Tag Archives: Local Government

Mayport Ferry Update

Ferry DockingWe heard from Councilman Bill Gulliford Monday night at our First Coast Republican Club meeting on the status of the Mayport ferry. While nothing’s been resolved just yet, Councilman Gulliford said there is a great deal of activity going on in an effort to keep the A1A connection … connected.

The bad news is that the ferry needs some $4 to $4.5 million in repairs. That doesn’t go at all to operating costs. Councilman Gulliford seems to think that there may be some untapped grant money out there that can go towards getting the boat back up to par.

We heard about the responsibility of the state to maintain a contiguous A1A. The short ferry ride connects a state highway, which would have to be re-routed around to the Dames Point bridge. And it’s pretty well understood that any Mayport revival will be nearly impossible without the traffic the ferry brings.

A1A SignBut the ferry is also considered historic by some. It was mentioned that it might be placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is the only auto ferry between Miami and Ocracoke Island in north Carolina. It is a unique resource which everyone loves, but no one apparently wants to pay for.

A question was asked how high the fare would have to be to make the ferry self-sustaining. Mr. Gulliford said it would have to double to $10 each way and maintain its current ridership … which if the fare were doubled is pretty unlikely. How much would ridership increase if the fare were rolled back to $2.50? Maybe not enough, but some.

From his position on the council, Gulliford is advocating an umbrella organization that would take responsibility for running the ferry. The citizens of the beach, he said, poke their heads up to save it every time it’s threatened, and once a “band-aid” is applied, go back to napping on the issue. That, he says, is part of the problem. There seems to be a feeling that the band-aid will somehow not need to be changed at some point, and we’re surprised when it does.

There is a lot of activity. Former Council President Elaine Brown is chairing a task force to save the ferry, which will have an organizational meeting Monday night at the Mayport community center at the launching ramp in the village. Mr. Gulliford said he was going to bend the Mayor’s ear at a breakfast Tuesday morning.

Floirda SealIn Tallahassee, representative Janet Adkins, who lives in Fernandina Beach, held a meeting to discuss the issue. The Florida Times-Union reports that Adkins advocates a public-private partnership to operate the ferry, but it should be paid for by stakeholders. Those would include several city and county governments, as well as the state.

“As you are getting your budgets together, as if you would be willing to fund a little piece,” she said, according to the paper. The president of the Friends of the St. Johns River took a different, and somewhat more pessimistic tack. The loss of the ferry would “(leave) the businesses along these routes to a slow economic death,” he said.

But  everyone is crying poverty. From FDOT, which arguably should maintain the boat because it connects a state highway, to the city of Jacksonville to the port, no one says they have any money for the ferry. The state, through JTA, seems to have no trouble subsidizing the Skyway, which has never realized anything close to its ridership potential. But to move 100,000 cars across the river every year, not a dime.

The good news is, the community is not going to let the ferry go down with out fight. It’s worth saving. But councilman Gulliford is correct. We should do a better job this time so that we don’t wind up a few years down the road having to go through the entire exercise again.

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Filed under A1A, Beach Living, Local Government, Local Issues, Mayport, Mayport Ferry, State Budget

We Are Not Alone

As the JCCI study group on the city budget begins to craft recommendations for the report comes news that we’re not the only metro area in the state suffering from budget woes.  From today’s St. Pete Times:

As many as 1,000 jobs – about one-sixth of Hillsborough County’s county work force – may be eliminated because of declining property tax revenues, County Administrator Pat Bean said.

Hillsborough County is projecting a $114-million drop in property and sales taxes revenues next year. That’s a decline of about 13 percent in property taxes compared to this year’s revenues.

Then there is this article from today’s Miami Herald about the eminent resignation of the Hialeah Fire Chief Otto Drozd:

Drozd is now leaving his post amid similar worries and in a contract negotiation year that is sure to be a tough one because of the city’s declining tax revenues, primarily due to the drop in property values, rise in foreclosures and voter-approved tax cuts.

Emphasis mine.

It’s no secret that declining property tax revenues are one of the factors at the core of the financial issues we’re facing here in Duval County as well, although in a recent conversation with a Neptune Beach City Commissioner, I learned at least that our little municipality is still staying above water.  At the beach, that’s a pretty good thing … staying above water.

Of course, when I interviewed Governor Crist last year about his proposed property tax cuts, he held that the people of Florida were clamoring for property tax relief, and that cutting property taxes would be the end of all the states woes.  Or at least that’s the impression he gave.

I’ve talked to plenty of people who still believe there is wasteful spending at all levels of government, and that simply making the right targeted cuts can bring harmony back to the accountants office.  It’s also no secret that raising taxes is a very politically unpopular thing to do, at pretty much every level of government.  So Florida, with the news today that the unemployment rate hit 9.4 percent (9.2% in Jacksonville), seems to be between a rock and a hard place.

