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Stories About The Jacksonville Budget

    All of Jacksonville’s public libraries are now open at least six days a week, as a financial boost in the City budget takes hold. WOKV reported last year that Jacksonville Public Library received funding to expand hours at nine branch locations. That funding came through clearance to hire 13 new staff members to support the expansion.IN DEPTH: Jacksonville’s $1.2 billion budget In reviewing their schedules, peak usage times, and related areas, JPL says they were able to find efficiencies, like reducing staff overlap. Through those efficiencies, they realized they could not only add days for nine branch locations- as initially planned- but also boost hours for the four regional libraries. That expansion formally went in to effect over the weekend, meaning this is the first Monday that the Argyle, Beaches, Murray Hill, San Marco, South Mandarin, West, and Willowbranch branches are open. The Mandarin and Maxville branches added Fridays to their schedule. This means all 16 branch libraries are now open Monday and Tuesday from noon through 8PM, and Wednesday through Saturday from 10AM to 6PM. They are closed on Sundays. The four regional libraries- Highlands, Pablo Creek, Southeast, and Charles Webb Wesconnett- were already open seven days a week, but now have expanded hours. They are now open Monday through Thursday from 10AM through 9PM, Friday and Saturday from 10AM through 6PM, and Sunday from 1PM through 5PM. In addition to the expanded hours, JPL has also streamlined the hours that the facilities are open, in an attempt to make access easier for you. JPL says they have hired or are in the process of hiring most of the 13 positions they were allocated.
  • As Jacksonville continues to explore how to fight back against violent crime, WOKV is getting a closer look at one of the newest systems police believe will help not only their immediate response, but their investigation that follows. IN DEPTH: Jacksonville’s Real-Time Crime Center WOKV was the first station to take you in depth on the RTCC proposal several months ago, outlining a pilot process, which the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office was already planning to move beyond. Sheriff Mike Williams says they have 20 cameras deployed right now and are planning for 80 more before the year is up. This year’s budget allows for four hires dedicated to the RTCC, and two of those are currently on board. “It’s more about us measuring our approach to this, taking our time, make sure we’re doing it right. We don’t want to put too much in too fast, and then have to pull back. So we’re taking our time in that,” Williams says. JSO walked WOKV and our partner Action News Jax through the system, which centers on a software called CommandCentral Aware, that serves to streamline various data streams for quick and easy use by an analyst. The analyst hears dispatch audio and can see the notes from the dispatcher. The system can be set up to flag certain types of incidents, and automatically detects other useful resources- like ShotSpotter- that may be in the area. If there are cameras in that radius, they are triggered by the system, meaning it is no longer up to people to monitor potentially hundreds of camera feeds. All of that information can help first responders and the very early investigation, and an analyst can even proactively monitor the video feeds for any suspicious circumstances. But the system is also used in the long-running work. Surveillance footage can be downloaded and put in to another RTCC program which lets the analyst overlay video from different times and search for key features. If they have some suspect attributes to search for, that could mean taking two hours worth of surveillance and processing it in minutes, as opposed to needing officers to review it manually. Williams says information like this has already helped in four or five priority cases, although he declined to say which. He says having the video can be invaluable when there is not a lot of witness testimony or there are conflicting accounts, because where they would previously have to sort through the statements and make judgement calls, they now have easily accessible and searchable video that can help point their investigation in the right direction. “It gives us some very powerful analytical tools to be able to look through video, look for- again- people on bicycles, a white van, whatever it is that we’re looking for, and really shrink that time down that we’re spending on looking at and watching video kind of roll. The system will do that for us. And, again, that puts us quicker to whatever logical conclusion we’re looking for- are we catching a bad guy quicker, are we recovering a child quicker. All those things that you can imagine, you get out of something like this,” Williams says. Analysts are also able to search historically, meaning they can go back and see surveillance from an overnight incident, when the station was unmanned. Currently, the RTCC does not operate 24-hours because of the limited staffing, but Williams says they hope to be in that posture some time next year. That also means increasing from the one current work station to four overall- one more would join the station that’s already set up at the North Florida Transportation Planning Organization, and two would be at the Police Memorial Building, which is JSO’s headquarters Downtown. As they build up those hours, they’re also looking at continuing to build out the capabilities. The plan and budget is 100 cameras this year, with the early focus being pairing cameras with ShotSpotter locations, City parks, and Downtown. Williams says they could look to add even more cameras in the future, and while data would drive the decision on where those are placed, he believes areas like the 103rd Street corridor would be on the list. Once they’re more established, Williams says they will also look at adding cameras feeds that don’t belong to JSO. Internet-based cameras have the ability to feed in to the RTCC, so Williams says they’ve already been in talks with businesses about gaining access to their surveillance feeds to use if there are incidents in that area. He says they could seek the same types of arrangements with home surveillance and City cameras as well. The City is in the process of upgrading hundreds of surveillance cameras, and the proposal that’s been put forward would ensure the new cameras can network as JSO would need. The growth within JSO’s own system requires additional funding. About $3 million has been put in to this project so far according to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, and he says he’s willing to back investing in more, if it’s shown that that’s what’s needed. He says he and Williams have not yet talked about what the budget request for the next fiscal year will be, but prevention, intervention, and enforcement are all important elements that need investment in order to better public safety. IN DEPTH: Jacksonville’s $1.2 billion budget “This is another tool that’s gunna set the foundation not only for today, success today- the Sheriff talked about some of the success today- but even bigger success in the future, as we build this out. ShotSpotter, NIBIN, the way all this integrates, this is all a collective effort to have another tool to solve the problem,” he says. And while the City is using tools like this and exploring non-policing measures like Cure Violence as well, Curry says it’s important to keep traditional means strong. “We can make these investments in manpower and technology and people and after school programs and summer programs, but individual people are still making bad decisions. And so, we can’t force them to make good decisions. All we can do is invest in the enforcement to get them off the street, and then invest in the young people to make sure they make good decisions,” Curry says. The RTCC also monitors the demands on JSO overall, through mapping of calls by incident type, tracking overall call volume, and more. Curry says he knows it can be frustrating to see violence continue in the community while everything comes together, especially spikes like last weekend, when four people were killed and five others hurt in seven separate shooting incidents. “Over the long term, you’re gunna get the results that you want. You can’t throw stuff against the wall and change a strategy and your way forward every time there’s a terrible tragic event,” he says. Williams believes that within a year and a half, they will have the camera coverage and systems in place to truly maximize on the potential of the RTCC. 
