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Stories About The Jacksonville Budget

    A plan to spend close to $1.4 billion of your tax dollars is out. Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry has unveiled his budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year, which includes money for each city department- from JSO to libraries- as well as an additional Capital Improvements Plan, which details infrastructure projects.  “Reflects the core principles and key priorities that have guided me as a Mayor these last four years,” Curry says. The budget proposal itself will now face weeks of vetting and scrutiny, but Curry is keeping the early focus on those top line priorities. FULL COVERAGE: Tracking your tax dollars in Jacksonville With public safety, there are three new rescue units proposed in this budget- for Station 11 in Talleyrand, Station 12 in San Marco/St. Nicholas, and Station 41 serving Mayport/Neptune Beach. WOKV previously reported that JFRD was pushing for these rescue units.  Only two JFRD fire stations would now stand without their own rescue unit if this plan is approved, and JFRD says one has historically low call volume, and the other has a fire station with a rescue unit just about a mile away. This budget proposal also continues to invest in a new fire station in the Arlington Expressway/Atlantic Boulevard area, with $5 million proposed this year on top of $2.5 million in prior funding. There would also be money for renovations, like for Fire Station 10 off McDuff. “These investments reduce call response times and they save lives,” Curry says. While additional patrol officers had not been expected in this budget, Curry says he is funding some new positions dedicated to furthering the integration of technology that has been deployed in the fight against violent crime. Several dozen employees from JSO, the State Attorney’s Office, and ATF all collaboratively work in a space in the State Attorney’s Office that is known as the Crime Gun Intelligence Center. This Center serves as a collaborative meeting and working space for these partners to come together to track trends and analyze multiple data feeds, from the new Real-Time Crime Center to the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network to Shotspotter gunshot detection sensors. City leaders say this Center allows them to generate leads and quickly connect cases that previously would have been worked separately for much longer before those connections were found. This budget proposal adds five more positions to the Real-Time Crime Center. BEHIND THE SCENES: Jacksonville’s Real-Time Crime Center Focusing specifically on interrupting crime trends and intervening at the community level, Curry says he will continue investing in the Cure Violence program, which the City has already dedicated several hundred thousand dollars toward. In line with intervening with youth, as part of the recommended budget boost for the Kids Hope Alliance, Curry says some of the funding would be dedicated to Juvenile Justice diversion programming. A Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee recently issued their report to the State Attorney’s Office, recommending the change as a step toward addressing misbehavior without excessively exposing youth to the juvenile justice system, which can be traumatic. The State Attorney’s Office expects about $500,000 to be put toward this purpose by the City, in this budget proposal. That JJAC also recommended a dedicated tax to support children’s services in the City, but the Mayor’s Office has declined so far to directly comment to WOKV on whether that’s something they would support or what they could alternatively pursue. It’s also not clear if there will be any support for a recommendation from Jacksonville’s Task Force on Safety and Crime Reduction, which has not only requested “emergency funding”, but also a discussion on a dedicated, long-term funding source for a broader crime reduction strategy. Curry says this budget proposal does not include any tax increases. The City of Jacksonville continues to see overall growth in the property tax rolls as a result of new construction and rising property values, so Curry has more funding to work with year-over-year, because of the resulting increase in property tax payouts. WOKV is working to learn more about a proposed increase in what Curry is calling “Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office school guardian program” funding. The Duval County Public School District employs dedicated guardians called School Safety Assistants, to comply with a relatively new state law that requires armed security on all school campuses. While those SSAs are trained and on-boarded, JSO has been filling gaps by providing officers to work schools that do not have an SSA. The City says JSO officers are still having to work substantial overtime to cover schools, because there is a high rate of School Safety Assistants that are not passing the training.  During the last budget cycle, the Mayor’s Administration told the City Council that an increase in JSO overtime billing was expected, as a result of the demands around providing school security, but they also indicated they intended to seek reimbursement for that cost from DCPS. Now, Curry says he is proposing $3.8 million for JSO to act as guardians- which he says is $500,000 more than this current fiscal year- as part of a commitment to keeping kids safe in public schools.  “We must and will make our schools safe havens for every child in Jacksonville to learn and grow,” Curry says. The JSO budget outlined in Curry’s proposal does show that there has been some prior reimbursement from DCPS relating to these JSO overtime costs. WOKV will update you as we learn more about how this is all being funded. Ahead of Monday’s presentation from Curry, WOKV got a copy of the draft Capital Improvements Plan which demonstrated some of what Curry outlined a video he released Sunday ahead of his budget presentation, and then emphasized in his Monday roll-out. This includes drainage funding, county-wide sidewalks, park repairs, and more. Some of the capital dollars will also be put toward the City’s railroad crossings. As we work to get details of the specific projects covered in that, we’ve previously reported that Jacksonville was awarded millions of dollars in federal funding to address the impact of trains on residential areas, like San Marco. There are several partners in that project who also committed funding, but it has been unclear how Jacksonville will cover it’s nearly $980,000 share. The project details available so far