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Stories About The Jacksonville Budget

    Millions of dollars could soon be invested in to improvements at Jacksonville parks. As part of the City of Jacksonville’s annual budget process, Mayor Lenny Curry has put forward his proposed Capital Improvement Program, which lists the infrastructure investments he wants the City to make. WOKV has found nearly a dozen projects across Jacksonville which focus on the infrastructure at local parks, with a proposed investment of close to $13 million, mostly in borrowed funds. This is above and beyond standard park maintenance that’s budgeted for every year. FULL COVERAGE: Jacksonville Mayor’s nearly $1.4 billion budget proposal On the Southside, a $2.225 million expansion is planned for the Fort Family Regional Park off Baymeadows, near I-295. This project would add four baseball fields, a parking lot, and a concession stand to the site, with construction starting this fall and continuing through next fall. The City says the park would be able to remain open during this work, which is aimed at creating a more substantial sports complex for the densely populated area. The park currently has a tennis complex, soccer fields, a playground, pavilions, and restrooms. The majority of this project would be funded through borrowing. $600,000 in available funding is earmarked for lighting upgrades for the baseball complex at Baker Skinner Park, off Powers Avenue in the San Jose area of the Southside. The City of Jacksonville says lighting at four of the six fields will be addressed, with the two smaller t-ball fields excluded since they are not as affected because of earlier games. Replacing the lighting means demolishing the old system and installing new LED sports field lighting, poles, and controllers, but the City says the park will remain open during the work. Construction will begin this fall and wrap by Spring 2020, if the proposal is approved.  One of the biggest investments is near the Main Street Bridge on the Southbank of Downtown, in the St. Johns River Park and Friendship Fountain, which is on the park site. For the park itself, $950,000 was previously committed, and an additional $1.6 million is proposed for the upcoming fiscal year, with most of the funding coming through borrowing. This would fund improvements to walkways, picnic areas, landscaping, adaptive signage, a concession area, and restroom facilities. There is also a concept for a Ribault Landing-themed playground and a splashpark.  The City says this park will have to be closed during the construction, which is slated to start late this year or early 2020, and wrap in the end of 2020. The City says they’re working to identify any events and activities that would be affected by this closure, to provide alternate locations. In the park, Friendship Fountain itself is poised for a huge overhaul. The City has previously invested $1.3 million, and is proposing another $4.2 million now- mostly through borrowing- for some significant repairs. The project includes repairs to the concrete structure, speakers, lighting, pumps, wiring, and electronic and software equipment. Renderings from the City show two different perspectives, but the same concept, of what that work could look like. For William F. Sheffield Regional Park, off New Berlin Road on the Northside, this is poised to be the first year of a multi-year investment. The CIP proposes $1 million for the upcoming fiscal year and $3 million the following year, largely funded through borrowing. The money this year is for new multi-use fields, which would be able to accommodate soccer, football, and other sports, according to the City. This project would also involve an increase in the parking capacity, and while the exact number of spots is not clear, the City says capacity should double around the football fields. Construction here would begin this fall and conclude next fall, with no need to close the park. Another multi-year investment is proposed for a Winton Drive Recreation Facility, across from Ribault High School in Northwest Jacksonville. $500,000 was previously committed to this project, and now the CIP proposes $2.05 million in borrowing each of the next two years to round out the investment. A Boys & Girls Club facility is being built adjacent to this property, so this rec facility would be aimed at supporting that. The facility would consist of a range of fields and parking, as conceptualized in this rendering. The 103rd Street Sports Complex on the Westside could see $707,000 in renovations, funded through available cash. The proposal is to renovate the grandstand building where scoring is done and restrooms are housed, as well as the bleachers, lighting, and sidewalks. This project is expected to span from this fall through next summer, with the park staying open through that time. This park centers on a half-mile lighted Go-Kart track. Hanna Park in the Mayport area stands to see $14,093 in proposed improvements including fencing replacement, playground repairs, safety lighting, trail repairs, drainage improvements, and minor renovations to amenities. In addition to that, $240,000 is proposed to repair one of the beach access boardwalks, which the City says has deteriorated because of the harsh environment. The CIP notes Hanna Park has not seen any major capital improvements in recent years, so work like this will help it continue to generate revenue and stay competitive. All of this funding would come from available cash on hand. Another relatively small investment is for Carvill Park in the Norwood area of Northwest Jacksonville. Most of the proposed $150,000, which comes from available funding, would be used for the pool and pump house, although some of the money is also earmarked for security lighting around the park. These proposals are all included in the CIP, which is still pending vetting and approval by the Jacksonville City Council, as part of the annual budget process. A final vote will take place ahead of the start of the next fiscal year October 1st.