  • With the aim of streamlining the overall system and aiding investigations by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, the City Council is now considering a plan to spend close to $3.5 million upgrading and replacing security cameras and related systems at City buildings. WOKV previously reported that $3 million was set aside for this as part of the annual budget process. Several departments had sought upgraded equipment, and the Administration decided to form a working group to look at the need from a more broad perspective, rather than continuing to have each department handle their own procurement. Details obtained by WOKV now show that working group has recommended 1,666 new cameras from three main vendors- Lenel, Geutebruck, and Optiview. That includes new cameras mainly at public libraries, the County Courthouse, and Tax Collector branches, as well as a few other locations and some recording and storage upgrades. The overall ask totals $3,456,857, though. The $456,857 that’s over the $3 million already set aside will come from Public Parking’s budget and will focus specifically on new cameras for the Ed Ball garage and Water Street garage, as well as a new video recording server for all Public Parking locations. IN DEPTH: Jacksonville’s $1.2 billion budget Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s Chief of Staff Brian Hughes, who led up the working group on this matter, says this recommendation reduces the number of vendors being used and involves vendors that IT employees are already familiar with. He says looking at this from a more broad perspective also let them realize some cost savings, as part of negotiating a larger deal. But the biggest impact in these upgrades could instead be on the benefit it may provide to JSO. “Making sure that, if we make these investments in technology for video surveillance, that they were systems that would integrate with JSO’s programming,” Hughes says. Currently, if JSO sees City surveillance cameras that may have captured something important to an investigation, they have to work through a process of requesting that footage and then physically obtaining it, according to Hughes. He says that’s because the current camera system uses recording and storage devices that are not network- or cloud-based. In recent months, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has been setting up a “Real-Time Crime Center”, which is built around software called CommandCentral Aware, which grabs many different information feeds and streamlines them to then relay to first responders and investigators. By replacing the current cameras and recording systems with ones that are compatible with wireless networking, the new infrastructure can feed in to the CommandCentral Aware system directly, meaning video that used to take hours or more to obtain can now be accessed very quickly. IN DEPTH: What is a “Real Time Crime Center” “If, let’s say, something happened on a street, any street. If they [JSO] know a government building is there and it’s a cloud-based system that they’ve logged in to their capabilities, they can- in a much faster time- access the feed and say ‘Oh, that camera faces out on to the street that we want to see if a car drove by’, or see who was walking on the street, or driving by at the moment when an incident happened,” Hughes says. The RTCC system is able to search those video feeds and synch up various streams, in an effort to create a comprehensive look at a scene and find potential evidence and leads.  These camera replacements represent the needs that were expressed to the Administration in the lead up to the last budget cycle, but not all of the cameras and infrastructure in the City. WOKV asked if the Administration’s intent is to continue replacing this tech at their end of life, or if they will look at proactively upgrading existing tech in order to further support the RTCC. “Those decisions are obviously budget impact decisions, and we try to weigh all the priorities that are coming forth in the budget process, as we prepare for Council’s consideration. But, obviously, public safety is a number one priority for the Mayor, so wherever we can find the possibility of contributing to public safety, we will. But we have to balance that, as always, with all of the other budget priorities,” Hughes says. He says this process will help guide them in the event other City departments request security camera and system upgrades in the next budget. They are looking at several different vendors because Hughes says there are unique needs that each one can address in various departments, but the core focus is that all of the upgrades will be capable of wireless- and cloud based-networking. City Council must still approve this plan in the coming weeks, although the money that’s being used has already been earmarked for these purposes. If approved, Hughes says there will be some steps that take place in procurement, but they will look to deploy the new cameras and systems as soon as possible. The RTCC is also fed by programs like ShotSpotter, which detects the sound of gunshots and alerts police, even if there is no 911 cal that’s placed. It further integrates the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, which compares ballistic evidence against other cases. JSO recently doubled the equipment they have to process evidence through NIBIN. While the intelligence-based technology and systems continue to expand in Jacksonville, City leaders have also tried other measures to reach in to neighborhoods to address violence, through a program awarding grants to small community organizations. JSO has also been rolling out hundreds of body cameras. Despite that, we saw a spike of violence in Jacksonville this past weekend, with at least seven shootings leaving four people dead and five others hurt. WOKV will continue to press City leadership for insight on what kind of returns these investments are getting.
  • With funding for the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens’ Master Plan now in motion, WOKV is learning more about when you will start to see the changes. As part of the City of Jacksonville’s annual budget process, a plan was approved to borrow $5 million each of the next five years, with the Zoo matching that amount in private donations, and all of the money dedicated to the ten-year Zoo Master Plan. While the total $50 million will not cover the entire tab, Zoo Executive Director Tony Vecchio says he was satisfied and excited to see the City sign on to the funding. “We’ve been working on it so hard, for so long, for it to finally come together,” he says. FULL COVERAGE: Jacksonville’s $1.2 billion City budget WOKV has learned from the Zoo that the first project under the Master Plan that is already in motion is a $3 million overhaul of the parking area. Planning is already well underway, with construction expected to start in then next couple of months. Vecchio says it’s important to start with parking, because as the Zoo has grown in popularity, so has the traffic to get in and congestion in the parking lots. “I don’t want people to start their visit here with a negative experience, so being able to fix that from the very start is really exciting,” he says. FULL COVERAGE: In-depth look at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens Master Plan They are reworking their retention ponds, to create a water feature at the entrance point to the Zoo. There will be an entrance bridge over that water, which funnels cars on to a landscaped lane that encourages cars to continue moving toward the front of the lot to park- near the main Zoo entrance, which is also being moved under the Master Plan. Traffic can navigate off the main drag and in to the various rows to park, as well. This new central flow is aimed at not only making traffic more streamlined, but improving your safety, because you’ll now be walking with the flow of most of the traffic. The lots themselves are being repaved and marked, and about one hundred new spots are being added as well. The exception is Lot C, where they won’t be paving everything, but they will be more clearly marking spaces, in order to ensure the parking lot can be used in an orderly manner, even if there is no attendant. The parking overhaul is expected to take inside of a year to complete. A few months after construction on the parking begins, Vecchio says they start work on the new entrance. The main gate and the education center are being flipped, under the Master Plan. The intent is to have a more centrally located main entrance, which creates two possible “loops” through the Zoo, as opposed to the current set-up, which requires a long walk to get to the end. The new entrance will have a restaurant and gift shop, as well as admissions area. Tandem with that project is adding a new entrance exhibit, which will be “Manatee River”. The exhibit will highlight the species, while also showcasing the work that’s done at the Zoo’s Manatee Critical Care Center, which is not open to the public. The Center cares for and rehabilitates manatees until they can be released back in to the wild. Two of the manatees currently in the Center- Percy and MJ- have been there more than a year, but could be released as soon as next month, according to the Zoo. The exhibit will feature a long-stay manatee or one that can’t be released back in the wild, in a natural setting. The new education center, when it’s moved, will also serve as an event space. It will overlook the to-be moved and rebuilt lion exhibit, which will be “wellness-inspired”, meaning the lions will have a lot of features that allow them to climb or otherwise entertain themselves, to ensure they’re healthy mentally and emotionally, as well as physically. The Zoo’s “Range of the Jaguar” and “Land of the Tiger” are other big cat exhibits that have “wellness-inspired design”. The new “Great Apes Loop” in the African Forest embraces that as well. “We want our animals to thrive and be happy, and we’re using that philosophy as we design our new exhibits,” Vecchio says. Vecchio says they’re doing everything they can to keep the impact on you minimal, including planning construction around high-traffic months, looking at phased approaches, and more. “We want every day to be a great experience at the Zoo. We don’t want to say, ‘Well, yeah, you’re having a crummy time today, but come back in a year because it’s going to be better’. We intend it to be a great experience every day, so we’re very careful about how we time construction and the logistics of what’s going to be closed,” he says. There is a lot involved in this Master Plan beyond this first phase as well- a new attraction, and overhaul of “Wild Florida”, the addition of an “Orangutan Reserve”, a flex exhibit that can feature different animals, a new “Nature Play Zone” outside of the main gate to use for education and programs targeting at-risk youth, and more. “Hold on to your hats. It’s gunna be an exciting ten years here at the Zoo,” Vecchio says.