indicate only that this proposal is for county-wide railroad work, as the railroad companies deem necessary. The CIP also follows through with funding under some multi-year agreements Curry previously committed the City to, including a five-year $25 million match for the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens’ master plan and six-year $120 million plan for infrastructure needs and improvements at UF Health Jacksonville. This current fiscal year also saw investment in public facilities like the Prime Osborne Convention Center and Ritz Theatre, and that will continue, under Curry’s proposal. The Florida Theatre would see $1 million in the upcoming fiscal year, as part of a new five-year $5 million agreement, which Curry says would involve matching funds. Curry is further proposing $500,000 in the upcoming fiscal year, as part of a multi-year plan to upgrade and improve pools across Duval. Our partner Action News Jax recently chronicled some of the maintenance needs at a few pools in the city. While Curry says these neighborhood investments are important, he’s also again committing to continued investment in Downtown, which he says will act as a hub from which growth will expand. “You can’t be a suburb of nowhere,” Curry says. Curry touted business and residential growth taking place in Downtown and some big projects in the enclaves of Lavilla, Brooklyn, and Laura Street. Monday’s budget presentation by Curry is the start of this annual budget process. “It’s always an exciting time, now we get down to the devil that’s in the details,” says City Councilman Tommy Hazouri. Curry’s plan now faces scrutiny by the City Council Auditor and then weeks of vetting by Council members themselves, before the revised package is put up for a vote by the entire 19-member body ahead of the new fiscal year on October 1st. Hazouri says he will look to ensure some of his priorities are funded, like keeping expanded library hours. Other Council members, like Rory Diamond, say it already looks like their districts are in good shape. “We’ve got $1.5 million for new docks, we’ve got money for a rescue station, and we’ve also got money to fix Penman Road. It’s good stuff,” says the Beaches Councilman. Council President Scott Wilson says he’s happy to see the proposal is balanced, but that also means that any additional projects that Council members want to secure funding for, they will have to find the money. WOKV will be digging deep in to the proposal, and will update you in the coming weeks about the plan to spend your tax dollars.
  • Major changes could be coming to how our area handles youth in the juvenile justice system, but getting that done in a lasting and sustainable way will require new funding, according to a special committee that has been studying the matter for nearly two years. They’re recommending a tax to achieve that funding, and while the changes outlined in this report are largely being embraced, it’s not clear if that funding solution will be. Background The Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee was established in 2017 by Fourth Circuit State Attorney Melissa Nelson. Their task- improving the Circuit’s juvenile diversion programming. The JJAC has now issued their final report, with some big recommendations, focusing on diversion programming, but stepping beyond as well. “Our collective approach should be measured not by how many young people we prosecute and incarcerate, but by how many young people we help move out of the justice system to become productive and law-abiding members of the community,” the JJAC Final Report says. This new perspective is aimed at reflecting that children, cognitively, are not fully developed in terms of impulse control and decision making, but pleasure-seeking is largely matured. That means they are more susceptible to peer pressure and impulsive action, without acknowledging the long-term consequences. JJAC says traditional justice routes also don’t often account for trauma, substance abuse, or mental health problems that a juvenile may be dealing with. JJAC says research they examined shows involvement in the juvenile justice system alone leads to negative outcomes and can increase the risk of re-offending, whereas positive intervention can foster growth. Who is in diversion The Fourth Circuit- which covers Duval, Clay, and Nassau counties- has expanded its use of civil citations. When an officer encounters a juvenile, this is an option in lieu of an arrest for most misdemeanors and municipal ordinance violations, with some conditions, like no open citations or prior felony adjudications. Civil citation cases are handled in Teen Court, which connects the juvenile with resources, while also requiring they take responsibility and complete conditions like community service and writing apology letters. If a youth offender is arrested instead, they are booked and the case is referred to the State Attorney’s Office. If certain conditions are met- including that the juvenile have no more than one prior non-violent misdemeanor adjudication- the State Attorney’s Office can opt for a diversion program. There are a few different ways diversion can play out, including potentially involving a jail tour, community service, essays, and coursework. The State Attorney’s Office may instead pursue a formal petition, which then leads to a “delinquent” adjudication and penalty of either probation or commitment, with both residential and non-residential commitment options. Recommendations for change The biggest change in the system that JJAC wants to see is removing diversion programming from the State Attorney’s Office, and putting it under the city’s Kids Hope Alliance instead. The Report says KHA is already responsible for coordinating children’s programming, identifies juvenile justice as a service program category, and has the mechanisms in place to track vendor performance and do quality control. The added benefit is that it’s not directly in the justice system. “Diversion- as a discreet step in the juvenile justice continuum- is designed to address youthful misbehavior and keep young people out of the formal justice system and away from the SAO. Therefore, diversion programming should be administered by community-based entities rather than the prosecuting entity,” the Report says. Hand-in-hand with this, when the SAO determines diversion is appropriate, JJAC recommends the case then be referred to a case management provider contracted through KHA. That would allow the SAO to completely separate from the case until completion, which again means less interaction between the juvenile and the justice system. In