ON AIR NOW

LISTEN NOW

Weather

clear-day
46°
Sunny
H 70° L 59°
  • clear-day
    46°
    Current Conditions
    Sunny. H 70° L 59°
  • clear-day
    66°
    Afternoon
    Sunny. H 70° L 59°
  • clear-night
    63°
    Evening
    Mostly Clear. H 70° L 59°
LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

The latest top stories

00:00 | 00:00

LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

The latest traffic report

00:00 | 00:00

LISTEN
PAUSE
ERROR

The latest forecast

00:00 | 00:00

Stories About The 2018 Jacksonville Budget

    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.
  • For the first time since Hurricane Matthew, the campgrounds at Huguenot Park are re-opening. The City of Jacksonville believes it’s an exciting time for the recreation opportunities available for you, but could also mean positive things for revenue at the site, and the impact that has on the budgets for the park and City overall.  Revenue at Huguenot Memorial Park is driven by entrance fees, campground rentals, and shelter rentals. Before Hurricane Matthew in 2016, Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department Director Daryl Joseph says the park, and specifically campgrounds, had been in demand.  “It is a popular facility, so when it closed down, of course we’ve been impacted by that. We were seeing a spike in usage prior to the hurricanes,” he said during a recent City Council Finance Committee budget hearing for the Parks Department.  The Park previously reopened, but after that, the focus turned to restoring the amenities. The Parks Department has focused on rebuilding roads, reconstructing the campsites, refurnishing them with picnic tables and fire rings, and more- although that process was further hampered by Hurricane Irma in 2017. Now, the City confirms 38 of the 72 campgrounds are in operation once again, with the rest slated to be open by the Spring. Two shelters are also now available to rent, with a third remaining under construction, but expected to open in the next couple of weeks.  As for the roads, Joseph says they have built a temporary road to get to the beach. They intend to start construction in the fall on a more permanent road, with the hope that it will be available to use next summer. The coastal road suffered substantial damage from Matthew. With these services now getting up and running again, the City hopes revenue will quickly follow. In the proposed $1.2 billion City budget from Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, Huguenot Park had to be subsidized by a $369,442 transfer from the General Fund- or taxpayer driven portion of the budget. That amount is a few thousand dollars more than what was allocated for the current fiscal year, and represents money that could have been put elsewhere, if the subsidy was not needed to balance the budget.  Joseph says they’re not relying just on the return of services to spark more revenue. He says they’re looking at opportunities like adding electricity at campgrounds, because that’s something that is frequently requested. He was hesitant to say raising fees outright is the answer, because he doesn’t want to price the park out. Currently, it is level with the fees at Hanna Park, and an annual pass will get you in to both locations.  IN DEPTH: Jacksonville’s proposed $1.2 billion budget Hanna Park has a transfer from the General Fund of $846,320 in the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, but it is not to balance their budget. Instead, it’s to be able to pay with cash, instead of debt, for several capital projects, with the commitment to pay back that General Fund loan through excess revenue in the near future. The Park did not require a transfer from the General Fund in the current fiscal year.  The transfer will combine with other Hanna Park revenue to fund a $1.02 million package of three improvements- the playground, the Splash Park, and campground restroom renovations. There aren’t many details on the specifics of the projects, but WOKV was able to obtain a rendering of the proposed Splash Park.  City Council Finance Committee members highlighted that not only does Hanna Park not need a transfer to balance its budget, but it is sustaining capital projects from its revenue as well. They are hoping that once Huguenot Park is fully up and running again, it will follow in kind.  “It’s a tremendous amenity for our County,” Joseph says.  Previously, $550,000 was allocated for the creation of a permanent beach access road for Huguenot Park that is more removed from the shoreline and, therefore, less prone to washing out. That project also included new campsites that were lost to shoreline erosion. WOKV asked the City what the cost was for all of the repair work done at Huguenot Park- to see how it stacks up to the allocation- and we have not yet been given a specific answer.  While the Finance Committee has given a preliminary thumbs-up to the Mayor’s proposed City budget- which includes these funding lines and projects- the budget is still pending approval by the full City Council next month. WOKV continues to work through the City budget proposal, and will update you as we learn more.