  • More ambulances will soon be on the streets of Jacksonville, in an effort to ensure the fastest possible response times to emergencies across the city. Under the current budget for the City of Jacksonville, four additional Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department rescue units- or ambulances- were funded. WOKV has confirmed JFRD plans to get these units in service next month, and they’re hope to grow the force even more in the future. IN DEPTH: Jacksonville’s $1.2 billion City budget One of the rescue units will be attached to the new Fire Station 61 off Collins and Old Middleburg in Oakleaf, to address what JFRD Division Chief of Rescue David Castleman calls a “gaping area” that’s not currently directly served. That unit will initially locate in another station, then in a few months they will move to a temporary portable station that’s being built, until the permanent station is up and running. Three more rescue units will be added to existing fire stations- Station 44 on Western Way in Baymeadows, Station 17 on Huron Street in Woodstock, and Station 37 on Busch Drive on the Northside. “The four units that we’re going to be putting in service are the ones that we’ve identified in the areas that have the greatest need for coverage,” Castleman says. In Woodstock, as an example, Castleman says their existing units have been “taxed” responding to a recent spike of shootings. On the Northside, he says the area is so expansive, that they face challenges in getting response times where they want them to be. “Response times and transport times are critical these days, with strokes, with heart attacks, with trauma. Getting people to definitive care i s extremely important,” he says. In the zones that don’t currently have a rescue unit, available units from adjacent areas are dispatched when there is a call. Not only does this mean potentially longer response times, but it can create a domino effect, when a call comes in to a zone that has sent resources to another area. “90% of our day-in-day-out call volume is calls for emergency medical services, so the rescues are imperative,” Castleman says. These new ambulances will mean 53 active rescue units across Jacksonville. That leaves five fire stations without a rescue unit, according to Castleman. One of those- Station 48 on Blount Island- has a historically low call volume and is served well by the rescue unit at Station 40 on Heckscher Drive. Another- Station 9 on Main Street across from the Evergreen Cemetery- has a rescue unit a mile away at Station 15 off Pearl. He says they hope to get the remaining three funded in the next budget year- Station 11 on Main Street north of Downtown, Station 12 around San Marco, and Station 41 in Neptune Beach. “For us to be able to serve the community the way we should, and to meet the needs of all of the community who live throughout Jacksonville, there needs to be a  rescue in every fire station,” Castleman says. Moving forward, he says all new fire stations will stand up with a rescue unit. The Mayor’s Office tells WOKV that there has already been discussion about this funding request, and these units will get “very strong consideration” in the Fiscal Year 2020 budget. Castleman says they plan to bring the units online next month because that’s when a recruit class with around 30 personnel who will ultimately staff the units gets hired. Other JFRD personnel will staff the units while those recruits go through training, and then the existing personnel will be promoted. They’re also currently working through the channels of appropriating all the budgeted funds for outfitting the rescue units and personnel, through a bill that’s currently before the Jacksonville City Council.
  • Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens members will see their annual fee rise in the new year. Membership costs are going up $25 across-the-board beginning January 1st, to generate more funds to support Zoo operations, including salaries, animal food, and related areas. The increase will also allow JZG to put more money toward conservation- $5 per membership, instead of the $1 they do currently. General admission is not changing. “Our memberships haven’t been increased in years and years and years, and so we’re playing a little catch up,” says JZG Membership and PR Supervisor JJ Vitale. Vitale says, along with the price increase, they’re restructuring what memberships look like. Currently, she says there are a lot of different plans available. You will be able to still get all the same benefits, but in a more streamlined way. “It’s going to be an individual, a one-adult family, or a family. From there, we’re kind of doing an a la carte option,” she says. Those options will include adding a named or unnamed guest to your membership. JZG members will also be able to get non-members tickets for a reduced rate of $10, which will make it more affordable to bring a large group of friends or family. Vitale says they are also adding some more events and activities, to try to make up for the increased rate. That includes new member-only events like Painting with Penguins and Breakfast with the Bunny, a book club for children, and new partnerships with local institutions that will be reflected through your membership card. “Better connect our members to our mission, and making it fun while we do it,” she says. The revenue from this boost will specifically go toward Zoo operations, but it comes as JZG is separately fundraising for their Master Plan. The City of Jacksonville has committed to matching $5 million each of the next five years for donations the Zoo can bring in to support this multi-year program. WOKV brought you an in-depth look at the projects involved, which range from improved exhibits to new features. Viltale says some of the early projects will include improving parking and relocating the Zoo’s entrance to be more central on the overall trail.
  • Aiming to provide a more convenient option for you, while potentially bringing in more revenue for the office, the Duval Tax Collector’s Downtown branch is now accepting applications to receive or renew a concealed weapons license. Tax Collector Jim Overton says some 50 other counties in Florida already offer that service, and he feels it is time Duval County catches up. “Absolutely a convenience for the citizens of Jacksonville, so they don’t have to go to the state or some other county,” Overton says. In Northeast Florida, Baker, Clay, Nassau, and St. Johns County Tax Collectors all accept these applications, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Before the Duval County Tax Collector started on Thursday, Jacksonville applications had to be submitted at the Regional Office for the FDACS. Overton says they’ve already had some residents take advantage of the offering.  During the City’s annual budget process, the Tax Collector’s Office had sought the ability to hire more staff to specifically deal with concealed carry applications, in order to ensure they didn’t stretch existing staff too far. Instead, the City Council increased the Office’s employee cap by two, but didn’t fund the positions. At that time, the Office said they hoped to be able to generate revenue through the service to cover the cost for those two employees. IN DEPTH: Jacksonville’s City budget Chief Deputy Tax Collector Sherry Hall tells WOKV they have been able to temporarily fund the positions using money from a few vacancies in the department. While that is a temporary solution- until the positions are filled- she says they hope that once they start generating revenue from the service, they can fully appropriate the funds for the positions. Hall estimated during the budget process that they could hopefully see more than $80,000 annually from adding the concealed carry licensing services. Because of how they’re rolling it out, Overton says the new addition will not affect wait times for any other services. “We stood this up as a separate thing, so it won’t affect any of the other operations,” he says. You can submit an application and get fingerprinted at the Tax Collector’s Downtown branch at 231 E. Forsyth Street from 8AM through 4PM on weekdays. Overton plans to roll this out to other branches in the new year. You can make an appointment online to reduce your wait time, but walk ins are also accepted. You must bring a picture ID, certificate of training, and payment to your appointment. If you are doing a renewal, Overton says you will get your permit that day. If you are applying, he says they send the information to the State, so you will get your license in the mail weeks after.