order for the case managers to best cater to the individual youth their serving, the JJAC says caseload size needs to be limited. They are also recommending a continuum of programming be made available, to address those individual needs. The Report says this continuum could include mentoring, career planning, or other areas. Another recommendation is allowing for every chance for the youth to successfully complete diversion, including having the case manager reassess where things stand and if the youth is on the appropriate path, if they are struggling with the plan. That could ultimately lead to intervention by the State Attorney’s Office, but the JJAC says the focus should remain on trying to get to the underlying cause of the problems the juvenile is having. Hand-in-hand with these diversion recommendations, the JJAC wants to stop “scared straight” jail tours, which the Committee says serve to increase the likelihood of arrest in youth, not decrease. They also want to eliminate judicial hearings currently needed in order to place a youth in diversion, as another way to limit that juvenile-justice system interaction. Additionally, JJAC wants post-completion services to be available for youth or families who seek it. They also issued several non-diversion related recommendations, including moving juvenile booking out of the Duval County Jail, exploring a Young Adult Court, and moving away from a youth prison model. Funding Having already identified how important it is that youth in this process get individualized care, the JJAC says funding is needed to support that mission. “Sufficient funding will be critical to keep case manager caseloads small enough that youth and families receive the individualized attention they deserve and need to be successful,” the Report says. JJAC says they believe securing long-term funding is as important as implementing their recommendations. “Critical to the success of these efforts will be the availability of sufficient and sustainable funding,” the Report says. The leading option, according to the JJAC, is a dedicated tax. They point to Miami-Dade and other Florida jurisdictions as having a children’s services tax or similar measure, which provides sustainable funding. WOKV asked Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry whether he would support such a tax and, if not, what kind of long-term funding option he would consider. A City Spokesperson declined to directly answer at this point, saying instead that safety and children are top priorities of the Administration. In the short term, the City is confirming that they intend to direct additional funding to the Kids Hope Alliance in this upcoming budget proposal, to support moving diversion programming under them. They do not have an exact figure for what that budget boost will look like yet, but State Attorney Melissa Nelson says the City has told her $500,000 is being committed to KHA for juvenile diversion programming, as part of the City budget proposal coming out next month. The JJAC says other short-term funding lines should also be considered, including government grants and philanthropic donors. They added that there could in fact be some cost savings under this transition as well, by eliminating any overlaps in how programming is currently managed. With a successful outcome, the JJAC says there will be improved public safety, which could then create some cost savings for the community. It would also theoretically mean fewer juveniles being detained, which can be a substantial cost. Next steps The Report calls for establishing an “Independent Diversion Transition Workgroup”, in order to implement the SAO to KHA shift. It notes KHA will need funding above and beyond the services they currently provide, as they look to take on these new responsibilities. The Workgroup will put together information on what that anticipated budget would look like.
  • The Federal Railroad Administration is awarding Jacksonville $17.6 million to address congestion problems created by railroad traffic in the urban core- especially San Marco and the Southbank. But that only funds half of the project, and WOKV is tracking where the rest of the money will come from. We first reported Friday when Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry revealed the grant award. The FRA has now confirmed the grant, with Jacksonville being one of 45 projects getting funding in 29 states through the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) Program. “These investments in intercity passenger and freight rail will benefit surrounding communities, make grade crossings safer and improve service reliability,” says a statement from US Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. That $17,615,500- which is the full amount that had been requested- only funds half of the project. Partners in this grant are paying for the rest, but the City of Jacksonville’s portion specifically has not yet been allocated. The Florida Department of Transportation is on the hook for most of the rest of the tab- $13.7 million. An FDOT Spokesperson says those funds are committed, as part of this matching grant. According to the grant documents, CSX, Florida East Coast Railway, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, and the City of Jacksonville are all contributing $978,875 each, to round out the sum. A JTA Spokesman says the Board has already approved their contribution. For the City of Jacksonville, that hasn’t been done. WOKV asked when the Mayor will move forward with introducing that funding for approval by the City Council. “We need more guidance on the timing of the grant before we answer but it could potentially end up in this budget,” says a statement from Curry’s Chief of Staff Brian Hughes.  The annual budget proposal is vetted for several weeks by the City Council, and then the amended package is approved ahead of the start of the fiscal year, October 1st.  