital improvement plans. For the Zoo, it’s $25 million over five years- which will be annually matched with private donations- to implement their Master Plan. That includes new and upgraded exhibits, a more central entrance, an added attraction, and much more. UF Health will receive $120 million over six years to repairs, maintenance, and improvements on the City-owned buildings.  The budget process further raised big questions the Council has looming in the future.  A two-part WOKV investigation found the nonprofit running the Jacksonville Equestrian Center had some short-term funding problems to get through this fiscal year, and now faces an even bigger question on how it will be funded in the future because the trust fund that has been used for the last few years has run down. The City Council will have to consider other funding options in the future, as the nonprofit works to continue to turn around the venue to generate more revenue.  One of the biggest questions that loomed over this budget process overall is a November ballot initiative on an additional homestead exemption. If voters pass the measure, it will mean a break for their property tax bill, but an estimated $27 million hole in next year’s City budget. Because of that, the Council highly scrutinized requests to boost anything that required recurring funding- they did not want to commit to funding that in the future, with that possible hole looming.  Still another future question that was highlighted through the budget process is how the City will recoup the cost of JSO providing school security services at Duval County schools. A new state law requires enhanced security, but left it on districts to decide the exact program and fund the majority of that. JSO is supplementing DCPS, while they work to train a sufficient number of new hires to cover the demand- and it’s not yet clear when and how JSO will be repaid for that. The budget did not raise the property tax rate, although with increasing property value you will likely see a higher property tax bill, even with the flat rate.
  • The Jacksonville Equestrian Center sits at a critical time for determining how it’s funded in the future, but it’s also at a turning point for realizing the potential of what the property can be.  “This is the crown jewel of the Westside. We’re very proud of it, and we hope people will come out and enjoy it,” says Northeast Florida Equestrian Society Board Chair Peggy Fuller.  WOKV brought you an in depth look Monday at the cost challenges that have beset the venue in recent years. The nonprofit running it, Northeast Florida Equestrian Society, believes they are on the road to turning that around, once they get their new covered arena open and in use.  It’s just one of several projects and programs designed to not only start cranking up the venue’s use, but better connect it with the community.  Covered arena  The Equestrian Center’s contract says the first priority of NFES is adding a covered outdoor arena. That offers many different opportunities when partnered with the main arena- from a large show running more efficiently with multiple spaces, to a large show expanding further because of the additional space, to the ability to run two compatible shows at once in the two separate covered spaces. Because the new covered ring will be open air on the sides, it will also let the Equestrian Center increase programming in the summer, since the main arena now does not have air conditioning.  For NFES, this gives them a space to host smaller community events, while also positioning them to be more competitive for large, national competitions.  “To make this facility something that’s a destination, and people are proud of. This is a draw to Jacksonville, that this is somewhere somebody wants to come,” says NFES past Board Chair Joanne Connell.  IN DEPTH: Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s $1.2 billion City budget proposal In fiscal year 16-17, the City Council committed $1.3 million for a covered ring, and NFES has secured a donation to match that, as part of a naming rights agreement for the space. The contract amendment between the City and NFES initially outlined the project’s completion as October 1, 2018.  To date, the construction has not actually started.  During recent City budget hearings, Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department Director Daryl Joseph said part of the reason NFES didn’t meet revenue projections is because those were put together with the expectation the new covered arena would be up and running. The City blames the delay on a number of factors, including the weather, hurricane and project design. NFES says the delay was driven in large part from the City- they took months to review and approve the donor match agreement, and once that was done, NFES says City codes had changed, so they had to deal with design changes and code variances.  The City confirms the funding for the project is still allocated, and it’s believed the projection for the total project cost will still hold, despite the delay. The project timeline has also received a one-year extension, following a City Council vote last week.  The plan is to take two existing outdoor rings and combine them in to one new 270x270 sq ft ring, that has footing to match the interior arena. A 300x300 sq ft cover will hang over that ring and will connect to the existing arena, with a buffer space in between the two buildings serving as a livestock holding area.  