  • With the imminent demolition of the Jacksonville Landing and ongoing negotiations for a new contract to keep the Florida/Georgia game in Jacksonville, City leaders are looking to up the stakes for the fan experience around the annual event. The Jacksonville Landing has historically brought in thousands of fans through the weekend for daytime events, like school pep rallies, as well as the nightlife experience. By the time we reach this year’s game on November 2nd, that building will be completely vacant, with demolition in progress. While the City was not involved in programming the Landing in prior years since it was privately owned and operated, they’re now looking to address the entertainment hole that’s created by the demolition, to ensure fans still have a place to go to celebrate through the extended weekend. So they’re proposing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars more than prior years, to create a destination in the heart of the Sports Complex. “All the way from RV City, through the [Daily’s Place] Flex Field, in to the parking lots next to the stadium, out to APR [A. Philip Randolph Blvd.], and incorporating the Baseball Grounds and some of the different things on APR, including private businesses that are in the food and entertainment business, to try to connect them all together in a way that offers that whole area of the Sports and Entertainment District as a location for multiple events,” says Jacksonville’s Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes. Hughes says the intention is to activate this area for several days leading up to the game for both family-friendly activities and nightlife, with everything from live music to street vendors. “We want to turn that area down there in to a place that has some of the same offerings that the Landing did, except we’re trying to do it in a way with sponsorship that we don’t have to block it off and charge people admission to get in to the space. That if they’re here for the weekend, that’s where they go and that’s where they entertain,” Hughes says. WOKV started asking about this enhanced fan experience, after seeing a boost in a special events subfund in Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s proposed $1.4 billion budget. While the City plans to do the same annual events it hosts every year, like the Hall of Fame luncheon, they’re proposing budgeting several hundred thousand dollars more than last year in order to execute this vision. The budget proposal includes an addition over last year of more than $440,000 for miscellaneous Florida/Georgia expenses relating to event services and $75,000 in equipment rentals corresponding with the increase in services, among other areas. The exact price tag for this is not yet available, as negotiations and planning on the details of this fan experience continue. Hughes would not provide many more specifics about what they’re planning, except to say it will use facilities like Daily’s Place and the Baseball Grounds in creative ways. They’re also planning for some transportation options between the Complex and some hotels. More details on these plans will be released in the coming months, he says. “We really want the whole area down there to be activated for the entire visit that these folks have,” Hughes says. There is also $121,000 in additional funding requested for advertising and promotions for this event. Hughes says it’s important to ensure that University of Florida and University of Georgia fans who do not follow Jacksonville news know about the changes with the Landing and this new experience they will make available, so the funding will be to both work with the schools and have information available once fans arrive. While the fan experience is the purpose of these plans, Hughes acknowledges it comes while the City is in a window to negotiate a new contract to keep the annual game in Jacksonville. “These types of extra events are also a demonstration to the schools that the City is committed to the tradition,” Hughes says. Per the game contract, all parties are currently in the first negotiation window, which goes up until a few days prior to this year’s game. The final game under this current contract is in 2021, but Hughes says all parties are having productive talks, and he hopes to be able to work out a deal that extends the game in Jacksonville for many years to come. “We anticipate getting to the finish line,” he says. The last contract extension was for five years and gave the teams a combined $2.75 million in payments and incentives over the course of the contract, including annual guaranteed payments, travel expenses, and more. There are limited direct revenue opportunities for the City, like through the operation of concessions and Daily’s Place. The direct costs to the City, meanwhile, have continued to climb over the years, with this new enhanced fan experience being the latest element- since Hughes says it is intended that this be an