The overall $35.2 million project consists of several phases, with the overall goal of addressing the “conflicts” created between the trains and vehicle, bike, and pedestrian traffic. Three major railroads interchange in the urban core, and because of some limitations in the current infrastructure, that interaction is not always smooth. The grant application says FECR trains that leave the Bowden Rail Yard and head north are traveling on a corridor that’s not tied to a centralized dispatch system, so they are frequently required to hold south of the St. Johns River rail bridge, in order for tracks to be cleared and switches re-aligned. That backup means an obstruction at seven crossings daily, for anywhere between a few minutes to a few hours, according to the grant application. Not only is that an inconvenience for people living, working, and driving in the area and a safety hazard for people who lose their patience and cross in between the rail cars, but it creates potential obstacles for the medical facilities in that area and has a ripple effect more broadly on the movement of freight through the state and Southeast. This proposal addresses these problems by adding 7,000 feet of staging track, to provide room for trains to wait in the yard, instead of out in the city. The track will consider future technology advances in rail engineering. Centralized Traffic Control improvements would also be installed on the FECR track and crossings, to allow better coordination.  This project also involves upgrading signals and track at the CSX/FECR Beaver Street Interlocking, modernizing switches and track in other areas, and installing quad gates at some high crash probability crossings. The grant application says freight movement by rail will only continue to increase in the future, meaning this problem will grow if it’s left unaddressed. “More than 80 percent of all goods moving south of Jacksonville throughout Florida and north to parts out of Florida will move through this yard. As the economy grows this interchange will become more congested having a ripple effect throughout the entire Florida freight network as well as the freight network throughout the southeast part of the country,” the grant application says. CSX and FECR both commit to maintaining the upgrades through their useful lives, according to the grant application. CSX estimates they’ll see an additional $90,000 a year in those maintenance costs, while FECR estimates their tab to be an additional $120,000 annually.
  • As Jacksonville’s Task Force on Safety and Crime Reduction seeks more time to come up with their full recommendation on the best path forward for reducing crime and increasing safety in the city, they’re giving an idea of the projects- and $2.5 million funding needs- that they don’t want to wait. The preliminary status report from the Task Force says it’s important they have a “permanent, long term life”, so that they can work “deliberately and comprehensively” on a strategy. That type of extension would also ensure crime reduction and safety remain a priority and the programming around that has some continuity, to ensure programs don’t get de-funded if crime temporarily drops. “We must go beyond treating symptoms, and be bold enough to deal with root causes of crime and violence in our city,” the report says. BEHIND THE SCENES: Jacksonville’s Real Time Crime Center Task Force members have put in hundreds of hours, working across nine subcommittees with a focus on various elements- workforce training, business partnerships, education and youth development, community engagement, mental health and substance abuse, and more. Task Force Chairman Pastor Mark Griffin says they’re working on taking a holistic perspective that goes beyond crime stats. “Tracking some of our most violent crimes, to look at the participants and really begin to understand the dynamics of their past, and history, and exposures. So, hopefully, we will then be able to take our limited public dollars and invest them even more wisely than we have been investing them in the past,” Griffin says. He says the Task Force wants to work with the Kids Hope Alliance, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, and City of Jacksonville to ensure the current dollars are being spent in the best way possible to maximize that return. That would mean looking at where violent crime is occurring and overlaying things like employment data, poverty rates, basic infrastructure like lighting, and similar factors. If there are deficits, they would recommend the dollars go to address those needs. Some of those voids, though, the Task Force doesn’t want to see wait. The preliminary report lists $2.5 million in “immediate, emergency funding” requests, which Griffin says they detailed in the hope that Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry would include it in his pending City budget proposal. $500,000 would be for mentoring, $1 million would be for programs to serve youth in the Juvenile Justice system, and $1 million would go toward programming for pre-teens and teens, with the recommendation that at least $100,000 of that be used for an initiative to reduce the stigma around mental illness and $100,000 for a Trauma Response Plan for the highest crime neighborhoods. “Those are just some immediate needs, but long term, the city has to invest some serious money. If we’re serious about really- once and for all- getting on top of this crime and violence matter, we have to invest heavily,” Griffin says. The report says, because they are still working on their recommendations, there is no firm price tag yet for the estimated overall cost of accomplishing the coordinated and long term effort they hope to see. It says the Task Force “strongly believes” that truly reducing crime in a lasting way will take a consistent and dedicated funding stream. “I believe we are going to get it right, to the extent that we hope that we will not just see a drop in crime and violence for the short term. We are hopeful that we will put an apparatus in place that will serve Jacksonville for years to come, and could conceivably be a model that other cities can use to help to reduce what we see as a fairly common problem in a lot of urban centers across our nation,” Griffin says. WOKV asked Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry whether he intends to incorporate the Task Force’s requests in to his budget proposal, and what he could consider to address the more long-term funding needs. A statement from Curry’s Director of Public Affairs Nikki Kimbleton says the Task Force’s requests are being carefully reviewed. The nine subcommittees continue to work right now to inventory the services available in their respective areas of focus and craft full recommendations. Some of the early findings include the need to increase awareness about existing resources like family needs and workforce training, expanding both the number and reach of community grassroots groups, cutting back on the number of illegal guns on the street, improving basic neighborhood infrastructure like playgrounds and sidewalks, and more.  Griffin says he has a good degree of confidence the Task Force will be allowed to continue their work. He says there is some consideration also being given to whether they will become a more permanent body, like a Commission.