Fuller says they already have events that have committed to expanding, once the covered arena is in place. They’re also hoping it will lead to a major show anchoring in Jacksonville, meaning they schedule the same weekend here every year. NFES is not yet booking events for the venue, because of the delays that have taken place with construction. They’re now hoping to be able to break ground soon, with completion of the project late Spring or early Summer.  With how the shows are booked- several years in advance- Fuller says it could take that long to see the full benefit, but the patience will be worth the wait.  Other improvements on site  The long-range plan has even more improvements for the site, both in infrastructure and offerings. NFES believes the next phase should be the support around the new covered ring.  With 423 stalls currently spread across four barns, NFES hopes to start selling out more, once the new venue creates more demand. If the demand increases enough, they could potentially build even more barns in the future, which feeds a primary revenue source for them- stall rentals.  GALLERY:Jacksonville Equestrian Center With expanding space for the horses, comes the need for their human counterparts to go somewhere. NFES hopes to add more RV rental sites in the future, to achieve that.  The contract “Work Plan” between the City and NFES says the nonprofit will refurbish barns, stalls, camping and RV spots, trails, parking, and landscaping. The Plan also calls for new bathroom and shower facilities near barns three and four, improved pavilions, additional livestock pens, covered bleachers, and much more. The Equestrian Center Master Plan includes a lot of this, and NFES is already separately working on more ring space, which is being funded by private donations.   There are also on-site revenue services that are growing. They would like to expand the therapeutic equipment they have for horses, which could then be rented by horse owners at events. NFES further tells WOKV they also may have a donor lined up for a farrier space on-site, whereas any farrier or vet who provides services for events currently has to do work in the stalls.  Equine Therapy program  Another hallmark of the Equestrian Center’s future is a planned “state of the art” equine therapy program.  Fuller says they have a sponsor that allows them to start the program by partnering with an accredited therapy group, which brings horses to the Equestrian Center and performs the services. They hope to ultimately be able to build a separate structure on the property to house the program full time.  “Our theory is start small and build slowly, and then we’ll be successful. If you dive in, I think, all at once, you sometimes overstep. We want to start small and build,” she says.  The program provides both physical and mental therapy services, for everyone from veterans to people with autism.  “It’s exciting now that this has been actually realized, assisted therapy has been realized as a true therapy. And we want to be involved in that,” Fuller says.  Connell says they’re especially proud of being able to aid the military community through this service, because of the origin of the land, which used to be with Cecil Field.  Diverse programming  The Equestrian Center is only one of the facilities in that area. Taye Brown Regional Park includes the Equestrian Center, the Cecil Recreation Complex’s Aquatic Center, and the ballfields. There are also miles of trails- including ones you can take a horse on- and a golf course nearby.  The contract between the City and NFES talks about partnering with those other venues to create “destination package deals”. NFES says they absolutely see the surrounding attractions as benefiting them, in creating more appeal in the immediate area.  The “Work Plan” further speaks about not only expanding equine-related events, but other community and diverse activities.  “A big boost at other equestrian centers is the development and ownership of ‘downtime’ nonrated shows that will fill low-demand calendar dates,” the contract says.  NFES believes the therapy program can ultimately be something that helps program the Equestrian Center every day, because it will run on week days, when large shows and events typically aren’t taking place. They’ve also already grown substantially in attracting a range of events. From dog agility shows, to RV shows, FDOT Career Day, concerts, rodeos, and much more, NFES has focused on bringing in something for everyone.  “Most of our events are free and open to the public. There’s no parking fee, there’s no entrance fee, and we want people to come, encourage people to come and see what we have our here,” Fuller says.  Marketing  The City also continues to explore how to help promote the venue.  In recent action recommended by the Tourist Development Council and approved by the City Council, guidelines were created to establish criteria for awarding all tourism development grants, including those used for marketing and special events. Part of that included setting aside $20,000 specifically for promotion the Equestrian Center, separate from the $800,000 in Special Event Grants that cover other events and City venues. According to the City, this funding will be used specifically to lure events that draw participants from outside of the area, and for advertising events at the venue.  