annual event. In addition to the price of running the stadium operations, the cost of tickets for the game has increased, and the City is obligated under the contract to buy 1,000 each year. The City is reimbursing the Greater Jacksonville Agricultural Fair $80,000 this year relating to costs they will incur because they agreed to delay the opening of the Fair by a week to avoid a conflict with the game. Additionally, the City is paying the Jags nearly $380,000 to acknowledge revenue the team is losing because of the impact of the temporary seating construction on their available tickets to sell for their game the weekend prior to FL/GA. The cost of constructing temporary bleachers at TIAA Bank Field to meet the contractual seating obligation for the game is a little more than $2.4 million this year, with the Jaguars reimbursing about $310,000 relating to the construction in the Club Levels. That number varies some year to year, and could see an increase soon, as the contract with the current vendor expires and negotiations are ongoing in relation to an extension. Hughes says the cost of the event is well worth it, considering the impact on the city. “Jacksonville gets a lot of benefit from it. The economic impacts are real, we fill hotel rooms, we have people going to dinner for multiple nights while they’re here, we have people going out to the beach, we have people enjoying our public spaces around Jacksonville, in addition to having game day,” he says. And it’s also about the tradition. “Both UGA and the University of Florida have deep alumni networks here. It’s become a great tradition for a neutral site game, it’s one of the most famous neutral site games and rivalries in college football, and has been for decades,” he says. Now is the time the City wants to build on that tradition, not only through the enhanced fan experience, but the possible permanent changes for the Sports Complex. The Administration is in the process of putting the finishing touches on an economic development agreement that will reflect around $233.3 million in City incentives for the $450 million development of Lot J at the stadium in to a mixed-use site with entertainment, office, hotel, and residential space. While that deal is still pending approval by the Downtown Investment Authority and the City Council, another project that is moving forward is the removal of the Hart Bridge ramps by the stadium. All of this will mean construction likely affecting the next couple of games after the 2019 one, but Hughes says it will be worth the hassle. “Ultimately, a couple of years on the other side of it, I think people will be amazed at how well both Jaguars games and other events in that area and the Florida/Georgia tradition will kind of fit together down there very well,” he says. The Mayor’s budget proposal- and the included funding for this enhanced fan experience complex- is still pending the vetting and approval of the Jacksonville City Council. A final vote will take place ahead of the start of the Fiscal Year October 1st.
  • As a phased demolition of the Jacksonville Landing gets underway, the Mayor’s Administration is looking at what the next steps for the site will be. WOKV has confirmed they’re proposing a “starter fund” to get moving on a market study and early design and engineering, for what happens once the building is down. In March, the Jacksonville City Council approved an $18 million package to settle long-running disputes dealing with the Riverfront property. $15 million was used to bring an end to a lease dispute between the City, which owns the land, and Jacksonville Landing Investments on behalf of Sleiman Enterprises, which owned and operated the building itself- with the City buying out JLI and taking over ownership of the building. $1.5 million was for dealing with settling the leases and potentially aiding the relocation of the remaining tenants, and the remaining $1.5 million was set toward demolishing the building. The Capital Improvement Program put forward by Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, as part of his annual budget proposal, earmarks $2.25 million for a “Riverfront Plaza”, which has the address of the Jacksonville Landing property. Seeing this, WOKV went to the Mayor’s Office to get more information on what this funding is for. GALLERY: Jacksonville Landing awaits demolition Curry’s Chief Administrative Officer Brian Hughes confirms the money deals with the Landing site. The CIP shows $250,000 in proposed borrowing in the upcoming fiscal year for “design and engineering”. Hughes says this is for a market study for the property, which will involve receiving public feedback as well. While he says they still intend to have two land pads for private development along with public green space, the market study is intended to show the best use within those parameters, including the best balance of residential, office, entertainment, and retail space in the private developments. “How