  • Duval County students will soon have better access to mental health therapeutic services.  The number of therapists providing services for local students is increasing, as are the number of schools who have a dedicated therapist, following boosts in both local and state funding.  One batch of changes is for the “Full Service Schools” program. It began in 1991, and connects students and families with therapeutic, health, and social services by creating “hubs”, from which therapists serve schools. Leading up to now, there were 26 therapists serving 75 schools.  Through the Duval County Public School District, the City of Jacksonville, and private funding, that therapist-to-school ratio is being improved to 26 therapists over 57 schools, meaning each of the existing therapists has fewer schools and students to manage. Tuesday night, the Duval County School Board further voted to approve a $2,321,000 million expansion of their contract with the United Way of Northeast Florida for the FSS program, to add 36 more therapists to cover an additional 63 schools. That funding comes from state dollars, as part of new school safety laws passed in response to the Parkland mass shooting.  In all, this means FSS will soon cover 120 schools with 52 therapists.  “Have helped make possible an opportunity for us to expand mental health services to every child in the whole District,” says United Way of Northeast Florida President and CEO Michelle Braun.  United Way of Northeast Florida manages the contracted providers under this program, which are currently Jewish Family Community Services, Child Guidance Center, Daniel Memorial, Children’s Home Society, and Family Foundations.  Additionally, the “Full Service Schools PLUS” program is growing. This started as a pilot in 2015, but those involved say they’ve seen huge success. Under this initiative, there is one therapist assigned to one school, due to “Early Warning Indicators” like low attendance and high discipline rates. Until now, there were 12 schools in this program, but $1.7 million in additional funding from the City of Jacksonville’s new budget- which effectively doubled last year’s allocation- will add 28 more sites. That means 40 total schools will each have a dedicated therapist, with the program managed directly through Jacksonville’s Kids Hope Alliance.  “It’s a true collaboration, a true partnership, and it will pay huge dividends for our students,” says School Board Member Ashley Smith Juarez.  IN DEPTH: Jacksonville’s $1.2 billion City budget The total budget for FSS and FSS PLUS was $5.5 million in the prior fiscal year, between the City, DCPS, private donations- largely the United Way- and Medicaid billing. That is now up to around $7.2 million, according to KHA.  While the focus is increased mental health services for students, there is also after-school tutoring, mentoring, family counseling, health services, and more. School Board Member Becki Couch says the expansion is especially important for some of the more rural areas, like where she represents.  “We’re able to reach communities that really have very little access,” she says.  A student can be referred for counseling from anyone, including non-school personnel like family. The counselor vets the request, then obtains consent from a parent. Services under the programs are handled during school hours, in a dedicated office on the campus.  Data obtained by WOKV shows the number of referrals for FSS mental health counseling and social services has gradually risen each of the last three years, which the District credits to heightened awareness and a move that started a few years ago toward improving the program.  “I want to say a tremendous thank you to those partners who knew at that time and in that moment that there was a growing need and an acute need for more mental health services,” Smith Juarez says.  Since then, she says they’ve seen wait times for services fall, and she expects improvements to continue as more resources are put in.  FSS data provided by the District further shows that nearly all of the students who go through counseling see improved overall functioning, when rated with an assessment used in the state. Some of the measured gains in the last year include students going through treatment and then advancing to the next grade, or a parent or guardian finding an improvement in behavior.  Therapists under this program must be at least a therapist or clinician with a Master’s degree in mental health counseling, social work, psychology, or marriage and family counseling, with all appropriate licenses, according to the contract between DCPS and the United Way of Northeast Florida. They go through background screenings as well.  Anyone who thinks a student needs help can make a referral, and there are some services available for certain communities as well. DCPS has a full list of those locations and referral instructions on their website.  DCPS says their understanding is that the State funding will be recurring, allowing them to continue this high level of service. The City and DCPS dollars have likewise been baked in to the respective budgets, at this point. DCPS says they continue working with partners to ensure this program will be sustainable.
  • From the outset of Jacksonville’s budget process weeks ago, City leaders have said their priority continues to be public safety. Just ahead of Tuesday night’s final vote approving that $1.2 billion spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year, the City Council put an exclamation point on that priority, by adding even more funding toward a new program trying to stop violence at the community level.  The Council approved a bill to take $64,550 from leftover Council Contingency funds, to use toward the “Stop the Violence” small grant program. This is run under the Kids Hope Alliance, and allows small community organizations and faith-based groups to apply for grants of up to $10,000 for anti-violence efforts. The program is designed to better empower those who are already on the ground and entrenched in communities that are dealing with crime.  “We feel really strongly that allowing grassroots organizations- particularly if they’re small churches or community-based organizations- opportunity to get funding is unprecedented for the City. And it gives us tremendous opportunity to leverage these groups that are working with our young children and provide them with resources to continue to do that in a material way, and we think that’s going to have a tremendous impact on reducing violence in some of our at-hope neighborhoods,” says KHA CEO Joe Peppers. That $64,550 is being added to another $350,000 that is being put toward that program under the City’s budget- $50,000 as part of KHA’s annual budget and $300,000 that the Council Finance Committee is committing, out of funds that were discovered through the budget review process. When combined with $50,000 committed by Mayor Lenny Curry, from executive reserves, the program stands to have a total of $464,550 for the next fiscal year.  “These grassroots organizations that provide these services, that’s who’s going to help us make a difference. These are the organizations that we often see crying out ‘let us help’. We’re giving them the opportunity to help us now, and I expect results of it,” says Councilman Reggie Gaffney, who was a driving force behind this program. Peppers says they are still finalizing the exact process for distributing the grants, but he believes it will be a first-come first-served approach, with each grant award based on the merit of the program. He says there will be rigorous standards enforced to ensure the dollars are being used appropriately, in line with the other contracts they manage. He hopes to begin accepting applications by mid-next week, with funds being disbursed by mid- to late-October. They will continually review applications until all funds are exhausted. That is just one portion of the overall City budget that’s now been approved unanimously by the 19-member Council, which WOKV has covered extensively through the last few weeks.  IN DEPTH: Jacksonville’s City budget  “City Council just passed my budget. It was unanimous. 4 for 4 unanimous. Together we have produced four budgets that demonstrate a commitment to public safety, supporting kids and families, investing in infrastructure, and economic development leading to job creation. There is always more work to do, but these four budgets have helped Jacksonville be positioned for a prosperous future,” tweeted Curry, following the Council’s vote. On the anti-violence front, the budget also funds the startup of the “Real Time Crime Center”. This is an initiative that will bring different data lines and systems JSO has access to- from dispatch calls to ShotSpotter- to filter through a uniform system to better streamline information to first responders. That can then be synched with surveillance, footage, historical crime data, and more to provide a more comprehensive view of the scene, and can further track crime trends.  Closely tied to public safety, an expansion of the opioid treatment pilot program is included, as is more than $42,000 for grief counseling, trauma care, and burial costs for children exposed to or victims or violent crime; $120,000 to bring housing assistance and mental health services to the Sulzbacher Center; $3 million to replace and upgrade City security cameras; more therapists in Duval Schools; and much more.  To provide children and the community at large a safe place to spend some recreational time, this budget expands library hours, to ensure every branch is open at least six days a week, with some locations open all seven days. It also moves forward plans for an Oceanway library.  Public Works is another big spend, from an increase in litter cleanup services, to an additional $360,000 vacuum truck to drain inlets and pipes. There’s a large Capital Improvements Program, which includes everything from a Downtown dog park and repairs to historic African American cemeteries, to big investments in maintaining the Prime Osborn Convention Center. There is road paving, sidewalk repairs, bridge and dock work, and much more. In the CIP, $3 million will start replacing portions of the Northbank bulkhead. This comes as the result of “growing” and “more problematic” bulkhead failures that have been taking place since Irma, as characterized by City Councilwoman Lori Boyer.  $12.5 million for taking down the Hart Bridge ramps in Downtown is also included. WOKV has taken you in depth on the reason behind the project and other funding the City is still working to line up, but this portion matches $12.5 million from the Florida Department of Transportation, which keeps the project in motion.  Both the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens and UF Health are getting multi-year capital improvement plans. For the Zoo, it’s $25 million over five years- which will be annually matched with private donations- to implement their Master Plan. That includes new and upgraded exhibits, a more central entrance, an added attraction, and much more. UF Health will receive $120 million over six years to repairs, maintenance, and improvements on the City-owned buildings.  The budget process further raised big questions the Council has looming in the future.  A two-part WOKV investigation found the nonprofit running the Jacksonville Equestrian Center had some short-term funding problems to get through this fiscal year, and now faces an even bigger question on how it will be funded in the future because the trust fund that has been used for the last few years has run down. The City Council will have to consider other funding options in the future, as the nonprofit works to continue to turn around the venue to generate more revenue.  One of the biggest questions that loomed over this budget process overall is a November ballot initiative on an additional homestead exemption. If voters pass the measure, it will mean a break for their property tax bill, but an estimated $27 million hole in next year’s City budget. Because of that, the Council highly scrutinized requests to boost anything that required recurring funding- they did not want to commit to funding that in the future, with that possible hole looming.  Still another future question that was highlighted through the budget process is how the City will recoup the cost of JSO providing school security services at Duval County schools. A new state law requires enhanced security, but left it on districts to decide the exact program and fund the majority of that. JSO is supplementing DCPS, while they work to train a sufficient number of new hires to cover the demand- and it’s not yet clear when and how JSO will be repaid for that. The budget did not raise the property tax rate, although with increasing property value you will likely see a higher property tax bill, even with the flat rate.