  • Grants for community groups fighting violence, a vacuum truck to drain inlets, and renovations to bring more services to the Sulzbacher Center are just some of the budget enhancements the City Council Finance Committee has made, as they wind down their process of reviewing Mayor Lenny Curry’s $1.2 billion City budget proposal.  As the Committee vetted the budget with the City Council Auditor’s Office, they changed some financial assumptions and fixed some accounting points, ultimately freeing up $877,331 in uncommitted funds. Also through this process, Council members have heard requests from various departments and organizations about funding or items they want that did not make the Mayor’s proposal. Those were put on a list of “enhancements”, along with requests from the Council members themselves, for a total of 16 items for $1,614,250, with some of that funding being recurring dollars. On Thursday, they decided on six projects to get the funds.  IN DEPTH: Full coverage of the $1.2 billion City budget proposal Two of the enhancements come amid a wave of violence that has hit Jacksonville. The first vote the Committee took was $300,000 to fund small grants for community and faith-based organizations working anti-violence efforts.  “The idea is to create small cells within our high-risk communities and ask our small faith-based and community-based organizations to work together to pool their resources. We think that is a strategy that will allow for us to make our most significant impact and to be able to measure the outcomes,” says Kids Hope Alliance CEO Joe Peppers.  Despite this being one of the last items on the list of possible enhancements in front of the Committee, it was the first action they took, because of the overwhelming support that had become apparent. This will funnel through KHA, which already has $50,000 budgeted for the effort. Curry has also committed $50,000 in executive reserves for similar grants, bringing the total to $400,000.  “I think that it’s a big win for the community and Jacksonville,” says Councilman Reggie Gaffney.  The second area is grief counseling, trauma care, and burial costs for children who have been exposed to or are victims of violent crime. Initially, the KHA sought $60,000 for this effort, but the Committee budgeted $42,732, as part of the final compromise to fund several initiatives.  Hand-in-hand with these public safety initiatives is the Council’s mission to fight homelessness and boost services for that community. As such, they threw support behind a measure that was put forward at the last minute by Council President Aaron Bowman, to benefit the Sulzbacher Center.  The proposal initially sought $200,000 to co-locate the Mental Health Resource Center’s Quest Program and Link Program, which provides housing assistance and mental health services, respectively. Close to $51,000 is for renovating currently vacant space to accommodate the new services, which is one-time funding. Recurring costs come through an estimated $70,000 in increased utilities and just over $79,000 to use JSO to increase security on site. To compromise with the other projects, Bowman committed to working with JEA to handle that bill elsewhere. The Committee agreed to fund $120,000, with the Sulzbacher Center seeking partners to make up the gap.  “You know we know how to squeeze a dime at the Sulzbacher Center, so if we need to give $5,000 to grief counseling to children, it’s kind of hard for me to say no to that,” says Sulzbacher Center President and CEO Cindy Funkhouser.  Another non-public safety priority is Public Works, and specifically drainage.  “I look at the things that are going to bring maybe some benefit, is going to be for the whole community, that would be significant in the arena of basic service. And that’s what goes first and foremost, and that’s our primary responsibility first and foremost, basic service,” says Councilman Bill Gulliford.  Several Council members said they have been inundated with calls about flooding in neighborhoods across the City, so they are funding a $360,000 vacuum truck, or Vac Con, to be used to drain inlets and pipes.  “Whether we’ve had more rain this year or not, it is a challenge for our department to keep up with the requests, and I think having the extra equipment is a valuable asset,” says Councilwoman Lori Boyer.  This is something the Administration says they can use, although they didn’t budget for it, because they prioritized litter and blight issues with the available funding in the budget proposal. The Administration says this would likely bring the City’s Vac Con fleet to the highest level its ever been- at six overall- with two of those being replaced in the next budget proposal, because of age.  Another enhancement is $50,000 for Agape Family Health. In similar action last year, where there were available contingency funds, the Council gave Agape $187,962. In this budget proposal, Curry offered up $100,000. Agape had sought not only to be restored, but enhanced to $250,000 overall, because they say demand is rising. Instead of the $150,000 requested, the Committee budgeted $50,000.  “Our numbers are going up, in terms of the number of uninsured that we’re seeing. So it just means that we’ll have to see them, and then we’ll be in the red,” says Agape CEO Mia Jones.  A small $4,599 was set aside to ensure new City Council members would have access to the full communications and parking allowance during the transition time. Finally, the Committee decided to increase the employee cap of the Tax Collector’s Office by two- they had sought four- but those positions are not funded at this time. The Tax Collector’s Office wants the positions in order to offer new services, including processing concealed carry permits. They are projecting that revenue from these services could cover two positions, so that money will be shifted internally.  In approving these projects, there were several proposals that the Committee passed over.  