The grant money was pulled from the overall special events fund because of the unique nature of the Equestrian Center and events being recruited. As such, the TDC and Visit Jax wanted it to be handled differently. Jacksonville Equestrian Center Executive Director Tim Jones says the core problem is that the standard grants are being measured by hotel night, but that’s not the metric that most accurately represents the economic impact they have, since many participants stay in RVs or scatter at hotels that accommodate dogs or other animals they travel with. Instead, he envisions something that gives more weight to stall nights, for these new grants.  “It’s a City facility that attracts tourists, and we [the TDC] thought there was an opportunity to help them bump the level of their game, if they could offer some grants to some of the people to bring in the kind of ‘National Championship of X’, as opposed to just having the regional competitions,” said City Councilwoman Lori Boyer, during the TDC’s recent budget hearing.  The funding is coming from the City’s tourism development tax, as part of the TDC budget.  Looking ahead  NFES understands that not everyone is familiar with- or necessarily even in support of- the Equestrian Center, but they’re continuing to work to change that. Highlighting that this is a Better Jacksonville Plan project, Fuller says voters supported it ahead of its construction in 2004, and now there is a need to maintain it, and an opportunity to program it to its fullest.  NFES is committed to continuing to educate the City Council and community at large on the events and opportunities the venue holds. With most of the events at the Equestrian Center being free and open to the public, they’re hoping everyone takes the time to visit- not just those passionate about horses and equestrian events.  In the coming year, the City of Jacksonville will closely consider how to subsidize this venue in the future. NFES says they will closely partner in those discussions, and continue to prove why they believe this is a worthwhile investment.  WOKV continues to track how Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and the City Council are spending your tax dollars, with the final vote on the City’s $1.2 billion budget proposal coming next week.
  • While the Veterans Memorial Arena, Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, and other Downtown venues are familiar to just about anyone in Jacksonville, there’s another City facility that sits along the Westside that, for years, has been known to a more niche audience- the Jacksonville Equestrian Center.   The nonprofit that runs the venue has been working to grow its use and exposure, but has faced funding challenges, construction setbacks, and other problems in that goal. Now, the Equestrian Center sits at a critical time, where the City has to determine how to fund it moving in to the future.  WOKV is bringing you a deep dive in to what’s brought this City-owned facility to this point, the funding questions looming, and how those involved believe it can turn around in the future.  History  In 2014, the nonprofit Northeast Florida Equestrian Society took over the management of the Equestrian Center from the City of Jacksonville’s contractor SMG. That company manages the other City venues, but the District Councilman at the time, Doyle Carter, convinced his colleagues that the Equestrian Center needed a more specialized touch.  NFES does not receive a management fee, but is instead only paid for “actual, reasonable, and budgeted expenses to perform the Services”, according to the contract with the City. That document further says operating expenses are to be funded by revenue from the Equestrian Center, which includes donations, admission fees, concessions, advertising and sponsorships, and related sources. Ticket sale revenue is used for funds for performers or incidental expenses for an event, with any excess also going toward operating expenses.  There is also the possibility to sell naming rights for various aspects of the Equestrian Center or even the Center itself, and that money would be used solely for capital improvements on site.  NFES has been generating revenue, and that’s grown since they’ve taken over, but it has not been able to meet the expenses. As a result, the venue gets a City subsidy every year to cover the gap.  Short term funding  The subsidy is not new- predating NFES management, the highest level was in FY 2010-2011, where the Equestrian Center received more than $760,000 from the General Fund, which is the portion of the City budget comprised of your property tax dollars.  When NFES took over, the funding was instead shifted to the Taye Brown Trust Fund, which is fed by a host fee for solid waste at the Trail Ridge Landfill, instead of tax dollars. Since they took full control in FY 2014-2015, the subsidy has largely stayed below the levels predating NFES management. In both this fiscal year and the last, the Equestrian Center received a little more than $400,000, but that number is up to $465,508 in the proposed budget for FY 2018-2019.   The numbers overall are also not matching projections for what NFES hoped to be doing at this stage.  During budget hearings last month, the Mayor’s Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa said NFES revenue wasn’t only short of meeting expectations, but they were going to be short for the fiscal year overall.  “This nonprofit has done a good job, but they’re beginning to slip here lately,” Mousa said.  