  • The Jacksonville Equestrian Center sits at a critical time for determining how it’s funded in the future, but it’s also at a turning point for realizing the potential of what the property can be.  “This is the crown jewel of the Westside. We’re very proud of it, and we hope people will come out and enjoy it,” says Northeast Florida Equestrian Society Board Chair Peggy Fuller.  WOKV brought you an in depth look Monday at the cost challenges that have beset the venue in recent years. The nonprofit running it, Northeast Florida Equestrian Society, believes they are on the road to turning that around, once they get their new covered arena open and in use.  It’s just one of several projects and programs designed to not only start cranking up the venue’s use, but better connect it with the community.  Covered arena  The Equestrian Center’s contract says the first priority of NFES is adding a covered outdoor arena. That offers many different opportunities when partnered with the main arena- from a large show running more efficiently with multiple spaces, to a large show expanding further because of the additional space, to the ability to run two compatible shows at once in the two separate covered spaces. Because the new covered ring will be open air on the sides, it will also let the Equestrian Center increase programming in the summer, since the main arena now does not have air conditioning.  For NFES, this gives them a space to host smaller community events, while also positioning them to be more competitive for large, national competitions.  “To make this facility something that’s a destination, and people are proud of. This is a draw to Jacksonville, that this is somewhere somebody wants to come,” says NFES past Board Chair Joanne Connell.  IN DEPTH: Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s $1.2 billion City budget proposal In fiscal year 16-17, the City Council committed $1.3 million for a covered ring, and NFES has secured a donation to match that, as part of a naming rights agreement for the space. The contract amendment between the City and NFES initially outlined the project’s completion as October 1, 2018.  To date, the construction has not actually started.  During recent City budget hearings, Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department Director Daryl Joseph said part of the reason NFES didn’t meet revenue projections is because those were put together with the expectation the new covered arena would be up and running. The City blames the delay on a number of factors, including the weather, hurricane and project design. NFES says the delay was driven in large part from the City- they took months to review and approve the donor match agreement, and once that was done, NFES says City codes had changed, so they had to deal with design changes and code variances.  The City confirms the funding for the project is still allocated, and it’s believed the projection for the total project cost will still hold, despite the delay. The project timeline has also received a one-year extension, following a City Council vote last week.  The plan is to take two existing outdoor rings and combine them in to one new 270x270 sq ft ring, that has footing to match the interior arena. A 300x300 sq ft cover will hang over that ring and will connect to the existing arena, with a buffer space in between the two buildings serving as a livestock holding area.  Fuller says they already have events that have committed to expanding, once the covered arena is in place. They’re also hoping it will lead to a major show anchoring in Jacksonville, meaning they schedule the same weekend here every year. NFES is not yet booking events for the venue, because of the delays that have taken place with construction. They’re now hoping to be able to break ground soon, with completion of the project late Spring or early Summer.  With how the shows are booked- several years in advance- Fuller says it could take that long to see the full benefit, but the patience will be worth the wait.  Other improvements on site  The long-range plan has even more improvements for the site, both in infrastructure and offerings. NFES believes the next phase should be the support around the new covered ring.  With 423 stalls currently spread across four barns, NFES hopes to start selling out more, once the new venue creates more demand. If the demand increases enough, they could potentially build even more barns in the future, which feeds a primary revenue source for them- stall rentals.  GALLERY:Jacksonville Equestrian Center With expanding space for the horses, comes the need for their human counterparts to go somewhere. NFES hopes to add more RV rental sites in the future, to achieve that.  The contract “Work Plan” between the City and NFES says the nonprofit will refurbish barns, stalls, camping and RV spots, trails, parking, and landscaping. The Plan also calls for new bathroom and shower facilities near barns three and four, improved pavilions, additional livestock pens, covered bleachers, and much more. The Equestrian Center Master Plan includes a lot of this, and NFES is already separately working on more ring space, which is being funded by private donations.   There are also on-site revenue services that are growing. They would like to expand the therapeutic equipment they have for horses, which could then be rented by horse owners at events. NFES further tells WOKV they also may have a donor lined up for a farrier space on-site, whereas any farrier or vet who provides services for events currently has to do work in the stalls.  Equine Therapy program  Another hallmark of the Equestrian Center’s future is a planned “state of the art” equine therapy program.  Fuller says they have a sponsor that allows them to start the program by partnering with an accredited therapy group, which brings horses to the Equestrian Center and performs the services. They hope to ultimately be able to build a separate structure on the property to house the program full time.  “Our theory is start small and build slowly, and then we’ll be successful. If you dive in, I think, all at once, you sometimes overstep. We want to start small and build,” she says.  The program provides both physical and mental therapy services, for everyone from veterans to people with autism.  “It’s exciting now that this has been actually realized, assisted therapy has been realized as a true therapy. And we want to be involved in that,” Fuller says.  Connell says they’re especially proud of being able to aid the military community through this service, because of the origin of the land, which used to be with Cecil Field.  Diverse programming  The Equestrian Center is only one of the facilities in that area. Taye Brown Regional Park includes the Equestrian Center, the Cecil Recreation Complex’s Aquatic Center, and the ballfields. There are also miles of trails- including ones you can take a horse on- and a golf course nearby.  The contract between the City and NFES talks about partnering with those other venues to create “destination package deals”. NFES says they absolutely see the surrounding attractions as benefiting them, in creating more appeal in the immediate area.  The “Work Plan” further speaks about not only expanding equine-related events, but other community and diverse activities.  “A big boost at other equestrian centers is the development and ownership of ‘downtime’ nonrated shows that will fill low-demand calendar dates,” the contract says.  NFES believes the therapy program can ultimately be something that helps program the Equestrian Center every day, because it will run on week days, when large shows and events typically aren’t taking place. They’ve also already grown substantially in attracting a range of events. From dog agility shows, to RV shows, FDOT Career Day, concerts, rodeos, and much more, NFES has focused on bringing in something for everyone.  “Most of our events are free and open to the public. There’s no parking fee, there’s no entrance fee, and we want people to come, encourage people to come and see what we have our here,” Fuller says.  Marketing  The City also continues to explore how to help promote the venue.  In recent action recommended by the Tourist Development Council and approved by the City Council, guidelines were created to establish criteria for awarding all tourism development grants, including those used for marketing and special events. Part of that included setting aside $20,000 specifically for promotion the Equestrian Center, separate from the $800,000 in Special Event Grants that cover other events and City venues. According to the City, this funding will be used specifically to lure events that draw participants from outside of the area, and for advertising events at the venue.  The grant money was pulled from the overall special events fund because of the unique nature of the Equestrian Center and events being recruited. As such, the TDC and Visit Jax wanted it to be handled differently. Jacksonville Equestrian Center Executive Director Tim Jones says the core problem is that the standard grants are being measured by hotel night, but that’s not the metric that most accurately represents the economic impact they have, since many participants stay in RVs or scatter at hotels that accommodate dogs or other animals they travel with. Instead, he envisions something that gives more weight to stall nights, for these new grants.  “It’s a City facility that attracts tourists, and we [the TDC] thought there was an opportunity to help them bump the level of their game, if they could offer some grants to some of the people to bring in the kind of ‘National Championship of X’, as opposed to just having the regional competitions,” said City Councilwoman Lori Boyer, during the TDC’s recent budget hearing.  The funding is coming from the City’s tourism development tax, as part of the TDC budget.  Looking ahead  NFES understands that not everyone is familiar with- or necessarily even in support of- the Equestrian Center, but they’re continuing to work to change that. Highlighting that this is a Better Jacksonville Plan project, Fuller says voters supported it ahead of its construction in 2004, and now there is a need to maintain it, and an opportunity to program it to its fullest.  NFES is committed to continuing to educate the City Council and community at large on the events and opportunities the venue holds. With most of the events at the Equestrian Center being free and open to the public, they’re hoping everyone takes the time to visit- not just those passionate about horses and equestrian events.  In the coming year, the City of Jacksonville will closely consider how to subsidize this venue in the future. NFES says they will closely partner in those discussions, and continue to prove why they believe this is a worthwhile investment.  WOKV continues to track how Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and the City Council are spending your tax dollars, with the final vote on the City’s $1.2 billion budget proposal coming next week.

