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Jax Daily Record Monday, Apr. 6, 202007:10 PM EST

Council resumes work on school sales tax, JEA directors and FIS

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Committees are voting on the issues this week.
by: Mike Mendenhall Staff Writer

After suspending meetings for three weeks in response to COVID-19, the Jacksonville City Council resumed committee work virtually April 6. 

Council was debating several bills with long-term consequences for Duval County when Council President Scott Wilson ordered a halt to the meetings March 13 through April 5.

Those bills included legislation for a ½-cent sales tax referendum to fund a $1.9 billion maintenance and security project for Duval County School District; appointments to replace JEA’s board of directors; and an agreement with a global financial technology firm to keep its headquarters development moving forward are some of decisions in front of the Council. 

Schools sales tax

A bill to place a ½-cent sales tax on the Nov. 3 ballot faces less resistance from Council members this time around. 

The Council Neighborhoods, Community Service Public Health and Safety Committee voted 6-1 on April 6 to advance the bill.  The Council Finance and Rules committees will review the bill April 7 before sending it to the full Council for a final vote.

Council withdrew the legislation Aug. 12 in a 14-5 vote and the sales tax referendum failed to make the November 2019 ballot. 

Opponents on Council could not reach an agreement with the Duval County School Board to include per-pupil funding for public charter schools from the sales tax.  Mayor Lenny Curry was pushing for the question to go before voters in November 2020. 

Since then, the Florida Legislature ended the debate for Council, approving a bill requiring public charter schools to receive the per-pupil dollars.

Council member Rory Diamond was the only committee member to vote against the referendum April 6. 

He wants the school district to scale back its infrastructure plan because of the coronavirus economic downturn. 

He suggested the district consider two ¼-cent sales tax measures instead — one to pay for the district’s immediate safety, security and building facility needs and the other for a dip in revenue due to a possible long-term economic slowdown from COVID-19

“I think in the current environment, it is incredibly irresponsible for the school board to continue to try to do a multibillion plan. Under the best environment, the best economy with lots of certainty, this was an expensive and bold plan,” he said.

Council members Brenda Priestly Jackson, Joyce Morgan, Randy White, Samuel Newby, Reggie Gaffney and Matt Carlucci voted in favor of moving the referendum request to the full Council. 

Carlucci countered Diamond, saying the school infrastructure plan would create jobs during a time of higher unemployment. 

JEA board appointments

The Council Rules Committee will vote April 7 on seven appointees to the JEA board.

The current board met April 3 for the first time since Jan. 28 where it voted to fire former Managing Director and CEO Aaron Zahn for cause.

After the meeting, all six sitting board members emailed Curry their intent to resign by the end of February. One’s term was ending.

The board had been facing mounting public and Council criticism for its part in Zahn and JEA senior leadership’s plan to privatize the city-owned utility.

 Curry named seven nominees to the JEA board Feb. 12:

• John Baker II, executive chairman and CEO, FRP Holdings Inc.

• Lt. Gen. Joseph DiSalvo, U.S. Army, retired.

• A. Zachary Faison Jr., president and CEO, Edward Waters College.

• Dr. Leon Haley Jr., CEO, UF Health Jacksonville.

• Marty Lanahan, executive vice president and regional president, IberiaBank.

• Robert “Bobby” L. Stein, president, The Regency Group.

• Tom VanOsdol, senior vice president, Ascension Healthcare & ministry market executive, Ascension Florida.

An artist's rendering of the new FIS world headquarters.

Fidelity National Information Services Inc.

The coronavirus has not impacted the project timeline for Fidelity National Information Services Inc.’s proposed world headquarters in Brooklyn. 

Lane Gardner, senior managing director of project management firm Hines, said in an April 6 phone interview that the proposed $145 million tower is still on target.

The 12-story, 358,092-square-foot office tower and its eight-story, 570,000-square-foot parking garage are expected to be completed in June 2022.

A city Department of Public Works project that will improve traffic flow and road access to the development also moved forward April 6, but the estimated cost has risen.

The Council Neighborhoods and Transportation, Energy and Utilities committees unanimously approved an amendment to Ordinance 2020-0142, increasing the city’s appropriation for the project to $3.29 million from approximately $2 million.

The realignment is designed to improve pedestrian access to the headquarters on Riverside Avenue and to Sidney J. Gefen Riverwalk Park and improve drainage in the area. It will realign Forest Street with Alfred DuPont Place.

FIS will complete planning and design on the project, which is underway by the city Department of Public Works, as well as complete the engineering, permitting and construction.

A city official said revised Public Works construction and materials estimates caused the increase. 

The bill heads to the Council Finance Committee on April 7 before heading to the full Council.

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