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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Jun. 12, 201312:00 PM EST

City Council approves $2.8 million for parks

by: Joe Wilhelm Jr.

While a majority of the City Council approved using $2.8 million in excess funds from a Better Jacksonville Plan wetlands mitigation fund to improve City parks Tuesday, some members questioned why there is not more funding available.

"Parks have been neglected because we haven't had the money in recent budgets to address needs throughout the City and this was a great way to address those needs," said City Council member Matt Schellenberg, who introduced Ordinance 2013-264.

The bill appropriates $2.8 million from the Loblolly Wetlands Mitigation Fund to 14 council district park improvement funds to be used in accordance with the Parks Master Plan. The Department of Parks and Recreation is designated as the oversight agency.

The fund was created in 2003 in conjunction with the purchase of 4,878 acres of land and the formation of the Loblolly Wetlands Mitigation Bank to provide credits to mitigate the effects of Better Jacksonville Plan projects on regulated wetlands. Credits would be applied first to BJP projects, then "excess credits" could be sold to other users and the revenues deposited into the mitigation fund for future capital improvements including conservation and park uses as appropriated by City Council.

"It's a use that the fund was created for," said Schellenberg.

The council voted 17-1 in favor of the ordinance at its regular meeting Tuesday with council member Ray Holt voting against and member Richard Clark excused.

Council member John Crescimbeni voted for the bill, but has been investigating the fund to find out why it doesn't have more money in it.

"I have serious, serious problems with the way this mitigation bank has been managed. I think the City should have millions more dollars in the mitigation bank," said Crescimbeni.

He said he has researched how the bank was managed and has asked for an opinion from the City's Office of General Counsel.

"The fund has been grossly mismanaged. I should have more information on the mitigation fund by late Thursday," said Crescimbeni.

The council also approved two economic development agreements Tuesday that could bring 120 new jobs to Jacksonville.

Proposed tax credits for Energy Intelligence Worldwide Corp. and Total Quality Logistics were approved by 16-0 votes by the council.

Total Quality Logisitics was founded in 1997 in Texas, and is headquartered in Cincinnati. It specializes in arranging transportation of full truckload shipments for companies across the country and employs 2,300 people in 16 branch offices in nine states. Three of those offices are in Florida: Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Tampa.

The company plans to create 75 new jobs by 2016 in sales and service, human resources and IT support at an average salary of $48,700 plus benefits and will invest up to $380,000 in the project over the next four years.

It asked for a Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund incentive (QTI) of $225,000 with a maximum of $45,000 contributed by the City and the remainder, $180,000, from the state.

Energy Intelligence Worldwide Corp. plans to create 45 new jobs by the end of 2016 with an average salary of about $65,000 plus benefits.

The company describes itself as an energy management consulting company that develops and implements energy conservation solutions to assist commercial building owners and building management companies reduce energy consumption. The company's mailing address was determined to be a residence on the Southbank Downtown.

"Being a cyber-business allows us to do our work from anywhere," said Herrald Jonkers, president and CEO of EIWC.

"Then why do you want to transition to an office with warm bodies?" said City Council Vice President Bill Gulliford, during a meeting of the council's Finance Committee Monday.

"We want space for a monitoring center and an office space to be able to host face-to-face

meetings with clients," said Jonkers.

EIWC has asked for a QTI of $315,000 with up to $63,000 coming from the City and $252,000 from the state. According to the agreement, the company plans to make a $674,000 capital investment in the project.

The QTI program is available for companies that create high wage jobs in targeted industries. The incentive includes refunds on corporate income, sales, ad valorem, intangible personal property, insurance premium and certain other taxes.

Pre-approved applicants who create jobs in Florida receive tax refunds of $3,000 per net new full-time equivalent job created; $6,000 in an Enterprise Zone or Rural Community. For businesses paying 150 percent of the average annual wage, the credit can increase by $1,000 per job.

If the applicant fails to create the new, full-time jobs at the proposed wage levels within the timeframe in the application, the annual payments are adjusted downward proportionately. The QTI refunds are credited annually based on the actual number of full-time jobs created.

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