The Public Service Grant Council initially sought more funding for grants, but scaled that back to request $50,000 to hire a consultant to study the return on investment of grants in the program, and the priority populations they serve. Public Service Grant Council Chair Lara Diettrich says this would have given them information to answer questions the Council consistently puts forward.  “I find it frustrating that you’re telling me no, when I’m trying to answer you,” she says.  Some Council members saw this as an expense on a narrow snapshot in time, as opposed to something with broad impact.  The Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville was hoping to get at least $1 million additional to boost the grant funding they provide to 27 organizations. Executive Director Tony Allegretti says he is thankful for the support the Council and Administration has provided, but he wants to see them move toward funding levels like what they had before the economic downturn. Councilman Jim Love also linked the grant program to the City’s overarching public safety concerns, because he says the programs they fund serve 400,000 kids each year.  “I think it helps with the violence in the city, because if you’re busy with art, you’re not busy with other things,” Love says.  While several Council members say they support the organization and work that’s being done, they did not see this as a priority in this specific City budget.  Councilwoman Joyce Morgan asked for $200,000 for a mobile broadcasting vehicle for WJCT to be used during an emergency like a hurricane, but she was short on answers for what else the vehicle could be used for, so that it wasn’t just sitting around most days.  Overall, the Committee was especially wary of recurring expenses- anything like salaries, which would be committee in future budget years as well. The reason for the hesitation is that Florida voters will weigh a new homestead exemption on the November ballot, and if that passes, it will save the average homeowner, but cost the City tens of millions of dollars in the next budget in lost property tax revenue. Anticipating that hole, the Administration and Council didn’t want to overcommit going in to the next proposal. That hesitation and how the other projects were prioritized led the Committee to pass on a proposal to add an additional engineering position to Public Works, to help with the large number of capital projects and other work taking place.  There had also been two requests relating to the Jacksonville Public Library system- one to generally examine increasing hours, and another to specifically add three hours each week at the Southeast Library. Love says he spoke with the JPL Director, who was satisfied with the hours boost that’s already included in the budget, which will ensure that every library is open at least six days a week.  The decisions on the Committee and Curry’s overall budget proposal are still pending approval by the full City Council. That vote will take place next month, before the start of the next fiscal year, October 1st.
  • After the mass shooting at the Jacksonville Landing, triple shooting following the Raines-Lee High School football game, and fatal shooting of a 7-year-old girl in a robbery-gone-wrong, city leaders are looking at a different approach for fighting back against violence. “Either we do nothing, and keep standing on the sidelines, and you see what we’re getting. Or we all try to do a little more,” says Councilman Reggie Gaffney, during a recent budget hearing.  Gaffney has put forward a $300,000 proposal for a “Stop the Violence” initiative, which would funnel through the Kids Hope Alliance. The funding would be used for small grants for grassroots nonprofit organizations that work on fighting violence and overall bettering their communities. Gaffney wants to target organizations that are already “in the trenches”- they know their neighborhoods, they know who’s at risk, they know how their community will respond to different tactics- and have new ideas that they haven’t been able to get off the ground, because they’re strapped for resources.  “We’ve gotta do something- like I said- to stop this violence, to get these kids back on track, because these are our kids, and these are our greatest investment,” says Councilman Sam Newby.  IN DEPTH: Jacksonville’s City budget proposal KHA already has $50,000 for grants like this in their proposed budget. The $300,000 enhancement will be debated by the City Council Finance Committee during a budget hearing Thursday, and if the Committee signs on, it would be considered as part of their vote on the overall $1.2 billion budget proposal from Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, ahead of the start of the next fiscal year.  Not wanting to wait for the next fiscal year, Curry has now moved $50,000 from executive branch reserves to the City’s grant office, in order to fund grants similar to what the Council is working to budget for. Curry’s Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa told the Finance Committee that they would target faith-based community organizations that need administrative assistance to implement their programs. He says Curry wants to move “lightning fast” on getting these grants out, and they will rely on the processes already in place for solicitations to receive and rank proposals for funding.  “I am heartbroken by these senseless acts of violence that are impacting children, both as victims and perpetrators. We must create a path that shows our youth a better way- one of hope and opportunity,” Curry says.  