  • Property values are once again rising in Duval County, which means you will likely see a bigger tab, when it comes to paying your next property tax bill. But the growth in the overall property tax roll is less than last year. As part of the City’s annual budget process, the Duval County Property Appraiser submits the estimated taxable property values, so the City knows how much money they have to work with. The values obtained by WOKV show the Property Appraiser expects there to be about $50 million more paid out in property taxes for the upcoming City budget than the current one, which provides a boost as the Mayor’s Office puts together that spending plan. The tax roll is up about 6.7% from last year, but that is down from the 7.8% growth the year prior. “They’ve been predicting a slight decline for the next couple of years, so this may be the start of it. And we’re seeing that in talking to other Property Appraisers around the state- that some areas have dropped off in their increase,” says Duval County Property Appraiser Jerry Holland. Holland says the fact that there has been some slower growth across the state means this likely reflects broader economic factors that are not specific to the area. One thing he has seen here that was somewhat surprising is a drop in new construction. That’s currently expected to drop more than 18% from 2018, to a little over $1.2 billion. Holland is hoping that, in to next year, some of the projects that are underway will come online, and help turn that number around. “You see so much as you, visually, drive around. You still see a lot of growth,” he says. Despite the somewhat smaller growth, Holland says Duval is still seeing a rise in property values. The data from the Property Appraiser’s Office shows 2019 tax roll values up over 2018 by more than 7% in Atlantic Beach, more than 9% on the Southbank, and nearly 17% in a special redevelopment district of Arlington. Holland says areas near the water- like the beaches or the St. Johns River- traditionally see the bigger increase in value, largely because there is only so much room for property. “As the supply gets limited, the demand goes up, and the limited number of availabilities drives the price up,” he says. At this point, he doesn’t have an estimate of what the average increase will be in your property tax bill, especially because it will widely vary, depending on where you live. It is possible that your bill could stay the same, if Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry decides to roll back the property tax rate, but in his prior budgets Curry has so far held the rate flat. Despite the smaller growth, Holland says he doesn’t see a point any time soon where there is no growth at all, unless there’s some unforeseeable triggering event. While the growth is smaller, it could have been much worse. Florida voters decided against “Amendment 1” last November, which would have created a new property tax exemption. While that would have benefited some property owners, it’s believed it would have means at least a $27 million drop in property tax collections for the City.
  • With the goal of improving your access and experience, the Duval County Tax Collector’s Office is looking to roll out a new system that would let you get in line at a branch by signing up online or through an app. The program is for people who weren’t able to get an appointment for a certain day, but want to still try to get their needs addressed. They would be able to look on the Tax Collector’s website or through an app that’s not yet available, to see how long the wait is at any of the nine branches. Customers would then be able to sign in, virtually. “You’ll be able to get in line, and wait at the office, at home, wherever it is that you are, until it’s time to come to visit us,” says Chief Deputy Tax Collector Sherry Hall. By allowing people to virtually get in line, Hall says the need for customers to spend a long time waiting around the branch is eliminated. Instead, they can go to nearby shops or restaurants, or stay in their office and get work done, and just plan to be at the branch based on the listed wait time. You would even be able to get a text message when your number has been called, and if you’re then running late, you could ask for more time through that two-way text feature. “It will be available at all locations and for all services that we provide,” Hall says. Documents filed with the City show the Tax Collector’s Office believes they can cover the launch of this system and four years of the subscription service by using $391,100 in budget savings. The Jacksonville City Council still has to approve shifting that funding to this project. If approved, Hall says they hope to have this system up and running before the end of this calendar year. She says nine Tax Collector’s Offices in Florida currently use this same queuing system.
