Jacksonville City Hall finally has a good problem to solve
COMMENT | Jacksonville City Hall is, for the first time in two decades, faced with a different kind of problem: how to spend a glut of money.
Mayor Lenny Curry’s administration is proposing a $ 430 million capital budget next year – one of the biggest and most ambitious in city history – that would touch almost every corner of Jacksonville: paving miles of roads and installing footbridges and bike paths; spend $ 100 million over two years to expand the city’s water and sewer lines to neglected neighborhoods; providing $ 100 million to a special city council committee to spread across the city’s vast network of public parks; renovation of fire stations; and beautify the city center.
The spending is made possible by a 6-cent increase in the county’s gasoline tax City Council approved in May, which unlocks money directly for transit projects, but also gives the city additional capacity to borrow and spend more on its traditionally starved quality of life efforts, like parks, libraries, boat launching ramps and public art.
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Jacksonville, which has one of Florida’s youngest populations and is less dependent on tax revenues from tourism-dependent hotels than some of its peers, has weathered the pandemic in relatively decent fiscal form.
Combined with the rise in property values, which has further inflated the city’s coffers, and a massive injection of federal COVID relief money, estimated at $ 343 millionJacksonville is in a rare position to turn the corner from its status as a poor backcountry among Florida’s major cities.
City Hall’s efforts will be compounded by the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, which receives half of the new revenue from the 6-cent gasoline tax for a separate set of highway projects, a more controversial Skyway upgrade plan from the downtown and an effort to inject $ 132 million into the Emerald Trail – a long-standing and popular planned project that would connect 30 miles of trails, parks and greenways that surround the downtown area and its surrounding neighborhoods.
And all these projects will be amplified Even further by the Duval County School Board $ 2 billion campaign to rebuild and renovate Jacksonville public schools, which are among the oldest in Florida, thanks to a half-cent sales tax increase that voters approved last year. Some of the biggest spending will be in historically neglected neighborhoods.
Jacksonville is at the peak of its repeated eight-year life cycle: the second term of a Republican mayor, embarking on his best bipartisan job freed from the constraints of a re-election campaign or, in some cases, a additional political ambition (Curry’s predecessor Alvin Brown, a Democrat, served one term).
John Delaney had the Better Jacksonville Plan – a $ 2.2 billion series of public works and improvement projects – and much of the work of his preservation project, which has forever protected vast acres of old Virgin Florida of development. John Peyton led the Jacksonville Journey’s much-loved anti-crime effort, and he introduced new fees and financial restructuring that proved crucial to getting the city through the Great Recession.
And Lenny Curry, the current mayor, after some unnecessarily partisan postures, a unnecessarily bitter re-election campaign, and a scandalous start to his second term (see: attempted sale of JEA, 2019), changed their minds and passed a tax hike – a step civic leaders from both parties had almost begged for – and showed a new willingness to work with former opponents and invite the public to participate political decisions.
Maybe he started to see the writing on the wall. Maybe he changed his mind. Maybe a bit of both. Either way, these are good developments for Jacksonville.
This vast city – the most populous in Florida and one of the oldest – is a proud place but also a place of great need. The country’s largest network of urban parks is in urgent need of rejuvenation. Libraries built in more optimistic times need a new shine. Neighborhoods that were once the bedrock of a bustling and affluent city center need more love. Pockets of unmistakable progress need connection, both to each other and to places that themselves need progress so that everything can spread.
It is a moment of real promise but also of peril: continuity is and always has been Jacksonville’s Achilles heel. New mayors arrive with new priorities, and the hard-earned work of the past is stored, rebranded, de-funded, pushed behind the political ambition of a new CEO who is already looking out for reelection.
I think of this quote often, from Alton Yates, a veteran of four city governments and among black leaders who advocated for Jacksonville city-county consolidation in the 1960s, in the latest update of “A Quiet Revolution. “, by author and former City Hall official Chris Hand:
The “biggest setback in consolidation has been that every mayor who came to power, rather than picking up on efforts already underway, started all over again. If they had just picked up the ball and kept running with it, we would have accomplished so much more. “
Nate Monroe’s City column appears every Thursday and Sunday.