The Latest News Headlines

  • A Jacksonville truck driver is being held in connection to the abduction of two children from Texas. The Winslow, Arizona Police Department says, on Saturday, they were contacted by police in Belton, Texas about two children who had been reported missing on Friday. Belton Police say the children were initially reported as runaways. Winslow Police say the information from Belton Police led them to a semi-truck in their jurisdiction, where they found a 12-year-old boy and 14-year-old girl in the sleeper cab. The siblings were being held against their will by 47-year-old Marshall Pendergrass, of Jacksonville, according to Winslow Police. Police say the children are both in good physical condition. Winslow Police and the FBI are jointly investigating what happened, and Pendergrass is being held pending federal charges. The Navajo County Sheriff’s Office also aided the investigation. 
  • New guidelines from the American Heart Association are recommending most older adults no longer take a low-dose aspirin every day to prevent a heart attack or stroke. >> Read more trending news Following years of suggesting adults could benefit from a daily 75- to 100-milligram dose of aspirin to help fight cardiovascular problems, the AHA along with the America College of Cardiology released the findings of a clinical trial that found aspirin did not prolong life in elderly adults who do not have the highest risks of heart disease. The findings suggest not only was aspirin not as effective as thought but that it could possibly lead to major bleeding in the elderly. 'Clinicians should be very selective in prescribing aspirin for people without known cardiovascular disease,' according to a statement from Dr. Roger Blumenthal, co-chair of the 2019 ACC/AHA Guideline on the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease, and professor of cardiology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. 'It's much more important to optimize lifestyle habits and control blood pressure and cholesterol as opposed to recommending aspirin,' Blumenthal said. Blumenthal said that 'Aspirin should be limited to people at the highest risk of cardiovascular disease and a very low risk of bleeding.'  The guidelines also pointed out that those who have had a heart attack or stroke could still use aspirin to prevent another cardiovascular event. 'Ultimately, we must individualize treatment for each patient, based on their individual situation,' North Carolina cardiologist Dr. Kevin Campbell, told CNN. Campbell wasn't involved in the new guidelines.   
  • A shooting on a Dutch tram left at least three people dead and five others injured in Utrecht, according to authorities. >> Read more trending news  The city’s mayor, Jan van Zanen, said three people were killed in the attack, according to The Associated Press. Police said five people were injured in the shooting. Authorities have classed the incident as a possible terror attack. Update 11:45 a.m. EDT March 18: van Zanen withdrew advice for Utrecht residents to stay indoors  Monday, saying the recommendation was made on the suspicion that shots had been fired at another location in the city. However, he said, “That is not the case, as far as we know,” according to The Independent. van Zanen said earlier Monday that at least three people died in Monday’s shooting and nine others were injured. Police said in a statement that the actual number of injured people was five. Authorities have identified a man wanted in connection to the shooting as Gokmen Tanis, 37. Police continue to investigate the case. Update 10:25 a.m. EDT March 18: Utrecht Mayor Jan van Zanen said three of the nine people wounded in Monday’s shooting were seriously injured, according to The Associated Press. “We cannot exclude, even stronger, we assume a terror motive,” van Zanen said Monday. “Likely there is one attacker, but there could be more.” Police have identified a man wanted in connection to the shooting as Gokmen Tanis, 37. Update 10:10 a.m. EDT March 18: Utrecht Mayor Jan van Zanen said three people were killed and nine people were injured Monday in the Utrecht shooting, according to CNN and The Independent. Update 9:55 a.m. EDT March 18: Dutch police issued a correction Monday on the name of the man wanted in connection with the Utrecht shooting. Authorities said his name was spelled Gokmen Tanis. Officials initially identified the 37-year-old as Gokman Tanis. The Independent reported trains were not being allowed into Utrecht’s central train station in the wake of the shooting. Update 9:25 a.m. EDT March 18: Police in the Netherlands asked for the public’s help Monday locating a man wanted in connection to Monday’s shooting. Authorities warned against approaching the man, identified as Gokman Tanis, 37. Update 8:55 a.m. EDT March 18: The shooter behind Monday’s attack remained at large after the incident, according to Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, the Dutch anti-terror coordinator. “In Utrecht there was a shooting at several locations,' he said Monday at a news conference, according to The Independent. 'A lot is still unclear at this point and local authorities are working hard to establish all the facts. What we already know is that a culprit is at large.' Authorities continue to investigate the shooting. Original report: Utrecht police wrote Monday in a tweet that a “possible terrorist (motive) is part of the investigation” into the shooting, which occurred about 10:45 a.m. local time, according to CNN. >> See the tweet here The gunman remained at large Monday and may have fled the scene in a car, according to BBC News.  After the attack the country’s anti-terror coordinator, Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, raised the terror threat level in Utrecht to 5, its highest level. Check back for updates to this developing story.