If all the proposed dollars come through, that would be $400,000 for this initiative. The KHA had this $50,000 in the existing year budget as well, but Newby says they had 15 requests, and could only fund five with that level of money.  Another possible enhancement the Finance Committee will weigh is $60,000 to KHA for grief counseling, trauma-response services, and burial costs for children exposed to and victims of violent crime. KHA Joe Peppers says they want to stand up a full response team for trauma and grief counseling, but while they work on that larger vision, this funding would allow them to start contracting some services.  The Finance Committee overall praised a new focus on mental health initiatives for local children, although the question through the budget process continues to be if this is the best investment and the right place to budget for the initiatives. Councilwoman Lori Boyer raised the question of whether programs addressing violence in the community should be put through the Public Service Grants process in future years.  Councilman Bill Gulliford added that he sees the violence in this city now as fundamentally different than that of the past, wherein he believes youth now don’t know right from wrong, as opposed to prior generations who knew the difference, but ignored it. He’s putting the blame for that on parents, but offering that one organization that addresses that issue and may deserve some of this grant funding is “Operation Empower Parents”.  Gaffney made it clear that he thinks it’s important to secure the funding, but then allow experts to determine which groups should get it. This funding push is one of many public safety-centered requests in Curry’s budget proposal. There is also money to establish a “Real Time Crime Center”, the establishment of a task force to review the City’s network of surveillance cameras, and more. WOKV continues to work through the budget proposal, and will continue to update you as we learn more.
  • The Duval County Tax Collector’s Office wants to add more services for you- including processing concealed carry permits- but they say they need more staff to make that happen. As the City Council Finance Committee works through the $1.2 billion City budget proposal from Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, not many departments have asked for much, beyond what the proposal puts forward. During a budget hearing last week, though, the Tax Collector’s Office said they need to turn around years of cutbacks.  Chief Administrative Officer Sherry Hall says they had 244 full time positions in 2010, but are down to 226 now, with many of the cuts coming because of the economic downtown. In that same time frame, she says their transaction volume has risen 11%.  “We’re to the point now where, although we’re constantly trying to improve our efficiencies, improve the service level, where we need to slowly start adding back in some of those positions,” Hall says.  IN DEPTH: City budget proposal from Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry Some of those efficiencies have been rolling out ways to help customers not have to even get to an office, in order to lessen that in-person demand. Over the last year, Hall says they’ve seen online transactions triple, because there is no fee for paying your property taxes and other ecommerce transactions.  “It encouraged- which is very useful to us of course- customers to do business online, and hopefully, keep them our of the branches, which is always the goal- to make it more convenient,” she says.  But there is still a lot that gets done in the offices every day.  “Our population is only growing, our transaction volume is only going to continue to grow,” Hall says.  So when they look at adding services, like processing concealed carry permits, Hall says they don’t want to stretch the resources they have. She says procession that can take an average of 45 minutes, so it would have a significant impact on the customer flow for the average Tax Collector’s Office employee.  Her ask to the Finance Committee is four entry level, full-time employees, with salary and benefits landing at $36,976 each. In all, the request is $147,904.  The funding is recurring, though, meaning it would continue in future year budgets, as opposed to being spent on a one-time expense. That’s a big reason the Administration didn’t include it in their budget proposal, according to Curry’s Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa. He says they’re using extreme caution with recurring expense enhancements, because of concern over a likely revenue shortfall next year, which will be created if Florida residents approve a new homestead exemption in November.  Hall says they would expect a revenue boost to partially offset the hiring costs. She says about 25% of the customers who currently process their concealed carry license through the state, instead go to the Tax Collector, in similar counties who have started processing the permits. While she acknowledged that they can’t necessarily expect that demand in the first year, if the projection holds true, it could mean about $86,549.  The Finance Committee has added Hall’s request to their list of possible budget enhancements, which they will ultimately vote on later on in the review process, before the full Council votes on the proposal ahead of the start of the next fiscal year October 1st.  WOKV continues to work through Curry’s budget proposal and how your tax dollars are being spent. Stay with us as we learn more through the budget hearing process.