The legislature, for it’s part, seems to at least be trying.  But with a $6 billion dollar hole to fill, some programs are likely to be slashed entirely to avoid deep cuts in education … where we already spend less than 46 other states.  And with 36 days to sine die, there’s quite a bit of discussion. From today’s edition of “The Florida Capital News:

The philosophical rift between the House and Senate grew wider Thursday as both chambers worked on competing plans to deal with a $6 billion budget shortfall.

Chief among them is a refusal by House Republicans to accept up to $1 billion in federal stimulus money that would go to 250,000 Floridians whose unemployment benefits are about to expire.

–snip–

Democrats balked at a proposal that would save $35 million by dropping 12,000 people from nursing-home diversion programs.

Sen. Nan Rich, D-Sunrise, fumed about a threat to trim state spending on foster care by $7.9 million, a move that would actually cost the program $18.9 million when the loss of federal dollars is included.

I’m not sure where the answers lie, though I’m hopeful that some of the recommendations we come up with at JCCI can make a difference, at least locally.  We don’t even start working on those until this coming week, and based on what we’ve heard from the folks who’ve come to talk to us, the choices will be difficult, politically and otherwise.

Sig

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Filed under Budgets, JCCI, Local Government, Politics

Local Government at its Most Local

I went to a couple of events tonight, both of which were good in the job search arena.  A Beaches Chamber of Commerce council mixer and then the special meeting of the Neptune Beach City Council … where Harriet Pruett, Kara Wade Tucker, and Eric Pardee were sworn in on the Council.

It was at the council meeting that I started thinking about the most local of local governments.  I covered a lot of Jacksonville City Council meetings when I first went to work at WJCT.  I mean a lot.  Every other Tuesday, I’d plan to spend most of the night at city hall, and the rest of it at the station writing a story for our morning magazine show.  The 19 member Jacksonville City Council can be unwieldy at times.  And sometimes the meetings could drag on, and on, and on, and on …

Tonight, the new and newly re-elected members of the Neptune Beach City Council were sworn in, and there were only three little items of business on the agenda.  At the JCC, there could be zoning discussions that could do on for what seemed like hours … and that was never the interesting part of the meeting I wanted for the show.  The agenda could run 15-20 pages, with supplemental and “emergency” items, plus public comments.  Meetings could be marathons.  They still are.

Tonight’s Neptune Beach City Council meeting had the swearing’s-in, and three bills on the agenda.  Three.  One was on first reading.

Doggy Dining passed on third reading.  Only one person spoke to the council in favor of Doggy Dining, and none against.  I almost went up and spoke against, simply to make it fair, and because I’m not really sure I’m all about having dogs underfoot at a restaurant, even outdoors.  But I hadn’t given the issue any thought, don’t feel that strongly about it, and didn’t want to seem like a dog-hater … so I let it go.  It passed unanimously.

The other bill, which was a technical correction on an existing bill, also passed unanimously.  The third was a first reading dealing with education funding.

That was it.  Half an hour, including the swearings-in.  30 minutes.  Local government at its most local.

Now, when the debate was whether WalMart should be allowed to come to town, it was a very different story.  The anti-WalMart crowd packed the tiny meeting room, and were very vocal about not letting them come into Neptune Beach.  Never mind that the zoning allowed it and they would have been paying taxes on a now-vacant strip shopping center.  Never mind they tried to be good neighbors and conform to the local architecture (such as it is) and followed all the rules.  People heard “WalMart” and were up in arms.  I still don’t understand how that happens.  WalMart won, of course, and then decided not to build it anyway.  As the arguing went on, the economy soured, and they decided it wasn’t going to be as profitable as they had originally thought.  So, the shopping center remains empty.

But now that I can, I should go to more local city council meetings.  Maybe volunteer for a board and get more locally involved.  I actually enjoy watching the sausage being made, and ever have ever since Illona Nickols talked about the federal legislature during C-SPAN orientation.  It was the civics class everyone slept through in high school made interesting in an afternoon … and now I enjoy the process.

So that was that.  I had the camera in the car and didn’t take it into the council chamber.  I should have.  But so many people don’t realize that it’s at the local city council meetings … particularly if you live in a town like Neptune Beach, where decisions are made that really effect your everyday life.   The President and federal congress pass and sign laws that sometimes seem so esoteric … but when you realize that it takes “an act of congress” at the local level to allow you to take your dog to the outdoor seating area of a restaurant … that’s where the rubber meets the road.  And it’s why everyone should pay far more attention to who their local representatives are.

It’s that important.

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Filed under City Council, Civics, Local Government, Neptune Beach, Thoughts