Consolidation's impact may be hard to gauge
The City Council Task Force on Consolidation heard Wednesday that determining the effect of combining the City of Jacksonville and Duval County governments in 1968 may be difficult to gauge.
Ben Warner, president and CEO of Jacksonville Community Council Inc., made a presentation on quality of life issues, covering topics from infrastructure to public safety, health and education.
"We are better off as a community than we were in 1968. Some is due to consolidation, some is not," Warner said.
"We had significant problems in 1968, but any city in America is better off today than it was in the mid-60s," he said.
Warner described Jacksonville in the 1960s as "in turmoil" over civil rights and education issues. He said public schools were slow to adopt racial integration ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court and the school system was not accredited.
"At the same time, the city had visionary leadership and it got the community behind a new form of government," he said.
Warner recalled "The Bold New City of the South," the slogan adopted in conjunction with consolidation.
"We weren't quite sure what that meant, but we were willing to try," he said.
In terms of air and water quality, Warner said consolidation led to improvements due to a change in attitude among local government leaders who left behind policies that have been in place for decades, particularly former Mayor Hans Tanzler, who was in office when consolidation was instituted.
Warner said previous administrations had a "Confederate mindset" that led to a fear of seeking federal funds to supplement local revenues. Most improvements in quality of life were due to having more resources.
"The statement that consolidation made government cheaper is not true. It increased the flow of external money," he said.
Infrastructure improvements have been accomplished since 1968, including the installation of more than 16,000 street lights and paving roads outside the former city limits. Water and sewer service also was improved throughout the county.
"We haven't done everything that was promised in consolidation, but we have done a great deal," said Warner.
Evaluating consolidation's impact can be difficult, he said, because comprehensive statistics are unavailable and education standards have drastically changed since the 1960s.
"The challenge is to find comparable data across time. We don't have consistent ways to measure health and education outcomes," said Warner.
Public safety improved after consolidation, Warner said. Better fire protection led to lower casualty insurance rates for property owners and combining the City and County law enforcement agencies also had an effect.
Consolidation "didn't solve the crime rate," he said, but it did lower the "cost of policing."
Council member Lori Boyer, who chairs the task force, said the group will meet at 9 a.m. each Thursday in the Council Chamber at City Hall. By the end of October, the task force will be working with facilitators to determine topics to be studied by subcommittees, which will meet from November through January.
Boyer said she plans to reconvene the full 31-member body by February, when the task force will publish its conclusions. But that could change.
"It's entirely possible the schedule will slip," she said.
The next meeting is scheduled Sept. 5 when former mayors Jake Godbold, Tommy Hazouri and John Delaney have been invited to address the group.