  • Through ShotSpotter, the Real Time Crime Center, the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, and other tools, there has been an investment in Jacksonville in technology that’s intended to aid the fight against violent crime. Now, the city has launched the Crime Gun Intelligence Center, where all of that information and the human resources that can piece it together will work every day. “It sounds very simple, but that’s a big step, so we can be efficient in how we do this work,” says Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams. Housed in the State Attorney’s Office in Downtown and built with one-million dollars from the City, the CGIC serves as the home base for several dozen employees from JSO, the ATF, and the SAO. The space is lined with white boards and filled with cubicles and meeting rooms, including one that prominently displays a “Violent Crime Dashboard”. That dashboard is put together daily by JSO analysts and shows incidents of violent crime, people and addresses connected to that type of activity, and other factors that JSO says they want to have front of mind at all times. This CGIC concept has already rolled out in other jurisdictions around the country, and includes several full-time assigned ATF agents. ATF Acting Deputy Director Regina Lombardo says their focus is two-fold: NIBIN, which process, tracks, and finds connections among ballistic evidence; and tracing capabilities that allow them to go after the traffickers who put guns on the street, and the people who pull the trigger. She says bringing those capabilities to this CGIC will make a big impact. “The shared purpose is to reduce violent crime, the shared purpose is to make the country safe from violent crime, violent gun crime,” Lombardo says. Jacksonville already uses NIBIN, and in fact has two sets of equipment to process that evidence and get timely results. The City has also been increasingly looking at technology to aid in investigations, including ShotSpotter to alert to gunshots, and the new Real Time Crime Center, which brings together different data sources to a uniform system and provides searchable video in conjunction with that information. One of those data feeds- City surveillance- is going through a big revamp in its own right as well. BEHIND THE SCENES: Inside Jacksonville’s Real Time Crime Center Just a few weeks ago, stakeholders credited this technology in leading to the arrest of Jamin Tolliver for three different shootings, including two that were deadly. That case was again highlighted today, and when WOKV asked the impact the Center specifically had, Williams said having that collaborative environment to look at the cases allowed for them to not only find the links, but bring everything to a relatively quick resolution. “This is the repository for all of the intelligence,” says State Attorney Melissa Nelson. “The collaborative approach and just the sharing of intelligence will have a successful result.” From a prosecutor’s standpoint, Nelson says using NIBIN as a lead generator- like in the Tolliver case- means they can not only disrupt violent crime trends, but find links before those trends grow larger. She says having SAO representatives assigned to the CGIC further helps find those links to open and prior cases. It’s that broad perspective that really speaks to the core of this project, according to Williams. “A homicide investigator still has to work his homicide case, a robbery still has to work- he’s working for that victim, to solve that case. These guys [in the CGIC] will take a more overarching approach to those issues,” he says. This ribbon-cutting is something these stakeholders are excited about, but comes at a time that Jacksonville continues to see spikes in violent crime. “The City remains committed to investing in smart ways and wise ways to do everything that we can to make sure that you all have the resources that you need to make the City safe,” Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said to Williams and Nelson. Williams says the Tolliver case shows that these strategies can work, but he knows people can get frustrated that there has not been a large scale drop in violent crime as these resources have come online. “We want it to work on a larger scale and more consistently, so that’s the drive now, is to have more consistent reductions, more consistent impact. We’re always a little bit reactive when it comes to violent crime, so this helps us be a little more proactive, but we still have to continue to monitor that every day. It’s really about having those consistent gains, being consistent not only in the work, but in the progress we’re making,” he says. While there’s no clear time he thinks that can be achieved, he told WOKV he thinks they can close some two dozen cases like the Tolliver one by the end of this year. And from the City government side, Curry says they will continue to look at strategies to prevent young people from ever getting in to crime in the first place, including the pending rollout of the Cure Violence program. The City also funded mini-grants for grassroots organizations trying to stop violence in their communities as part of the last budget, and a special Task Force is weighing different options for improving safety and reducing crime in the city.
  • For the second time, the contractor carrying out the reconstruction of Liberty Street and Coastline Drive on the Northbank of Downtown Jacksonville is getting for more time and money for the project- and a third extension is already in the works as well. In early 2015, a portion of Liberty Street collapsed, leading both roads to close in that immediate area. The City developed a plan to completely demolish those roads and the parking lot they surround- all of which are technically bridge structures, because they’re built on pilings over the St. Johns River- and rebuild Liberty Street and Coastline Drive, but leave the lot space open. Superior Construction Company Southeast LLC was awarded the project in 2016 for $24.7 million. About one year ago, they requested an additional $1,026,221.45, citing several factors like the need to repair the existing bulkhead wall and a decision to replace some benches, light poles, and other features. That addition also pushed the timeline for completion from July 2018 to February 2019, with the contract lasting through March 11, 2019. WOKV has now obtained a second change order, which shows the contractor is getting another $199,551.41, as well as another timeline extension. That brings the total contract award to just over $25.9 million, with project completion estimated in May 20, 2019. The contract itself lasts through mid-June. Public Works documents obtained by WOKV pointed to the likelihood that the City was planning for even more time for the project, and a City Spokesperson now confirms that a third change order has, in fact, been submitted and is currently under review. While the date has not been officially confirmed, the Public Works documents point to January 2020 as a likely new target completion date. GALLERY: Liberty Street collapses This second, approved change order is driven by three factors, according to the documents.  $20,249.49 is for replacing and enhancing the perimeter fence. The change order says the City requested that the contractor enhance the existing 10-foot chain link fence, with the City installing a barrier screen “to harmonize the surrounding areas”. An invoice shows that work includes installing 208 feet of a ten-foot high fence, installing a ten-foot gate, and modifying 180 feet of existing fence. 108 feet of existing six-foot fence is removed, as part of this change. The second and most substantial portion of the cost is $125,623.08 for trailer relocation. Because of the adjacent demolition of the old County Courthouse and implosion of the City Hall Annex, the City asked Superior Construction to move their equipment and materials to a different spot on their work site. Superior Construction says that caused a disruption in managing the existing work and required them to re-task some crews to aid in the relocation. The move not only required heavy equipment rentals, but also reconnecting surveillance, utilities, and related areas, as well as manual labor-hours. The final $53,678.84 of this change order accounts for costs incurred to handle an obstruction that was found below the River floor. Notice from Superior Construction says they found the obstruction when preparing to put down some piles, and it took several days to figure out a work-around. That plan involved using an auger to get through the obstruction, but Superior Construction says the cutter head was damaged in that process, so they had to repair it. The City additionally tells WOKV “very deteriorated existing structure collapses” are to blame for the extension. While the contract award now stands a little over $25.9 million, the City has actually budgeted $31 million for the project. WOKV asked the City for additional comment about their confidence this project will get done in the time and with the funding that’s now set, and we were told they’re not providing any additional comments. We’re working to get more insight on the third change order, which is pending review, including whether there will be any additional funding sought. Stay with WOKV for updates as we confirm more information.