  • Mass shootings at two mosques full of worshipers in Christchurch, New Zealand, left at least 50 people dead and dozens more injured Friday. >> Read more trending news  White supremacist Brenton Tarrant, 28, has been charged with one count of murder in the slayings and a judge said Saturday that it was reasonable to assume more charges would follow. >> Photos: Mass casualties reported in New Zealand mosque shooting Update 10:50 a.m. EDT March 18: President Donald Trump said Monday that the media was “working overtime to blame me for the horrible attack in New Zealand.” “They will have to work very hard to prove that one,” Trump wrote in a tweet. “So Ridiculous!” The gunman in last week’s attacks left a document in which he called himself a white nationalist and referred to Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity.” In the past, Trump has drawn criticism for saying “both sides” were to blame for violence at a deadly white supremacist demonstration. >> Trump again blames ‘both sides’ for violence in Charlottesville Update 11:50 p.m. EDT March 17: Leaders of New Zealand’s Muslim community are planning a national memorial burial for all the victims of Friday’s deadly shooting rampages at two mosques in Christchurch, according to media outlets. The New Zealand Herald is also reporting that despite Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s expectations that the bodies of all the victims would be released to family members by Monday, that  isn’t expected to happen now, instead authorities believe it might be Wednesday before all the victims have been released. While Islamic leaders have said they are planning for a mass burial, the families will ultimately decide how they’ll proceed, the Herald reported. Not to far from the scene of the Linwood Mosque shooting, burial preparations are underway at Memorial Park Cemetery where workers are digging graves for the shooting victims behind a large temporary fence. Update 10:15 p.m. EDT March 17: The owner of a Christchurch gun store confirmed Sunday that he sold four guns and ammunition to alleged mosque shooter Brenton Tarrant in a “police-verified” online purchase, according to the New Zealand Herald. But the owner of the retail chain Gun City, David Tipple, said his store did not sell Tarrant any semi-automatic weapons. Tipple said he and staff are 'dismayed and disgusted' by Friday's shootings, The Associated Press reported. Tipple said the store did not notice any red flags in Tarrant’s gun purchases.  “We detected nothing extraordinary about this (gun) license holder,” he said. Meantime, counter-terrorism police executed search warrants on two homes in New South Wales, Australia, believed to be connected to the alleged shooter. Authorities searched a house in Sandy Beach near Coffs Harbor that is believed to belong to Tarrant’s sister, according to Australia’s News 9. They also raided a home in Lawrence that is believe to be connected to Tarrant’s mother. Authorities said they’re searching for anything that might help New Zealand investigators. “The community can be assured that there is no information to suggest a current or impending threat related to this search warrants,”the Australian Federal Police and NSW Police said in a joint statement, News 9 reported. Update 12:30 p.m. EDT March 17: Pakistan will observe a day of mourning for the victims of the shootings, The AP reported.  Vatican News reported Pope Francis offered prayers for those killed in the attacks.  “In these days, in addition to the pain of wars and conflicts that do not cease to afflict humanity, there have been the victims of the horrible attack against two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. I pray for the dead and injured and their families. I am close to our Muslim brothers and all that community. I renew my invitation for prayer and gestures of peace to combat hatred and violence.” Related: Photos: Mass casualties reported in New Zealand mosque shooting Update 7:41 a.m. EDT March 17: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Sunday that members of her Cabinet will work to change the nation’s gun laws in the wake of Friday’s deadly mosque attacks, The Associated Press is reporting. In a news conference, Ardern added that officials will release the victims’ bodies to their families starting Sunday evening and should finish by Wednesday, the AP reported. Pope Francis on Sunday also prayed “for our Muslim brothers who were killed,” the report said.  Meanwhile, an online campaign has raised more than $3 million U.S. for the victims and their families. Learn more here. Update 5 p.m. EDT March 16: The death toll in the New Zealand mosque attacks has risen to 50. Police Commissioner Mike Bush confirmed in a news conference that 50 people died in the shooting attacks at two mosques in Christchurch, RNZ reported.  He also said that 36 are in the hospital with two in critical condition. Update 6:30 p.m. EDT March 15: The man suspected in at least one of the shootings that killed at least 49 people at two mosques in New Zealand has appeared briefly in court. Two armed guards brought Brenton Tarrant into court Friday. He showed no expression as District Court Judge Paul Kellar read one charge of murder to him. The court appearance lasted only about a minute and he was led back out in handcuffs. He was ordered to return to court again April 5. After Tarrant left, the judge said that while “there is one charge of murder brought at the moment, it is reasonable to assume that there will be others.” The gunman posted a 74-page manifesto on social media in which he identified himself as Tarrant and said he was a 28-year-old Australian and white supremacist who was out to avenge attacks in Europe perpetrated by Muslims. Update 5 p.m. EDT March 15: New Zealand’s prime minister said the “primary perpetrator” in the mosque shootings was a licensed gun owner and legally acquired the five guns used in the shootings. Jacinda Ardern said the country’s national gun laws will change after at least 49 worshippers were shot dead in the two mosques in Christchurch. Update 3:25 p.m. EDT March 15: President Donald Trump said he spoke Friday with Ardern and offered “any assistance the U.S.A. can give.” “We stand by ready to help,” Trump wrote. “We love you New Zealand!” Update 11:30 a.m. EDT March 15: New York police said the department is ramping up patrols around the city Friday and keeping in contact with officials at area mosques in the wake of the deadly shootings in Christchurch. 'To the Muslim community here in New York: We stand with you always, and we will remain vigilant in keeping you safe -- and making sure you feel safe, too,' Police Commissioner James O'Neill said Friday in a statement. 'The people we serve, in every neighborhood, must always be free from fear and have the immutable right to worship and live in peace.' Update 10:20 a.m. EDT March 15: The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Kate, and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Harry and Meghan, said Friday in a statement that their “hearts go out to the families and friends of the people who lost their lives in the devastating attack in Christchurch.” “No person should ever have to fear attending a sacred place of worship,” the statement said. “This senseless attack is an affront to the people of Christchurch and New Zealand, and the broader Muslim community. It is a horrifying assault on a way of life that embodies decency, community, and friendship.” Update 9:35 a.m. EDT March 15: Former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama shared condolences for the people of New Zealand in a message posted Friday to social media. “We grieve  with you and the Muslim community,” said the message shared by President Obama. “All of us must stand against hatred in all its forms.” Update 8:55 a.m. EDT March 15: Pope Francis was “deeply saddened to learn of the injury and loss of life caused by the senseless acts of violence” in New Zealand, his cardinal secretary of state said Friday in a telegram. “He assures all New Zealanders, and in particular the Muslim community, of his heartfelt solidarity in the wake of these attacks,” Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin said. “Mindful of the efforts of the security and emergency personnel in this difficult situation, His Holiness prays for the healing of the injured, the consolation of those who grieve the loss of their loved ones, and for all affected by this tragedy.” Officials in New Zealand said 49 people were killed in a pair of attacks on mosques in Christchurch. Health officials said 48 patients were being treated for injuries ranging from minor to critical after the shootings. Update 7:49 a.m. EDT March 15: In a tweet early Friday, President Donald Trump sent “warm sympathy and best wishes” to the people of New Zealand after “the horrible massacre.” “Forty-nine innocent people have so senselessly died, with so many more seriously injured,” Trump said. “The U.S. stands by New Zealand for anything we can do. God bless all!” In a statement, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders called the attack “a vicious act of hate.”  “We stand in solidarity with the people of New Zealand and their government,” Sanders said. Queen Elizabeth II, who is head of the Commonwealth and New Zealand's monarch, said she was “deeply saddened” by the shootings, CNN reported. “I have been deeply saddened by the appalling events in Christchurch today,” the queen said. “Prince Philip and I send our condolences to the families and friends of those who have lost their lives. I also pay tribute to the emergency services and volunteers who are providing support to those who have been injured.” Update 5:01 a.m. EDT March 15: New Zealand police said a man in his late 20s has been charged with murder, TVNZ reported. The man was expected to appear in court Saturday morning, The Washington Post reported. Officials have not named the suspect. Police clarified that while four people were detained, only three were thought to have been involved in the shootings, the newspaper reported. Update 4:20 a.m. EDT March 15: New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush confirmed in a news conference that 49 people died in the shooting attacks at two mosques in Christchurch, TVNZ reported. The attack at the Masjid Al Noor mosque near Hagley Park in central Christchurch left 41 people dead, and seven people were killed at the Linwood Avenue mosque, TVNZ reported. Another person died at a hospital, Bush said. Update 3:14 a.m. EDT March 15: Forty-eight patients are being treated for gunshot wounds at Christchurch Hospital, CNN reported. David Meates, chief executive of the Canterbury District Health Board, said the patients’ conditions ranged from critical to minor. One of four people taken into custody after the mass shooting attack at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, said he was a 28-year-old Australian, according to The Associated Press. Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed that the shooter was Australian-born. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a news conference, “It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack. From what we know, it does appear to have been well planned.” 'We were chosen (because) we represent diversity, kindness compassion, a home for those who share our values, refuge for those who need it and those values, I can assure you, will not and cannot be shaken by this attack,' Ardern said. 'We utterly condemn and reject you.' Update 2:37 a.m. EDT March 15: In a news conference Friday, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed that 40 people died in the mosque attacks. Arden said 30 people were killed at the Masjid Al Noor mosque near Hagley Park in central Christchurch, and that 10 people were killed at the Linwood Avenue mosque, TVNZ reported. Twenty more people have been seriously injured, TVNZ reported. Update 2:24 a.m. EDT March 15: In a news conference Friday, Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel expressed shock and anger after the mass shooting at the mosques. “I never could believe anything like this could ever happen in Christchurch,” she said. “I never thought anything like this could happen in New Zealand.” Dalziel told TVNZ, 'We need to come together and care for each other, we need to make this unite us, not divide us.' Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called the shootings “a vicious attack.” 'We grieve. We are shocked, appalled and outraged as we stand here and condemn the attack that occurred today by an extremist right wing violent terrorist,” Morrison said. Update 1:43 a.m. EDT March 15: St. John Ambulance has transferred multiple patients to Christchurch Hospital and other local medical facilities, TVNZ reported. The news agency reported that injuries of the patients ranged from minor to critical. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is expected to address the country at 7 p.m. local time. Update 1:30 a.m. EDT March 15: New Zealand police tweeted Friday that while they cannot confirm the number of fatalities, “it is significant.” Police have asked all mosques throughout New Zealand to close, and advised people to stay away from them “until further notice.” Update 1:04 a.m. EDT March 15: Police confirmed Friday afternoon that the lockdown of schools in Christchurch has been lifted, TVNZ reported. Update 12:33 a.m. EDT March 15: At a news conference, New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said four people were in custody. Three are men and one is a woman, “as I understand it,” Bush said. There were improvised explosive devices found in vehicles after the shootings, Bush said. Update 12:16 a.m. EDT March 15:  “This is one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at a news conference Friday afternoon. “Clearly what has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence.” A cricket match between Bangladesh and the New Zealand national team was canceled. The Bangladesh team was arriving for prayers at a mosque when the shooting occurred, but all members of the squad were safe, a team coach told Reuters. Update 11:15 p.m. EDT March 14: New Zealand authorities have confirmed that there have been multiple fatalities and one person is in custody: “Police is responding to a very serious and tragic incident involving an active shooter in central Christchurch.  One person is in custody, however Police believe there may be other offenders. This is an evolving incident and we are working to confirm the facts, however we can confirm there have been a number of fatalities.  Police is currently at a number of scenes. We understand that there will be many anxious people but I can assure New Zealanders that Police is doing all it can to resolve this incident. We urge New Zealanders to stay vigilant and report any suspicious behaviour immediately to 111.  We are mobilising resources nationally and support is being brought into the District. We are still working to resolve this incident and we continue to urge Christchurch residents to stay inside. We ask all mosques nationally to shut their doors, and advise that people refrain from visiting these premises until further notice.” Update 10:55 p.m. EDT March 14: New Zealand media said an additional shooting has occurred in a second mosque in the city of Christchurch. Original report: As many as 30 people have been injured or killed, a child care center manager told Radio New Zealand. Witness Len Peneha told The Associated Press he saw a man dressed in black enter the Masjid Al Noor mosque and then heard dozens of shots, followed by people running from the mosque in terror. Peneha, who has lived next door to the mosque for about five years, said the gunman ran out of the mosque, dropped what appeared to be a semi-automatic weapon in Peneha’s driveway and fled. Peneha said he went into the mosque to try and help, “I saw dead people everywhere,” he said. Police are urging people in the area to stay indoors and schools in the area have been placed on lockdown. About 300 people were inside the mosque, according to RNZ. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • The teams have been chosen and brackets set up for the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. >> Read more trending news  The tournament begins Tuesday when the first of the “First Four” games are played, and gets into full swing on Thursday as the first round begins.  Here’s a look at the schedule for the 68-team field, tip-off times, channels and how to watch. How to watch: The games will be televised on four networks, CBS, TBS, TNT and truTV. Check your TV provider for channel information. If you have CBS via a TV service provider, you can see all the games broadcast on CBS there. The CBS Sports App will not be showing the games for free. The CBS All-Access TV app will have the games available via a paid subscription.  TNT, TBS and truTV are available via streaming once you authenticate your tv provider subscriptions. The games are available on an NCAA March Madness Live TV app available via Roku, Amazon Fire TV Stick and Apple TV set-top boxes. You can also get the games on Microsoft's Xbox videogame console and on the Android TV platform.  Below is the schedule for Tuesday and Wednesday’s “First Four” games and the schedule or the first round of the tournament which begins on Thursday. Check back here for an updated schedule of games as the tournament continues. All times are Eastern time. March Madness games schedule: Tuesday, March 19 – First Four 6:40 p.m.: Prairie View A&M vs. Fairleigh Dickinson – truTV After the conclusion: Temple vs. Belmont – truTV Wednesday, March 20 – First Four 6:40 p.m.: NC Central vs North Dakota State – truTV After the conclusion: St. John’s vs. Arizona State – truTV Thursday, March 21 – First Round 3:10 p.m.: Maryland vs. the winner of Tuesday’s Belmont/Temple game – truTV  12:40 p.m.: LSU vs. Yale – truTV  12:15 p.m.: Louisville vs. Minnesota – CBS  2:45 p.m.: Michigan State vs. Bradley – CBS 7:20 p.m.: Villanova vs. St. Mary’s – TBS  9:50 p.m.: Purdue vs. Old Dominion – CBS  1:30 p.m. Auburn vs. New Mexico State – TNT  4 p.m.: Kansas vs. Northeastern – TNT 9:40 p.m.: Wofford vs. Seton Hall – CBS  7:10 p.m.: Kentucky vs. Abilene Christian – CBS  7:27 p.m.: Gonzaga vs. the winner of Tuesday’s Farleigh Dickinson/Prairie View A&M game – truTV  9:57 p.m.: Syracuse vs. Baylor – truTV  4:30 p.m.: Marquette vs. Murray State – TBS  2 p.m.: Florida State vs. Vermont – TBS  6:50 p.m.: Nevada vs. Florida – TNT  9:20 p.m.: Michigan vs. Montana – TNT Friday, March 22 12:15 p.m.: Cincinnati vs. Iowa – CBS  12:40 p.m.: Ole Miss vs. Oklahoma – truTV  1:30 p.m.: Texas Tech vs. Northern Kentucky – TNT 2 p.m.: Kansas State vs. UC Irvine – TBS  2:45 p.m.: Tennessee vs. Colgate – CBS  3:10 p.m.: Virginia vs. Gardner Webb – truTV  4 p.m.: Buffalo vs. the winner of Wednesday’s Arizona State/St. John’s game – TNT  4:30 p.m.: Wisconsin vs. Oregon – TBS  6:50 p.m.: Utah State vs. Washington – TNT 7:10 p.m.: Duke vs. the winner of Wednesday’s North Carolina Central/North Dakota State game – CBS  7:20 p.m.: Houston vs. Georgia State – TBS  7:27 p.m.: Mississippi State vs. Liberty – truTV  9:20 p.m.: North Carolina vs. Iona – TNT 9:40 p.m.: VCU vs. UCF – CBS  9:50 p.m.: Iowa State vs. Ohio State – TBS  9:57 p.m.: Virginia Tech vs. St. Louis – truTV   The second round begins Saturday, March 23. The Sweet 16 round begins Thursday, March 28. The Elite Eight round begins Saturday, March 30. The final four play on Saturday, April 6. The National Championship game, held in Minneapolis, will be played Monday, April 8.     

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