The St. Johns River Ferry won’t be changing hands as part of any gas tax extension — at least not yet.
Instead, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority and St. Johns River Ferry Commission decided Monday to work out details later on a handoff. The transfer was pitched as part of the interlocal agreement changes that accompany the 6-cent gas tax extension the City Council could decide on next week.
With that short of a turnaround, the two sides instead agreed to come back before Oct. 1, 2015, to negotiate on an agreement to transfer operations from the commission to the authority.
In the meantime, the authority on Oct. 1 will provide $200,000 toward the ferry to offset city expenses. If the sides don’t come to an agreement by the start of the next fiscal year, that annual payment will jump to $400,000. And if they don’t come to an agreement by Oct. 1, 2016, the $400,000 will include bumps based on the Consumer Price Index.
The service links Florida A1A between Heckscher Drive and Mayport Village and has an annual operating cost of more than $1 million. The commission has raised fares and seen an uptick in passenger and vehicle count that helps offset that amount.
At any time with 120 days’ notice, the commission can transfer operations to the authority.
Both sides said Monday the goal is for the authority to take over and fully fund operations for the 20 years the gas tax could be extended — even spelling it out in the introduction to that portion of the interlocal agreement.
What hasn’t been determined and will be part of those discussions is how about $8 million worth of needed infrastructure will be covered.
Council member John Crescimbeni, commission chairman, said he would introduce the amendment today at the council Finance Committee. It was the only one of three last week that didn’t approve the gas-tax legislation because of the questions about the ferry.
The 6-cent tax is set to expire in 2016, but the legislation before council would extend it through 2036.
The authority would receive 5 cents for debt service and transit operations, with the city receiving the other 1 cent for road maintenance and bike and pedestrian infrastructure.
Also part of the legislation is a list in excess of $140 million, with the authority pledging to bond about $100 million
to concurrently start those projects.
Proponents point to the projects creating jobs and taking advantage of low interest and labor costs. Opponents, including Mayor Alvin Brown, have opposed the tax, have said there shouldn’t be a rush to extend the tax with alternative fuels becoming more commonplace and sapping gas tax revenue.