by Mike Sharkey
Time is now of the essence regarding the long-planned Southbank lunchtime trolley routes.
The Jacksonville Economic Development Commission has agreed to give the Jacksonville Transportation Authority $50,000 from its Southbank Tax Increment fund to help jump start the route. In turn, JTA is getting matching funds from the Florida Department of Transportation to help finance the one-year pilot route, starting sometime this fall. The time crunch is related to a request from the JEDC to JTA regarding the trolley ordinance that is scheduled to go before three City Council standing committees next week.
JEDC executive director Kirk Wendland said he and City auditors have asked JTA for a written explanation of what JTA has in mind for the route.
“The auditors want — and we agree — some kind of interlocal agreement as to what they [JTA] are doing and what we are paying for regarding the new route,” said Wendland. “Once we get the interlocal agreement, we will have questions about what’s in it, etc. We want to know exactly how they will disperse the funds and when they will disperse the funds.”
If JTA upholds its end of the deal this week, the ordinance will go before the Finance, Recreation & Community Development and Transportation, Environment & Energy committees next week. If approved by those committees, the ordinance will go back to the full Council for final approval, paving the way for the route to begin this fall.
Wendland said the matter is just about out of his hands.
“It’s their pilot program. I’m not trying to negotiate anything,” he said, adding that he does anticipate the ordinance being deferred at least once. “Hopefully, this shouldn’t delay the service. Right now, though, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a delay of one [legislative] cycle.”
JTA spokesperson Marci Larson said the transportation authority is aware of the JEDC’s needs and is working on their end of the equation.
“We are working on the interlocal agreement,” said Larson. “It will not be in committee next week. Our folks are working with [Downtown Development Authority senior director] Al Battle. It is in the works.”
Provided JTA and the JEDC can come to terms, the ordinance will go before the three committees the week of July 22 and, if passed, before the full Council on July 30.