  • The City of Jacksonville may soon start regulating short-term vacation rentals. City Councilman Jim Love has put forward a proposal to create a registration program and establish rules around properties being rented through sites like Airbnb. The City has previously studied the issue, including forming a Special Committee, but that group was terminated by Council President Aaron Bowman in February. Bowman’s memo on the decision says State lawmakers have taken up the issue.  Love chaired that Special Committee, and he tells WOKV that it’s possible the action being considered in Tallahassee doesn’t pass, or passes but could be “detrimental” to Jacksonville citizens, so he decided to act now by putting forward this bill.  “It is important to my constituents to get this bill right. First it must protect the rights of those living in residential neighborhoods without interrupting the enjoyment of their community and to legitimize those who want to provide short term rentals in a responsible and controlled way,” says a statement from Love to WOKV.  The registration program would have someone who wants to list their property as a short-term vacation rental notify the City’s Planning and Development Department. In order to get the registration, the operator would have to give basic information, show proof of insurance, provide evidence of the property passing inspection by the Fire Prevention Division, pay a fee, and- in the case of renewals- submit documentation on the number of rental nights and amount of taxes paid during the prior registration period. The registration would need to be renewed by January 31st of even numbered years, meaning every two years.  Within six months of being registered, the property operator and any Point of Contact they designate to assist with renters would have to go through the City’s Landlord Training program.  Once the registration is obtained, the person involved would then have to get a Certificate of Use for each property they’re operating. Getting that requires submitting a site map of the property that highlights the guest amenities and parking, proof of insurance, Rules of Conduct, and related areas. As defined in this bill, the Rules of Conduct would have to list noise, waste, and other City regulations along with emergency contact numbers. Those would have to be posted in the property at all times.  There are several rules specifically listed in this bill for operation of the property, including that the rentals are not for commercial or social events like weddings. The rental would be capped to two people over 16-years-old per room and three rooms per property. Children are not limited per this ordinance, but overall occupancy would be dictated by fire code. The bill also requires the property have at least one off-street parking spot available per bedroom, and that renters be notified about those limitations. The operator would further not be allowed to rent a space if it is an “accessory structure”, or something that wasn’t built or legally modified to be lived in.  While the bill doesn’t have specific restrictions on what locations the rentals can be in, there are requirements for whether there is on-site property management. If the rental is in a residential zoning district or planned use but mainly residential, the bill would require a property agent live on site through the time of the rental. If the property is in commercial or industrial zoning areas, that requirement does not exist.  Love says there are several goals to the program, like addressing concerns he has heard about noise and the disruption of what he calls the “neighborhood atmosphere”. The bill itself says the rules are designed to “protect the public health, safety and welfare of its citizens and visitors, to prevent unreasonable burdens on services and impacts on residential neighborhoods”, while also ensuring the rentals are compatible with the area.  This would also be a step toward ensuring that Jacksonville is collecting the appropriate taxes on these types of rentals.  Mid-last year, the City Council Auditor’s Office released a report that found Jacksonville was missing out on potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in taxes from people who are required to self-report that they operate a rental like this and remit the appropriate county tax. Airbnb partners with some cities in Florida to directly collect local taxes through their site, which they then remit, but there is no such agreement in place with the City of Jacksonville. That means people who list on their site are responsible for directly reporting themselves to the City, and it can be difficult to ensure that’s taking place.  Love says, even with this registration system in place, it would still largely up to the property operators to self-report, although they would also be able to investigate complaints, as is done now. He says the Tax Collector would be responsible for ensuring the proper taxes are being remitted.  For the City’s share, he says that could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars, which would go toward the Tourist Development Council. A portion of the State tax also stay in Jacksonville.  Airbnb estimates that, in 2018, they collected and remitted $89.5 million in tax revenue to state and local governments in Florida. That figure is nearly double the 2017 collections. Around 40 of Florida’s counties have an agreement letting that company collect local taxes, and Airbnb says that totaled around $27 million in 2018.  