The Latest News Headlines

  • Over a week after being publicly ridiculed for losing her seat in Congress by President Donald Trump, Rep. Mia Love (R-UT) on Friday night was on the verge of pulling off a stunning comeback in her re-election bid, as the continued counting of ballots in her Utah district finally pushed her into the lead by a slender 419 votes. “Hard to see how she relinquishes that now,” said Dave Wasserman, an elections expert who has been forecasting a possible comeback by Love for several days. Still being tabulated are thousands of provisional ballots in Utah and Salt Lake counties, which take time to verify, as Utah and a number of other states slowly push their way through the votes of the November mid-term elections. The jump into first place for Love came as a judge tossed out a lawsuit that she filed – which oddly would have stopped vote counting in Salt Lake County – a move that her opponent said ‘smacks of desperation.’ “Utah voters deserve better than this,” said Democrat Ben McAdams. With the Utah County numbers posting, Rep. Mia Love has taken a 419-vote lead over Ben McAdams. #utpol — #VoteGehrke (@RobertGehrke) November 16, 2018 But the McAdams lead over Love has slowly withered away in recent days, leaving Love favored by many to win re-election. A comeback victory would be filled with irony, especially after the mocking ridicule heaped upon Love and a number of other House Republicans by President Donald Trump, who said the day after the elections that Love and others were defeated because they refused to embrace him. “Mia Love gave me no love and she lost,” the President said, almost seeming to enjoy the outcome. “Too bad. Sorry about that Mia.” President Trump lists Republicans who didn't embrace him and lost. 'They did very poorly. I'm not sure that I should be happy or sad, but I feel just fine about it.' 'Mia Love gave me no love and she lost. Too bad. Sorry about that Mia.' pic.twitter.com/ZV7EKcWjLX — CSPAN (@cspan) November 7, 2018 Two weekends after the elections, a small number of races remained undecided – with some that could stretch until after Thanksgiving: FLORIDA SENATE – With a manual recount finishing up, and Florida’s 67 counties waiting through Saturday to deal with any other stray ballots, Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) seems headed for victory over Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). This will give the GOP a big victory, and a 2 seat margin in the U.S. Senate. From a statistical/electoral/historical perspective, Scott's defeat of Nelson is pretty much unmatched in recent political history. Beating a swing state opposition party senator without a hint of scandal in a midterm… It's quite impressive. — (((Harry Enten))) (@ForecasterEnten) November 17, 2018 CALIFORNIA 39 – This is the first of six (or maybe seven) undecided House races. After holding the lead for days, Republican Young Kim has now been swamped by late votes coming from both Orange and Los Angeles counties, and now trails Democrat Gil Cisneros by over 3,000 votes. This should complete what is a total GOP wipeout in Orange County, as Democrats would gain six GOP seats in the Golden State. Congressional districts in Orange County, Calif. in 2016 and in 2018 pic.twitter.com/TWRQ1pPzS4 — Morning Joe (@Morning_Joe) November 16, 2018 CALIFORNIA 21 – This seat has already been called by the AP and other news organizations for the Republicans, but as the votes keep coming in, Rep. David Valadao’s lead keeps shrinking, and some wonder if he can hold on. This might be a long shot, but it bears watching. It’s hard to fathom that Democrats could gain a seventh seat in California. We've been watching CA-21 like a hawk for more than a week now, and the chance for Democrat T J Cox to catch up to Valadao has gone from remote but intriguingly possibile to plausible. We're moving this one to our uncalled races tab. https://t.co/FeGWU7SsoE — Daniel Donner (@donnermaps) November 17, 2018 UTAH 4 – As mentioned above, Rep. Mia Love (R-UT) now has the lead. This would be a big save for Republicans, who have had very little to cheer about in the past 10 days since the elections. In fact, there has been an almost daily drumbeat of Democratic victories each night since then, as they edge closer to a possible pickup of almost 40 House seats, their largest gains since 1974 after Watergate. BREAKING: As expected, #UT04 GOP Rep. Mia Love (R) has pulled into the lead over Ben McAdams (D) by 419 votes. Hard to see how she relinquishes it now. https://t.co/nfsptUdHiN — Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) November 16, 2018 NEW YORK 22 – This seat can probably be called for the Democrats by the AP and other