The Jacksonville City Council voted last Tuesday to allocate $50,000 to be used to allow the Equestrian Center to continue operating through this month. This was Carter’s last bill on the Council, although he was not actually present for the vote, because he previously stepped down from his seat in order to run for Tax Collector.  The City Council bill also creates and funds an “Extraordinary Repair and Maintenance Budget”, which covers “large scale, non recurring repair of maintenance projects” like repairs from fire, storms, burglary, or structural failure, according to the contract. It further clarifies that the City is responsible for capital expenses over $2,500, which will be considered as part of the annual Capital Improvement Program that is put together during the City budget process.  NFES says this is a crucial change, because it makes the City’s responsibility clear, helps them streamline the process, and potentially provides access to more funding for these emergency, unexpected infrastructure and equipment issues.  NFES says the increase in this year’s budget proposal accounts for rising capital maintenance costs. Between this fiscal year and the last, NFES says they have had some $90,000 in expenses come up because of infrastructure failure and equipment problems, including $9,000 for an elevator, $8,600 for the sprinkler system, $16,300 for repairing the indoor arena footing, $35,000 for equipment rentals, and more. They say, because the facility is now 14 years old and some of their equipment even predates that, issues like this aren’t uncommon, and are an obstacle to their goal of decreasing the subsidy the venue needs.  “We would like to work towards that and strive to work towards that, but again, as the building is aging, we’ve got repairs that need to be done. As our equipment is aging, we’re having to rent equipment,” says NFES Board Chair Peggy Fuller.  NFES tells WOKV these emergency repairs and a capital project not being constructed according to its timeline led to them falling short of projections.  The $50,000 in the City Council bill is coming from the Taye Brown Trust Fund as well, but that leads to another big decision pending in front of the Council, because the Trust Fund won’t be able to support the needed overall budget subsidy in the future.  Long term funding  The Taye Brown Trust Fund was identified several years ago by Carter and other Council members as a way to support the gap between the operating expenses and revenue at the Equestrian Center. The fund consistently brings in about $200,000 annually from the host fees, and is designated to use at the Taye Brown Regional Park, which includes the Equestrian Center.  The demands of the venue have drained revenue from the Trust Fund quicker than it has been coming in.  As a result, the Council Auditor’s Office says the Trust Fund has dropped from around $1.3 million in FY 14-15, to less than $450,000 as this fiscal year closes out. The FY 18-19 budget proposes $465,508 from the Trust Fund for the Equestrian Center. While the Trust Fund will be able to cover that, when the annual income from the host fee is considered, it will leave a very small balance, so the auditors do not believe this Fund will be viable for supporting the Equestrian Center in the future.  “The concern is noted. If the Taye Brown Trust Fund runs out of cash, you either have to cut back on operational expenses or supplement with the General Fund. That’s your two options,” Mousa said during the recent budget hearing.  IN DEPTH: Jacksonville’s $1.2 billion budget proposal During this year’s budget hearings, Council members were cautious about adding any recurring expenses. While property values and construction have helped the General Fund overall grow in recent years, Florida voters will decide in November whether to give themselves an additional property tax exemption, which would leave an estimated $27 million hole in the City budget next fiscal year. That could make it difficult to absorb this venue’s subsidy in to the General Fund.  But, through various budget and Council committee hearings, the ground has been laid for identifying some other funding line- General Fund or otherwise- not only because the Taye Brown Trust Fund will likely not cover the expense in the future, but because the City wants to allow the Trust Fund to recover, so it can be spent on the Taye Brown Regional Park overall, as initially intended. The Park is part of the Cecil Recreation Complex, with also includes ball fields, an Olympic-size pool, trails, and more.  “It needs to start building back up, so we can do other economic impacts out there for the Sports Complex. So, in the future, that’s going to be an issue that’s going to have to be taken care of,” Carter said during a Committee hearing on the emergency maintenance funding bill.  Growing in the future  The contract with NFES was initially signed through the end of the next fiscal year September 30, 2019. It has since been extended through September 30, 2024, according to contract documents. Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department Director Daryl Joseph says NFES has been making progress- but he’s urging the City Council to be realistic.  “I don’t want to paint the picture that this is ever going to be a revenue generating facility, because I don’t have that forecast. So, there may always be a need for a subsidy for this facility,” Joseph says.  