much green, how much hardscape? Is it nodal, in that we have little areas that are grassy for dogs and little areas that are splash pads for kids, or do we have a more integrated, flowing piece that rolls next to the Performing Arts Center and really connects one way versus the other to the Riverwalk,” Hughes says. The CIP shows an additional $2 million split between Fiscal Year 20-21 and 21-22, to use for land acquisition and site prep. The City already owns the land, and part of the contract for the demolition of the building involves sodding the property. The $2 million, according to Hughes, is for the City to design and engineer those public, green spaces, as the developers are also putting their plans together for the private pads. “We expect a process that has development experts, our Parks and Rec folks, and Council members, and community stakeholders all to be weighing in together, so that the development feels like a single space, even though components of it will be privately owned and other components public,” Hughes says. He says the City will look at the possibility of food trucks, kiosks, splash pads, and other features in the public access space. The developers will also be expected to include ground-level dining and entertainment options to complement the St. Johns River and green space activation, although the market study will influence what exactly that ratio looks like. Hughes says setting aside the $2 million now will allow for a collaborative design and engineering process, and if there is any additional funding, they can use that to actually start some of the work relating to what the City’s obligation with the green space will be.  FULL COVERAGE: Inside the Mayor’s nearly $1.4 billion budget proposal We asked Hughes why this market study and engineering funding wasn’t included in the initial $18 million deal put in front of the City Council, which did include some non-settlement elements, like the demolition funding. He says the timeline was built to start rolling this out now, since they have now settled everything with tenants and are getting underway with that demolition. The final tenant is set to move out in October, and Hughes says they should have the market study going out at that point. If all goes according to plan, he hopes to see movement in terms of the development bids and design early next year. This proposed $2.25 million over three years is still subject to approval as part of the annual budget review process. The City Council will vet the proposal and vote ahead of the start of the next fiscal year, October 1st.
  • In time to mark 100 years in operation, the Florida Theatre is poised for $10 million in renovations. “We don’t want it [the building] to be charming with some compromises. We want it to be as good a facility as it can be,” says Florida Theatre President Numa Saisselin. GALLERY: Inside the Florida Theatre The venue was built in 1927, and has had two major renovations since that time, with the most recent in 1994. Saisselin says that has left them with some old systems and amenities. “At a minimum, all of these things are 25 years old, some of them are 35 plus. And things wear out, things become obsolete,” he says. As part of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s annual budget proposal, Curry has offered up $1 million each of the next five years to match the Florida Theatre Performing Arts Center, Inc., which is the nonprofit that runs the historic Florida Theatre in Downtown Jacksonville, with the total contribution from both parties combined at $10 million. The City Council still has to approve the proposal, as part of the annual budget review process. IN DEPTH: Jacksonville’s City budget One of the first things that would be tackled with this funding, if it’s approved, is the seating in the Florida Theatre. Saisselin says they want to keep the same feel, but install completely new seats. This would also involve better addressing ADA regulations- the seating arrangement now pre-dates those rules, according to Saisselin, so while the venue is in compliance, it is not always an ideal arrangement. There would be a few seats lost in this project, but the capacity would still land around 1,850, and Saisselin says they would largely be able to continue operations while the work takes place. Beyond that, there are a few different areas to address, with the auditorium remaining the focus. He says they want to upgrade the sound and lighting systems. Not only will this make for a more enjoyable show for you and the artist or event involved, but he says it could actually save FTPAC some money in the future, because currently, if an artist wants a certain speaker setup, the Florida Theatre may have to rent equipment, as an example. Saisselin says that could add up to $200,000-$300,000 each year. The new configuration and upgrades would give them more built-in flexibility and, therefore, alleviate the need to rent. Inside of the auditorium, there