organizations, as absentee ballot counts on Friday went clearly for Democrat Anthony Brindisi, leaving Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-NY) behind by over 3,000 votes in this northern New York district. This is not a spot where the GOP should have lost. @Redistrict Brindisi lead in NY22 has surged to more 3000 votes! I see no path to victory for Tenney. She's falling further behind as more ballots are counted, that's a losing combination, a larger deficit, and fewer votes left to count. https://t.co/ae1Ny8Osws — Kevin O'Connell (@Kevtoco) November 17, 2018 NEW YORK 27 – Indicted Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) still leads by over 1,000 votes in this western New York district, with one big cache of absentee ballots and provisionals to count next Tuesday around Buffalo. Democrat Nate McMurray has been winning a majority of absentee ballots in recent days in counties where he lost the Election Day vote, making some wonder if he has a chance to win this race at the last minute next week. This is the equivalent of betting a horse that’s maybe 9-1. It might win. Nate McMurray continues to gain ground in counties that he lost to Rep. Chris Collins in. Biggest test will be Tuesday when the Erie County absentee and affidavit votes will be counted. https://t.co/f5nincKkZx — WGRZ (@WGRZ) November 16, 2018 GEORGIA 7 – While the race for Governor is over, Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA) has a 419 vote edge in this suburban Atlanta district, with all of the votes counted. Democratic challenger Carolyn Bourdeaux announced on Friday afternoon that she would ask for a recount. While a recount doesn’t usually switch the outcome, we have certainly seen in Florida and other states in recent days where there are tabulation errors uncovered – so you can’t say this is in the bag for the GOP – but they are favored. News: We will file for a recount of the 7th district race. With a margin of only 419 votes (0.14%), we want to make sure every vote was counted correctly & fairly. It is crucial that every eligible vote is counted & every voice is heard. #GA07 #GAPol — Carolyn Bourdeaux (@Carolyn4GA7) November 16, 2018 TEXAS 23 – Even though she’s behind by just under 1,000 votes, Cindy Ortiz Jones spent the week in Washington going through freshman orientation, but that may not work out for the Texas Democrat, as Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX) seems like he’s in good position in this race, leading by 0.5 percent. Hurd’s people on Friday were declaring victory, but it wasn’t clear if Jones would press for any kind of vote review. Republicans are favored to hold on to this border district, but it was much closer than anyone had predicted. Bexar County has finished counting, leaving only six votes left to count (Kinney & Upton). @WillHurd has won by 928 votes, this race is over #TX23 — Connor Pfeiffer (@ConnorPfeiffer) November 16, 2018 Democrats right now have a net gain of 36 seats – they should win at least two of the undecided races left, and have an outside chance at others. Right now, the new Congress stands at 231 Democrats to 198 Republicans, with six seats undecided. One final note – this extended time of vote counting is totally normal. Reporters follow it every two years, but many partisans think there is something amiss.
  • The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office says an active investigation is underway after their officers were involved in a shooting in the Paxon area on the Westside.  The Director of Investigations and Homeland Security with JSO, Ron Lendvay, says the shooting stemmed from a traffic violation at around 4:00 PM Friday.  'A field training officer and his recruit were working in the area of St. Clair and Detroit Street, when they observed a traffic violator. The violator was observed running a stop sign and increasing his speed. The officers activated their overhead emergency lights and noted that the passenger side kept opening and closing as the vehicle continued on,' explains Lendvay.  At some point, the officers say the vehicle stopped to let someone out of the passenger side on Melson Avenue. JSO says that person was seen by the officers with a pistol in his hand.  Officers stopped to chase that man and the field training officer was able to catch up to him. At some point during their interaction, police say the officer fired several shots at him.  The suspect was hit by the gunfire, taken into custody, and then to the hospital, where police say he underwent surgery. He's now described as being in critical condition, but currently stable at the hospital.  As this chase and shooting was occurring, Lendvay says the original driver abandoned the vehicle nearby and fled on foot as did another passenger. At this time, neither of those individuals have been found.  Lendvay says several officers involved in different portions of this incident were wearing body cameras. That video is still in the process of being collected and will be reviewed.  At this time, police say it's not clear if the suspect fired any shots or what exactly occurred during the interaction with the officer.  The sheriff's office plans to release further information on this shooting on Saturday. WATCH FULL BRIEFING FROM JACKSONVILLE SHERIFF’S OFFICE:
  • Gas prices are down across the country right now, which is good news if you plan on driving to visit friends or family for Thanksgiving. Depending on which way you are going, you might want to fill up before you leave, says Patrick DeHaan, Head of Gas and Petroleum Analysis at Gas Buddy.  'Generally, if you are heading out of the state, wait until you cross out of Florida to fill up,' he says.  But if you are heading south to places like Miami or the Florida Keys, you'll want to get your gas before you get too far south, because that's where the prices are the highest.  Although prices are down right now across Florida, states like Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama are generally going to be cheaper to top off your tank, DeHaan says.  GasBuddy.com is a website with a free app that directs you to the most affordable gas stations in your area. But DeHaan says as a general rule in the Southeast, the farther south you go the higher the gas prices get.  DeHaan says in Georgia into the Carolinas it can be anywhere from 10 to 15 cents cheaper per gallon than Florida. Gas Buddy can help you find the cheapest prices no matter where you go.
  • A Middleburg man has been found guilty of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and leaving the scene of a crash involving injury, after an incident involving his ex-girlfriend. The State Attorney's Office says Larry Jamison now faces a maximum of 15 years in Florida State Prison, after they say surveillance video showed the entire incident.  According to investigators, Jamison drove his car into his ex-girlfriend as she was walking to church back in February. Investigators say just after hitting her, he got out of his car and yelled at her, and then drove off.  He was then later found by police in the church and acting as if the incident hadn't happened.   Jamison's sentencing hearing has been set for the week of December 3rd.
  • A former Alabama nurse accused of poisoning her private investigator husband had a preliminary hearing Thursday, at which time the shocking details of the crime were revealed for the first time. Marjorie Nicole “Nikki” Cappello, 32, of Huntsville, is charged with murder in the September death of her husband, New York native Jim Cappello Jr. AL.com reported that Jim Cappello, who was reported missing by his wife, was found dead at the couple’s south Huntsville home Sept. 22.  The registered nurse surrendered her license six days later, Alabama Board of Nursing records show.  Nikki Cappello, who jail records show is out on $100,000 bond, waived her right to appear at the preliminary hearing, but members of Jim Cappello’s family were in the courtroom as prosecutors and investigators laid out their case.  >> Read more trending news “Honestly, the family gets a lot of respect from me,” Assistant Madison County District Attorney Tim Douthit told WAFF 48 News. “I don't know if I would be able to sit there and listen to all of that and keep a straight face the way that they did. The evidence that came out today was pretty clear and horrendous.” Lead investigator Mike DeNoon testified Thursday that the investigation showed Jim Cappello, 37, had become suspicious that his wife was abusing narcotics. According to WAFF, he had begun gathering evidence against her, so he could file for divorce and obtain custody of their 4-year-old daughter, Ryleigh. According to his LinkedIn profile, Jim Cappello worked for Posey Investigations for several years before opening his own business, Cappello Investigative Agency, in 2012. DeNoon testified that Nikki Cappello reported her husband missing Sept. 21. The detective said that Jim Cappello’s co-workers had become concerned because he had not shown up for work. When they went to the couple’s home, however, Nikki Cappello would not let them inside, DeNoon said. Jim Cappello’s car was parked outside the house. According to WAFF, DeNoon testified that Nikki Cappello called a friend, Crystal Anderson, the following day and admitted she had killed her husband with insulin. Anderson told investigators that her friend asked her to come and help her get rid of the body. DeNoon said that Nikki Cappello put Anderson on hold for a few moments before returning to the line and telling her not to worry, that another friend was on the way to help her.  