That isn’t necessarily a concern to some on the Council, with Councilwoman Lori Boyer highlighting that the General Fund subsidizes other venues like the Arena, Baseball Grounds, and more. NFES further says how the City acquired the overall land requires it be used for active and passive recreational purposes, and since voters approved the Equestrian Center under the Better Jacksonville Plan, the City has a responsibility to make sure it’s maintained. Councilman Bill Gulliford also says, while revenue has fallen short of projections, it is getting better.  “Some years ago, it was sort of desperate, so it’s really turned around,” Gulliford said during the Equestrian Center budget hearing.  NFES views themselves as similar to the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, where a non-profit operates that City venue. The Zoo, however, has received a $1.3 million allocation from the General Fund each of the last few years, and the Council is poised to approve a 5-year, $25 million capital funding plan to help the Zoo achieve their new Master Plan.  Joseph says NFES has been doing well in trying creative ways to create more revenue and solicit more and different events.  WOKV requested an interview with the City about the Equestrian Center, but received statements in response to our specific questions. They say it’s a “unique facility and venue” for Jacksonville, and they are “optimistic” about NFES’ commitment to improvement and what the future holds.  NFES believes they are on the right path to turning around overall. Coming up Tuesday on WOKV, we’re bringing you a closer look at that progress, and the big projects NFES believes can be the start of a bright future.
  • The City of Jacksonville is aiming to spend $3 million to replace a section of the Northbank bulkhead in the next fiscal year, saying there have been many problems. The funding wasn’t initially included in the proposed Capital Improvement Program put forward by Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry as part of the budget approval process, but Councilwoman Lori Boyer says the need changed when they got an updated assessment report on the state of the bulkheads.  “Post-Irma, the bulkhead failures are growing and becoming more problematic, and we really need to start with the replacement of some of the Northbank bulkhead sections,” Boyer says.  A bulkhead is a retaining wall or seawall, and specifically in the areas of concern, it’s the wall bordering the Northbank land along the St. Johns River. During a recent budget hearing, Boyer said there have been “a bunch” of bulkhead problems, and- after receiving the failure report- the Administration agrees that funding needs to be moved in to this year.  IN DEPTH: Jacksonville’s $1.2 billion City budget proposal In the original CIP for the next fiscal year, there was no money set aside for Northbank bulkhead repair, but the funding started in FY 19-20 allocated several million dollars each of the following several years. Not wanting to increase the debt load on the CIP for the next fiscal year, the proposal put forward by Boyer, in cooperation with the Administration, takes $3 million of the $4 million that was proposed for JAX ASH Site Pollution Remediation. To offset that, Boyer proposed $3 million of the $4 million in bulkhead repair funding for FY 20-21 be moved to JAX ASH Site Pollution Remediation for FY 20-21.  “It gives us the ability to start the work on the Northbank bulkhead a year earlier, and we really need to do that,” Boyer says.  The first phase of the work will be behind the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts, between Hogan and Pearl. One segment on either side of that has also been identified for action- the block behind the Landing and the block behind CSX.  “We are piece-mealing it, but that’s not to say the Landing bulkhead will stay deteriorated forever, nor the section in front of CSX,” says Curry’s Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa, who was asked about the segmented approach.  The proposal keeps the CIP “budget neutral” overall, and the Administration and Public Works Department have assured the Council that there is still enough funding going toward JAX ASH, even with this reduction in the upcoming fiscal year.  “It’s a good move,” says Mousa.  Mousa says JAX ASH deals with a Consent Decree between the City and the EPA for the cleanup of ash City-wide. He says this is a remnant of when the City used to burn solid waste and allow people and construction sites to use that ash as fill. That was done before regulations, and once it was learned the ash has lead and can be harmful to very young children, the City was required to either place two feet of clean fill over the ash sites or remove the old ash outright and put it in a landfill.  Because the sites are scattered across the County, the exact total cost for remediation was not made clear at the hearing, but Mousa says there has been a lot of money put in over the years. Even with the proposed funding shift, there is still $13 million going toward that effort through various other funding lines in FY 18-19. Public Works says, overall, then City has about $24 million left to be done after that. Then, they will continue to do testing and monitoring long term.  WOKV requested a copy of the bulkhead failure report, but the City says it is exempt from public records requests, because it depicts structural elements of bulkheads owned by the City.  The proposal has been approved by the Finance Committee. It is now pending approval by the full City Council, as part of the overall City budget and CIP approval later this month.