would also be new painting done all around and repairs on the plastering. There are some visible areas of wear that come with age, and while Saisselin says they will be very careful about keeping the character of the building, they want to make sure it doesn’t ultimately impact the audience experience. “We want them [the audience] to walk away saying ‘Wow, that was an amazing show in an amazing facility. Period,” he says. The work also includes renovating the bathrooms. While Saisselin says they are limited for space because of the architecture of the building, they have plans that would reconfigure the bathrooms to increase their capacity. Air conditioning is another item on the list- updating the system so that there’s not a constant need for repairs. The iconic marquee and canopy are also in for some work, although Saisselin says they are not changing the overall look. Digital signs were recently installed at the Florida Theatre as a result of funds from a private donor, but Saisselin says there is still internal wiring work to do on the canopy, along with structural repairs. While the canopy and marquee are not original to 1927, Saisselin says he knows it’s how people recognize the venue, and they want to respect that. Saisselin says he’s grateful that the Mayor has put this proposal forward and that the City Council will give it consideration. “The Florida Theatre has an important place in the hearts of its audience and in the performers who are here. It’s a very special building. In 1927, when this building opened, there were six other theaters on Forsyth Street, and this is the only one that survived. And, I think often about the theater district that could have been here if the other buildings had survived, but we’re lucky that this one did,” he says. He says all of the proposed changes involve either enhancing the audience and artist experience, improving The Florida Theatre’s ability to make money and be financially self-sustainable, or helping them save money, like by not having to rent equipment. The Florida Theatre does compete annually for operating funds from the Cultural Council, but Saisselin says these changes are a one-time investment that put them in an even better position to generate revenue to help cover their own operating costs. He says he’s really happy with the caliber of events they’re already bringing in as things stand, but this will position them even better, because they won’t have to make any excuses for their capabilities. “We want to be able to say it’s a great historic building with a great audience, and our sound system is up to date,” he says. If the City Council approves this proposal, Saisselin says the work could start by next summer. Completing everything in five years, as proposed, would mean wrapping up a bit shy of the venue’s celebration of 100 years in operation. Saisselin says they have put years of planning in to this proposal, so it’s exciting to see it moving forward. “Comes once a generation,” he says, of the funding proposal. The Mayor is proposing the City borrow its $5 million over the five years. FTPAC would seek funds from private donors and use revenue from an existing $2.50 restoration fee that’s included in tickets.  Saisselin says he’s very confident they can line up the money needed to get the City’s match. WOKV will continue breaking down the Mayor’s budget proposal, and tracking how nearly $1.4 billion of your tax dollars will be spent. Stay with us for coverage in the coming weeks, as the City Council vets the details.
  • A budget boost is now being sought to cover “unforeseen” problems that have surfaced during construction in the aftermath of the 2015 collapse of Liberty Street at Coastline Drive. GALLERY: Liberty Street at Coastline Drive collapses Twice before, the cost of the work by the contractor at Liberty Street, Coastline Drive, and the adjacent parking deck has gone up, but until now, that’s all still fit under the $31 million budget for the project. Now, with several million dollars in inspection and administrative costs, one $866,000 change order pending, and a fourth change order possible, the City of Jacksonville is considering another $2 million allocation for the project, which they’re calling a contingency. That would bring the overall budget to $33 million.  The $2 million request was made under Mayor Lenny Curry’s proposed Capital Improvement Program, and it will face vetting as part of the overall city budget review process in the coming weeks.  FULL COVERAGE: Tracking your tax dollars in Jacksonville This process started back in early 2015, when Liberty Street near Coastline Drive- which was built on pilings over the St. Johns River, and are therefore considered bridges- collapsed in to the water. The City of Jacksonville ultimately set aside $31 million for the repair and reconstruction, which includes the parking deck not being rebuilt, and instead there will be open water. That contract was awarded in 2016 for $24.7 million, with the estimated construction completion July 2018.  