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- 2014 - February - 4th -

Talks for new library taxing district hit snag

By David Chapman

A City Council group wants more information on how a separate library district that could levy an additional one mill tax would be structured before deciding whether to support it.

The citizen-led initiative has accumulated more than the 25,000 verified signatures needed to place it on the August

primary election ballot for a straw poll.

The district would be able to levy up to one mill of property tax to fund the library and be governed by a five-member board consisting of the mayor, three council members and Duval County School Board chair.

The additional tax would raise almost $44 million based on this year’s rate. The library’s budget for 2013-14 is $33.6 million.

The matter before council now is to support a local bill that would then be picked up and supported by the Duval Delegation when the session starts in March.

If the Legislature approves it and the August straw ballot prevails, council could then schedule a binding referendum for the November ballot.

The matter was filed as an emergency and would need full council support Feb. 11 if the delegation were to hear it at a special Feb. 14 meeting, the last before session starts.

But, the matter was deferred Monday by the Rules Committee.

Council Auditor Kirk Sherman provided 19 initial questions and concerns to the committee about the district, enough to cause concern for members like Bill Bishop, who called the matter “not ready for primetime.”

Among Sherman’s concerns were:

• How the district would handle human resources, procurement and other functions performed by the city.

• If the council would have any oversight in matters such as library closures and the budget.

• How council members would be appointed to the board and a concern that only one member, the mayor, will have been elected countywide and would represent everyone.

• Whether Better Jacksonville Plan-related debt would be transferred to the library or remain with the city. Also, whether library assets would be transferred or remain.

• How the new taxing district would impact the overall millage cap and interlocal agreements.

Bill Brinton, an attorney speaking on behalf of the citizens’ group, said an ad-hoc legal team for some time met about the creating the district and that those questions have answered.

Rules Chair Warren Jones deferred the issue and said a possible meeting within the week could be called to hear those answers and have any concerns addressed.

The council’s Finance and Recreation and Community Development committees are scheduled to hear the bill today.

Other action from Monday’s Rules Committee meeting:

• A bill splitting $60,000 from a council and mayor’s office joint account to update a study for a new convention center was denied by a 4-3 vote. The initial request was made by Visit Jacksonville board Chair Bill Prescott in November to the Duval County Tourist Development Council. Council member Richard Clark serves on the board and sponsored the bill, telling Rules colleagues it was “the logical thing to do” before any type of future commitment is made. “It’s a lot of

money and a big investment for our community,” he said. Questions then arose about whether a new facility would take in the trade shows currently housed at the Prime Osborn Convention Center and whether there was a need for two facilities. It’s also on the agenda for two committees today.

• The so-called “Live here, work here” bill passed in 2011 is up for repeal, but committee members deferred the matter after a lengthy discussion. Since being approved, the residency requirement has been waived several times, leading council member John Crescimbeni to file the repeal. “I don’t think we can have it both ways,” he said, referring to the requirement but continuous waivers. “We need to pick a policy and stick with it.” Council member Denise Lee asked how was it OK to raise taxes — council raised property taxes to fill in budget holes last year — but not have such a requirement for the local positions. Crescimbeni said the only such requirement he could support would be one that affects division chiefs, department directors and appointed officials, each of whom affect local policy and city direction.

• Increased ethics training for council members passed 5-1. Proposed by the Ethics Commission, the bill would make council members comply with state law passed last year that all constitutional officers have four hours of training a year. An Office of General Counsel opinion said council members weren’t constitutional officers, but Carla Miller, city Ethics, Compliance and Oversight director, said she had a different legal interpretation and legislators didn’t intend to exclude Duval County. Clark sought the opinion and was the lone opposing vote. Finance is scheduled to hear the issue today.

• The committee approved accepting $5.9 million in federal funds to hire 67 additional firefighters for two years, but members wanted assurance that the money was to boost, not supplant, city-funded hires. Fire Chief Marty Senterfitt told them that 134 firefighters would be hired this year — 67 from the federal funds, 67 from funds this past budget.

dchapman@baileypub.com

@writerchapman

(904) 356-2466

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