The Florida Vacation Rental Management Association says rentals are already licensed and inspected by the State, and should not face any more regulation than long-term rentals. Executive Director Denis Hanks tells WOKV that they previously gave many suggestions to the City, but this doesn’t capture that. “Two bills currently being heard in the state legislative session that we are supporting passage of are HB 987 and SB 824 which seeks to control this type of rampant over reach by a city or county imposing local regulations that strip property rights from law abiding Florida property owners. We support fair regulatory licensing and inspections but we cannot support this local regulatory change,” Hanks says. He further says they believe the local concerns could be addressed through existing local ordinances dealing with noise and trash, as opposed to needing new regulations on one part of the rental market. There are many properties excluded from the registration program established in this bill, including government-owned units, healthcare licensed facilities, units rented or provided for social or healthcare purposes, hotels, motels, and bed and breakfasts.  Love’s proposal is being formally introduced to the City Council on Tuesday, but faces several weeks of vetting before getting a final vote.

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  • Today will be hot and humid with highs in the lower to mid 90’s inland and near 90 at the coast. There will be scattered afternoon thunderstorms today. Feels-like temps will once again be 100-103 inland and 100+ at the coast.  Showers and storms may dampen some early tailgaters for The Rolling Stones concert (2-5 pm).  Showers and any thunderstorms should either be out of Duval County or loosing steam by 6 pm.  CONTEST:  Pick what song you want to hear The Stones play This weekend the heat and humidity stick around with highs in the mid 90’s with only a few widely scattered showers and storms. The mid 90’s hang around on Monday.  INDEPTH:  What you need to know if you are going to the concert
  • An airman was reportedly shot in the leg Thursday night at Nellis Air Force Base. >>Read more trending news The airman was taken to a hospital with survivable injuries, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Lt. Adrian Beas told The Las Vegas Review-Journal. The circumstances surrounding the incident are unclear. Police were called shortly after 9:30 p.m. and found the injured airman near the O’Callaghan Federal Hospital, Beas said. Police and base personnel are investigating how the shooting happened, KVVU-TV reported.
  • UPDATE:  Jacksonville Police has found the missing girls who were the center of a Missing Child Alert activated late Thursday night. Police say the two girls were found safe together in Clay County. According to JSO, the case is being worked as a recovery of runaways. The Clay County Sheriff’s Office says both girls are being spoken with.    ===ORIGINAL STORY:  The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has issued a Missing Child Alert 11-year-old  Addison Terry.  JSO had reported the young girl was missing on Thursday after she ran away from the Youth Crisis Center on Parental Road on the Southside Wednesday night. YCC is not commenting on the specifics on how the child ran off or why she was with them, to begin with. According to the FDLE, Terry maybe with 16-year-old Jade Seidel. JSO says Seidel is another missing teen. The two were last seen in the area of Argyle Forest Boulevard but added they could be headed to Clay County. Anyone with information about their whereabouts is asked to call the FDLE, JSO, or dial 911.
  • The uncle of missing 16-year-old Iyana Sawyer has now been indicted for two counts of first degree murder, and our partner Action News Jax reports the counts relate to Sawyer and her unborn baby. 16-year-old Sawyer was last seen leaving Terry Parker High School in December. Since that time, her uncle, Johnathan Quiles, has been identified as a suspect in her disappearance. Quiles has been in jail since January, on a separate sexual battery charge. Now, the State Attorney’s Office confirms Quiles has been indicted for two counts of first degree murder and one count of sexual battery. Our partner Action News Jax reports Sawyer’s family’s attorney tells them the murder charges are for the teen and her unborn baby. WOKV is working to get court and police records to confirm and learn more about what led to these charges being filed.
  • A toddler has drowned in a pool, in a residential area of Lakeshore South on Jacksonville’s Westside. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office responded to the home on San Juan Avenue around 2:20PM. Jacksonville Fire and Rescue was also dispatched, and when emergency responders got on scene, they found witnesses performing CPR on the toddler. Rescue personnel took over CPR and transported the toddler to the hospital, where it died. At this time, JSO is not saying if anyone else was in the pool at the time, but foul play is not suspected in the drowning. They’re also not releasing any additional information about the victim, including the age and gender, but police confirmed in a tweet that this involved a toddler. Police are currently speaking with witnesses at the home, as their investigation continues. The Florida Department of Children and Families is also investigating.

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