The contractor’s first extension and budget boost was approved in May 2018, when they received an additional $1,026,221.45 to deal with repairing the bulkhead wall, rerouting power lines, and replacing some fixtures like benches and light poles. At that time, they also received an extension on the construction timeline, through February 2019.  The second change order was approved this past March, awarding another $199,551.41 and extending the construction contract through May. This boost involved replacing the Hyatt perimeter fence, relocating an equipment trailer because of its proximity to the work being done to demolish the old Courthouse and implode the old Annex, and an unforeseen subsurface obstruction encountered during construction.  Those two changes brought the contract award to $25,925,772.86, which is still under the overall $31 million project budget. The City of Jacksonville tells WOKV that there are actually a total of $29.3 million in current project costs, though, when including additional construction and inspection services and administrative costs.  That margin is poised to become even smaller, because the City confirms a third change order worth $866,000 is under review and is expected to be executed within the week. While the change order document is not yet considered public record, according to the City, they tell WOKV that it relates to unforeseen conditions on the river bottom, including obstructions in the mud that are complicating the construction work. This change order approval will push the project cost to around $30.2 million, with the new estimated completion March 2020.  In addition, the City confirms it has been notified by the contractor that there have been even more unforeseen issues, although it’s not yet clear if that will require more time and funding.  This is why the City says they’re requesting an additional $2 million for this project, although we’re told that would be a contingency that’s only used if there is a need. Budget documents show that funding would be achieved through borrowing.  “The City of Jacksonville remains committed to this project and will continue to work closely with the contractor to ensure the work is completed in a way that responsibly utilizes taxpayer resources. Unfortunately, we have experienced unforeseen setbacks, but are working to address these challenges to complete the project as quickly and safely as possible,” says a statement from the City.  WOKV will be closely following this project and the other capital investment proposals made as part of the City’s annual budget process.
  • 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.

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  • Doctors at Baptist Health say in general, adults and children can sometimes wait months to see a counselor for their mental health needs. “There’s not enough behavioral heath providers in the community,” Dr. Terrie Andrews said.  That’s why Baptist is rolling out a new Acute Care Clinic. A $25,000 grant from CVS Health is helping them offer families same-day access to mental health services.  “If you have a cold or you're experiencing flu symptoms, you can be seen immediately in primary care. That’s what we’re wanting to build at Baptist Behavioral Health,” Dr. Andrews said.  Dr. Andrews said one in five adults and kids need mental health counseling at some point in their life.  “Something happened, maybe they’re going through a divorce they weren’t expecting,' she said. 'We’re trying to get them quick access, help to be able to stabilize them.'  She said the new clinic will also serve patients who need a prescription for their medication but can’t get an appointment with their psychiatrist.  The grant from CVS is helping to fund telehealth technology that allows doctors and patients to video chat.  Right now, the program is serving adults out of Baptist's downtown campus. Dr. Andrews says they hope to have the pediatric side of the clinic up and running by the fall.  'We know if we can intervene earlier, then their trajectory is much greater for success,' she said.  The bottom line – they want families to be able to get the help they need faster.
  • The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is investigating after human remains were found in North Jacksonville. A construction worker was pushing dirt with a bulldozer and found bones within a dirt mound, JSO said.  The Sheriff’s Office said the medical examiner was on site and confirmed the bones are human. The bones will be collected and taken to the medical examiner’s office where the medical examiner will work to make an identification. The identification process could take weeks, according to the Sheriff’s Office.  The dirt came from another site off Eastport Road and was brought to this site near I-295 and Main Street where workers are building a ramp.  JSO said the bones may be years, even decades old.