A concerned Anderson called police, WAFF reported. Police officials are trying to determine who the other friend was, the news station said.   A foul odor and a freshly dug grave Patrol officers were dispatched to the Cappello home, where one officer went to the front door and a second went around back, WAFF said. DeNoon testified that the officer at the front door smelled the odor of a dead body when Nikki Cappello answered the door. The officer around back found what appeared to be a freshly dug grave, DeNoon testified. The officers detained Nikki Cappello on the front porch and called detectives in.  WAFF reported that DeNoon, who was one of the investigators called to the scene, testified he also smelled the odor of human decomposition when he arrived. He said he asked a visibly nervous Nikki Cappello for permission to search her home. She gave permission for the investigators to search everywhere but the garage, the news station reported. DeNoon said Nikki Cappello was taken to the police station for questioning and he obtained a search warrant for the entire property. Jim Cappello’s body was found sprawled on a tarp on the garage floor, his feet on the floorboard of a car as though someone had tried to move him into the vehicle.  DeNoon told the court that the defendant acted as though nothing was wrong when she was told about the discovery, according to WAFF.  “You know I went inside. You know I found him, right?” DeNoon testified that he asked her.  “Yes, I knew he was there,” Nikki Cappello allegedly responded.  Though Jim Cappello’s final autopsy report is pending, the medical examiner told DeNoon the private detective was poisoned using insulin, WAFF reported.  DeNoon told the court that investigators went to the hospital where Nikki Cappello was a charge nurse and spoke to her co-workers, who said she often talked about her problems with her husband and said she would only be rid of him if he were dead, the news station said.  Hospital workers who looked through their medication supply found that some insulin was missing, WAFF reported. DeNoon said Nikki Cappello told him she’d accidentally brought a bottle of the diabetes drug home with her.  Jim Cappello apparently found the bottle and took a photo of it before texting the photo to a friend, WAFF said. At the time, he appeared not to know what the drug was.  Madison County District Judge Claude Hundley III ordered that the murder case go before a grand jury.  ‘Please make today like your last’ Jim Cappello’s obituary described him as an asset in multiple facets of his life, especially to the legal community. “He was an avid car enthusiast, passionate about helping people and providing for his family (was a) priority,” the obituary read. “Jim was a well-known proud father who cherished every smile and laugh from his baby girl.” Jim Cappello’s father and sister sat through Thursday’s testimony. Afterward, they told WAFF they felt it was important to be there, even though they had to come from out of state.  “It was pretty intense but I'm glad it’s going to move on,” Jim Cappello Sr. told the news station. 'We want to be part of the whole thing. He didn’t deserve this, but he deserves justice. He’s my son and I miss him.” The younger Jim Cappello’s sister, Jamie Weast, said she’s hopeful the family can get some closure through the legal process.  “He’s shining down on us right now. He’s with us every step of the way,” she said. “We’re doing everything that we're capable of every day to remember and honor him.” The family started a Facebook page, Legacy of James Cappello, for relatives and friends to share memories of him so Ryleigh, who is being cared for by the Cappello family, will remember her doting father. Many friends shared memories addressed directly to the little girl. “Your dad worked at McDonald’s during high school,” one man wrote. “Happy Meals included a Beany (sic) Baby doll. He used to complain about being surrounded by these furry toys. “Yet he fell in love with them when you came along. You were his hero. With or without fries.” Weast posted a text message her brother sent her on Mother’s Day, in which he said a friend’s mother had died and he was helping the friend out. He told her he was thinking of the people in his life and things happening to them. “So please make today like your last,” he wrote, according to Weast. “We don’t know. Enjoy it. And have everyone around you enjoy it. Love you so much. Can’t handle the thought of you not there.”  

The Latest News Videos