  • It’s something for Downtown dog owners to get excited about. The proposed Capital Improvement Program that was put forward alongside Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s $1.2 billion City budget proposal includes $400,000 to retrofit Main Street Park in to a dog park.  The Main Street pocket park sits across from the Main Library in Downtown, on Main Street between E Duval Street and E Monroe Street. It is currently green space that is not specifically programmed much of the year.  The CIP says there has been an increasing number of people in Downtown owning dogs, and the City believes this will be a better use of the park space.  IN DEPTH: Jacksonville’s proposed $1.2 billion budget While the proposed CIP would have the City borrow up to $400,000 for this project, the projected budget at this point is $352,500. The project details obtained by WOKV show the biggest expense would be $180,000 in synthetic turf. There would also be $63,000 in fencing and gates, $50,000 for site work like pavers and stairs, and $42,500 for rock mulch. Irrigation, a drinking fountain, and agility equipment round out the expenses.  The project details say there are also shade sails being considered, but the projected cost is more than $80,000.  The project proposal, as well as the full CIP and City budget proposal have already been vetted by the City Council Finance Committee, but are still pending approval by the full City Council later this month. If approved, this won’t be the only dog park in Downtown, although it would be the one on open park space. Pet Paradise Park opened up with the Jaguars pre-season, and it hosts a few dogs each game inside of TIAA Bank Field.

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  • After yet another day which featured no hints of progress in ending a funding fight that has to a partial government shutdown taking paychecks away from over 800,000 federal workers, President Donald Trump tweeted on Friday evening that he would make a ‘major announcement’ on Saturday about his push to get money to build a wall along the Mexican border, which has led to an ongoing standoff with Democrats in Congress. “I will be making a major announcement concerning the Humanitarian Crisis on our Southern Border, and the Shutdown,” the President wrote on Twitter, giving no details about what he might announce. With no indications that Democrats in Congress are ready to give in on their opposition to a border wall, some Republicans have continued to urge the President to declare a ‘national emergency’ under existing laws, and move money around in the military’s budget to build a wall. I will be making a major announcement concerning the Humanitarian Crisis on our Southern Border, and the Shutdown, tomorrow afternoon at 3 P.M., live from the @WhiteHouse. — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 18, 2019 “He ought to go ahead and declare an emergency, and it would be over,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK). “I don’t know why he is reluctant to do that.” Inhofe – who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee – said Thursday that he would not oppose the President dipping into military construction funds to build the wall, though other Republicans have publicly opposed the idea. Democrats on Friday also pressed the Department of Homeland Security on another front – using eminent domain to take land away from landowners, in order to build the way – focusing on a case involving the Catholic Church in Texas, which owns land that the Trump Administration wants. “The federal government must exercise extreme caution when seizing private property,” wrote Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer to the Homeland Security Secretary. To @SecNielsen: The Trump Administration’s lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, raises important questions on the exercise of eminent domain to build a border wall. We ask you to respond to these questions by January 31: pic.twitter.com/MXcfoQib9E — Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) January 18, 2019 The President has asked for $5.7 billion in border security money for both fencing and a wall; Democrats in Congress have offered $1.6 billion – the original requests of the Trump Administration and Republicans – but Democrats want none of that to go to the wall.
