The Cawton Report: Curry’s biggest budget yet approved, 19-0

$2.6 billion spending plan includes $161 million in capital improvements and a $30 million increase for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

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  • | 5:20 a.m. September 27, 2018
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams. Curry’s 2018-19 city budget includes  $439 million for JSO, an increase of $30 million.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams. Curry’s 2018-19 city budget includes $439 million for JSO, an increase of $30 million.
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With emphasis on economic development and increased spending for city agencies and departments, City Council unanimously approved Mayor Lenny Curry’s 2018-19 budget.

It is the fourth time a Curry budget received the backing of all 19 council members and, at $2.6 billion, it’s the largest he has presented.

The budget includes $161 million for capital improvement projects – a plan discussed during committee meetings but received no discussion at Tuesday’s council meeting.

Within the Capital Improvement Program are millions for countywide infrastructure improvements and economic development efforts.

Curry moved $2.5 million to the Downtown Investment Authority’s Downtown Economic Fund ahead of development deals lining up in the urban core and property near TIAA Bank Field.

One of those projects likely will involve Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan, who wants to begin an estimated $2.5 billion mixed-use development in and around the stadium complex.

The CIP budget has $25 million, including a $12.5 million commitment from the state, to remove the Hart Bridge elevated ramps.

According to Jaguars President Mark Lamping, removing the ramps is a major factor in whether Khan’s development will proceed with the scope and investment he prefers.

The administration says removing the ramps will have more of an economic impact on the Talleyrand port area than it will for Khan’s development plans.

The stadium complex is in council District 7, which comprises Downtown and a considerable amount of North Jacksonville. District 7 received the largest chunk of capital improvement dollars, about $61.3 million.

Besides economic development, Curry also raised spending for public safety. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office received a $30 million increase to $439 million. The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department’s budget was increased $17 million to $234 million.

The public library, public works, planning and development and parks and recreation departments all received larger budgets.

The budget takes effect Oct. 1.

St. Johns River dredging project contracts awarded

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded nearly $210 million in contracts as the city and JaxPort begin the second phase of the St. Johns River dredging project.

Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Co. was awarded a $113 million contract to begin Phase II of the project this year, with another $97 million to be awarded in 2019 to continue the work.

JaxPort has permission from the federal government to deepen a 13-mile stretch of the St. Johns River from 40 to 47 feet from the Atlantic Ocean to an area just west of the Dames Point Bridge.

The deeper channel will allow larger cargo ships to dock at JaxPort facilities on Blount Island. Jacksonville is competing with other East Coast cities to accommodate the larger ships.

The entire project is expected to cost at least $705 million and take at least a decade to complete.

Although the second phase could begin by the end of the year, a shortfall of roughly $14.1 million could remain as the project advances into 2019. The city of Jacksonville could allocate that funding.  

The $23 million Phase I is expected to be completed by June and accounts for the initial 3-mile stretch of dredging. That phase started in February and is about 20 percent complete, according to JaxPort.

Project Blaze incentives OK’d

The economic development agreement code-named “Project Blaze” won City Council approval Tuesday. The “eco-friendly” hair care product manufacturer wants to bring 150 jobs to Jacksonville with the assistance of city-backed financial incentives.

Those include the city’s 20 percent share of a $450,000 Qualified Target Industry workforce grant, $90,000.

The legislation said the company plans to purchase a 170,000-square-foot facility in South Jacksonville.

Average employee annual pay is estimated to be at least $50,0000.

In June, Ecoco Inc., a Chicago-based natural hair-products manufacturer, bought the property in EastPark and paid for a county business license.

Liongate Investment LLC, based at Ecoco’s Chicago address and led by Ecoco President Aaron Tiram, paid $8.5 million for the almost 170,000-square-foot building at 11650 Central Parkway.