  • After decades of searching, a local Jacksonville man has finally found the family he never knew existed. This story dates back to the 1980s with a shocking plot twist.  Right now, Steven Flowe lives in Jacksonville. His parents, Joyce and Steven Flowe Sr. raised him in Charlotte, North Carolina. Despite having a great childhood, Steven Jr. felt like a piece of him was missing.  “Learning from my cousin that I was adopted started the curiosity,” Steven Flowe Jr., said. “I was desperately looking, you know, asking anybody, ‘Hey I was born in this area do you know’ and I told my story.”  His story started back in 1984, when a baby was found in a cardboard box on the porch of a dry cleaners in Charlotte.  The original broadcast report from our sister station, WSOC in Charlotte, explains that an employee saw a box with a big splotch of blood on top of it.  “I eased the sheet back and I saw the baby’s head,” a man said in that report.”  The baby was Steven Jr.  His story was all over the news and in newspapers too.  “It was ten days later that we picked him up and brought him home.” Joyce Flowe, Steven’s adoptive mother, said. “He's been with ever since.”  The Flowes were trying to have children, and Steven was their miracle child.  “From the first moment I looked at him and I believe I saw his eyes and he made eye contact with me, I said ‘This is my son,’ and it’s been that way ever since,” Steven Flowe Sr. said.  As Steven Jr. got older, he had questions about where he came from. He even took to the local newspaper to find his biological family.  “I think it’s my personality -- that I just have to know. I have to know the answer,” Steven Flowe, Jr. said.  His questions remained unanswered for decades. Steven moved to Jacksonville with his wife and created their own family. It wasn’t until September 2019 that his curiosity re-lit a fire inside of him, and he decided to take a DNA test. His expectations were low.  “I got my results back and it showed that I had a half sibling,” Steven Jr. said. “I was like ‘Whoa wait a minute.’ I wasn’t expecting that. I was expecting a fifth or sixth cousin but not a sibling.“  Soon after Steven Jr. got his results, Karen Perry got a Twitter message saying “we may be related.”  “He sent me a picture.” Perry said. “I was like, ‘oh my God he looks like me and my family.’“ That wasn’t even the craziest part. “He told me he lived in Jacksonville. I said I live in Jacksonville.”  The two lived less than a mile apart from each other in the Bartram Park community—just a quick four minute drive down the road.  Despite being separated for decades, it was as if the two knew each other forever.  “When I saw him in person, I felt that I knew that this was my brother,” Perry said. “I knew it was my brother.”  “When I hugged her, it was just like everything went away, and it was like this is my sister,' Steven Jr. said.  Perry eventually led Steven Jr. to his biological mother, who he said he has forgiven.  “She knew that she needed ... that I needed to be with another family.” Steven Jr. said. “I needed to be with another family.”  His family has finally come full circle.
  • Shirley Colter is a Navy veteran who lives in Orange Park. Colter uses VA Video Connect to chat with her VA health care providers. It’s new technology that lets her talk to her doctor using a smartphone, computer or tablet.  More than 1,600 veterans are using this technology.  One of the advantages is you don’t have to physically be in the VA hospital or clinic. The user can be anywhere and meet with their doctor face-to-face.  “To me it’s just as good as being in person,” Colter said.  VA Video Connect reaches patients from southern Georgia all the way down to the villages in Florida.  Dr. Melinda Screws, the chief medical officer for the Jacksonville Outpatient VA Clinic, said it’s more convenient for many patients.  “Sometimes it’s really just a relatively simple question that they need answered. Maybe they have a rash and they think they may have shingles and they can show that to me on camera and we can, ‘Yes, I think that it is shingles, or no maybe you got into some poison ivy,’” Screws said.  Colter said the technology can also help other veterans like her who may live in rural communities and can’t make the drive to a VA clinic.  “I think it’s just going to be pretty awesome, especially for those veterans that live pretty distance away from the clinic,” Colter said.  The VA says this technology will mainly be used for follow-up appointments, like speaking to patients about medications or test results.  If you would like a demonstration you can visit the Jacksonville VA Outpatient Clinic on Jefferson Street. in the Primary Care Lobby on Feb. 26 and 27.  To learn more about VA Video Connect you can head to mobile.va.gov/appstore.
  • UPDATE: The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office says 10-year-old Sam Booker has been found safe. ORIGINAL STORY: The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is asking for the community's help finding a missing 10-year-old.  JSO says Sam Booker was last seen walking out from his classroom at Long Branch Elementary on Franklin Street around 1:00 PM Tuesday. Due to the circumstances involved, police say they want to make sure he's safe.  Booker is described as being 4'6'' tall, 60 pounds, with brown eyes and black hair. Police say he was wearing a red hoodie, blue jeans, and red and white shoes.  If you've seen him or know where he is, you're urged to call the sheriff's office at (904) 630-0500.

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