  • Florida schools are seeing a critical shortage of certified science, English and math teachers. A new report by the Florida Department of Education says those subjects are among areas where substantial proportions of teachers who are not certified in the appropriate field are being hired to teach those courses. “We have a shortage because people aren’t entering the teaching profession like they used to because there’s no security in teaching,” Renna Lee Paiva said. Paiva is president of the Clay County Education Association. She said those who have been in the education field for years are extremely concerned about the teacher shortage. In Duval County, a district spokesperson said there are 146 total vacancies at schools, with 21 open positions in math and four in science. In St. Johns County, the district had 28 unfilled positions as of Jan. 7, including four in math and science. Clay County Schools says it has 14 vacancies overall, with five in math and science. “We start to see fewer freshman coming in and saying, ‘I want to be an elementary teacher or I want to be a biology teacher,’” Paul Parkison, chair of the University of North Florida’s childhood education program, said. He told Action News Jax that the university starts recruitment early, educating incoming freshman about teaching opportunities. “We didn’t used to have to have those conversations, we’d have freshman coming in that were already excited about being teachers,” he said. “We actually initiated a couple programs that are targeted toward particularly the secondary, our UNF graduates who didn’t consider teacher as their primary major. Maybe they’re a history major or a biology major.” Local education experts, including Jacksonville Public Education Fund President Rachel Tutwiler Fortune, said the focus needs to be on higher pay. “There are many potential solutions, including higher pay and more career advancement opportunities,” she said in a statement. “Our pay scales, our benefits is all in jeopardy and it’s up to the legislators to fix it so we can give quality education to our kids -- which is our primary goal,” Paiva said. Full statement from JPEF: “The teacher shortage is a problem in Duval County as well as across our state and the nation, and there are many potential solutions, including higher pay and more career advancement opportunities. The Duval County School Board recently discussed one of these promising solutions -- creating a program to help public high students work toward a degree in education, in order to increase the number of aspiring teachers. This would be a win for Duval County students now and in the future, and we applaud Duval County Public Schools for exploring how we could adopt this innovative model -- known as 'grow your own teacher' -- in Jacksonville.”
  • You've been hearing the buzz about autonomous vehicles for a while, now lawmakers in Florida are discussing the possibility of making the futuristic form of transportation a reality. A state representative from Duval County has filed legislation to allow the development and deployment of those autonomous vehicles.  State Rep. Jason Fischer (R-Jacksonville) says as an engineer by trade, he understands the benefits autonomous vehicles would bring with them. He says if Florida were to ban those types of vehicles, it would stunt the state's potential for growth.  'Those engineers aren't going to move here. Those planners aren't going to move here. Those are high paying jobs,' Fischer says.  He says he can imagine Jacksonville as a place where football fans will be able to hop on driverless vehicles to take them to Jaguars games at TIAA Bank Field. He says the Skyway, linking one side of the St. Johns River to the other in downtown, is a prime example of something that could be updated if his bill goes through.  'We have a public transportation component that's already looking to go that way,' he says. 'My legislation would help enable them to move in that direction.'  Fischer says autonomous vehicles would also be a major help to the blind community. Both AARP Florida and the Florida Council of the Blind have offered their support for the legislation, saying their members will have more mobility opportunities if the bill goes through.  “For blind people, people living with disabilities and some senior citizens, self-driving cars will mean greater independence,” President of the Florida Council of the Blind Sheila Young says in a statement.  Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) is sponsoring the companion measure in the Florida Senate. Fischer says he thinks the legislation should make it to the governor's desk within a couple months.
  • Two Florida fifth-graders are accused of plotting to kill an 11-year-old classmate and escape in a golf cart last month. The plot unraveled Dec. 14 at Roberts Elementary School in Tallahassee, where the alleged victim and the accused students, ages 10 and 11, all attend school. A 32-page police report obtained by the Tallahassee Democrat details the plot, which resulted in both students’ suspension and civil citations for conspiracy to commit battery and bringing weapons on school grounds.  The students are also being recommended for expulsion, the Democrat reported.  “This obviously is a very serious matter,” Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna said in a statement. “There is zero tolerance in our school system for violence or threats of violence. The individuals who participate in these types of behavior will suffer severe consequences, as (will) these two young boys.” The school’s principal, Kim McFarland, told investigators that the boys “planned and put into effect” a plot to kill their classmate, the Democrat reported.  >> Read more trending news According to the timeline laid out in the police report, one of the accused boys threatened the victim Dec. 10, telling him they would kill him. A few days later, a female classmate told the victim a secret and then went to the two suspected plotters and claimed the victim was spreading rumors about her.  The plotters again threatened the boy, saying they would “take care of him and kill him,” the Democrat reported.  Another student later told police investigators the boys drew a map of where on campus they would take the victim -- an area without security cameras, the newspaper reported. They ultimately changed their mind and planned to take the boy to the school’s garden instead, the police report said.  The day of the planned attack, one of the boys brought a backpack to school with what investigators believe was a murder kit: a wrench, adjustable clamp pliers, a multitool with a 3-inch blade on it and baseball batting gloves. According to police, the student showed the tools to classmates and one of the pair told them “snitches get stitches.” They also told at least one classmate they had the gloves so they would not leave fingerprints, the Democrat reported. They planned to use some of the tools to bust through a gate and flee on a golf cart.  During an after-school program on campus, the boys approached the alleged victim and asked if he wanted to go to the “secret hideout in the garden,” the police report said. He told investigators he refused because other students had told him the boys wanted to hurt him.  The alleged victim went to a teacher supervising the after-school program and told what the boys had planned, the newspaper reported. The boys were taken to the principal, who searched the backpack and found the tools, including the knife. The boys denied wanting to kill the victim, but admitted they planned to beat him up, the Democrat reported.  After the incident, McFarland sent parents an email, which was obtained by WCTV in Tallahassee. “Last Friday there was an incident, with alleged intent to harm a fellow student, that occurred in the afterschool program with a group of 5th grade students who had been developing a plan over a series of days,” McFarland said. “Some of you have reached out with concerns and questions. At this time, I cannot share details, but I can assure that your children are safe and the situation is being handled.” McFarland wrote that she met with the school’s fifth graders to discuss the importance of “see something, say something.”   “Many fifth grade students knew of the potential incident but did not tell teachers or their parents,” the principal said. “We discussed the importance of alerting adults when there is any concern for safety for themselves or their fellow students. Please discuss this with your children. It is imperative they learn this valuable skill now.”
  • The Clay County Sheriff's Office is inviting the community to a fundraiser next month called 'Shootin' with the Sheriffs.' Chris Padgett, the Public Information Officer with CCSO, says the event will essentially be a clay-shoot competition featuring Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels and other law enforcement members and the community.  Padgett says proceeds from the event will allow them to send about 30 people from their honor guard and members of their traffic section to Washington D.C., later this year for the police memorial service to honor one of their own.  '...In August 2018, one of our very close friends and deputies, Deputy Ben Zirbel, was tragically killed in a traffic crash on Blanding Boulevard. With that, his name will be getting placed on the law enforcement memorial's wall. And we want to make the sure the members of his direct team and the members of our honor guards go there and partake in that event,' says Padgett.  Padgett says it's important to send a team to be there to represent Zirbel's legacy and represent his wife and his child.  'And that is just so important to us, because they're [Zirbel’s family] going through some extreme hardships and there is one way we can help elevate them and be there as a support element,' says Padgett.  Padgett says the 'Shootin' with the Sheriffs' event will be family-friendly and everyone's invited to either watch or take part.  The event will be held February 25th, from 9 AM- 2 PM, at the Saltwaters Shooting Club located at 900 Big Oak Road in St. Augustine.  To register or help sponsor the event, you can contact Jimmy Stalnaker at (904) 813-9554 or by email at jstalnaker@claysheriff.com. You can also contact Charlie Goldsmith at (904) 838-3350 or by email at cgoldsmith@claysheriff.com.  You can also contact either of them to make a cash donation if you can’t make it out that day, but still want to help.

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