Jacksonville City Council on Wednesday backed approving a gas tax hike when the first round of voting showed 13 to 6 support for the measure, which will receive a final up or down ruling next week.
“Nobody wants to raise taxes, but sometimes we have to make the city a better place to live,” said Councilor Sam Newby.
If the 13-6 margin continues when the council holds another special session on May 26, it would be above the requirement that at least 11 out of 19 council members endorse the legislation for the tax hike to become a reality.
Three council members – Michael Boylan, Randy DeFoor and Terrance Freeman – anticipated their “yes” votes by saying they will continue to evaluate the legislation and receive feedback from constituents.
Proposed Jacksonville Gas Tax Increase:What does it cost me? Answers to your questions
Nate Monroe:Jacksonville faces a tough choice. Can it adapt to the occasion?
Based on comments from other council members, 10 strongly support the bill: the President of the City Council, Tommy Hazouri, Joyce Morgan, Reggie Gaffney, Ju’Coby Pittman, Garrett Dennis, Brenda Priestly Jackson, Randy White, Ron Salem, Matt Carlucci and Newby. This support would be one vote less than the 11 votes needed for the final adoption.
Five city councilors are strongly against a doubling of the gas tax: Al Ferraro, LeAnna Cumber, Aaron Bowman, Danny Becton and Rory Diamond.
Councilor Kevin Carrico voted “no” but said he was “in a better place than when he started” and wanted to hear directly from residents at a town hall meeting.
Ferraro said voters asked him if approving the gas tax was “a deal” and his response was, “we’ll see.”
“I think those who support this will likely hear from a lot of people,” he told councilors after the 13-6 vote.
Roads, drainage, transit, and the Emerald Trail
Mayor Lenny Curry, who proposed the gas tax increase, and the Jacksonville Transportation Authority compiled a $ 930 million list of road, drainage and transit projects that could be paid for with the gas tax money.
The proposed tax increase would extend the current 6 cents per gallon tax, which is expected to expire for another 10 years in 2036, and add 6 cents over a 30 year period for a grand total of 12 cents per gallon.
The city council voted 14-4 on Wednesday that $ 132 million to build the Emerald Trail should be on the list of projects that could be funded by doubling the local gas tax.
Supporters said the Emerald Trail is a formidable legacy project that will be a destination for people and bring a variety of neighborhoods together while tying them into the downtown area.
Build the way:The Emerald Trail is in the spotlight of the Jacksonville gas tax hike debate
More:A change to the Jacksonville gas tax plan would move $ 150 million from Skyway to Emerald Trail
“Sometimes our neighborhoods don’t know each other the way they should,” said Carlucci, who tabled the amendment. “We have no way of connecting and getting to know each other. The Emerald Trail is 30 miles long and connects all types of neighborhoods.”
Hazouri called the Emerald Trail “the exclamation point” for the entire work package.
Opponents questioned whether state law allows local option gas tax money to be used on a project like the Emerald Trail. The city’s Office of General Counsel has stated that work on the trails would fall under what is legally permitted.
Ferraro said he likes the Emerald Trail and it is “important across the board,” but said it will be built gradually so it shouldn’t precede road projects that have been waiting for construction dollars.
“We have other parts of town trying to fix things,” he said. “You’re kind of derailing what this local option gas tax was supposed to be talking about.”
Ferraro, Bowman, Cumber and Diamond opposed changing the Emerald Trail to pay for it with gas tax dollars.
The council decided last week to cut the potential gas tax funding for the Skyway by lowering the $ 379 million requested by the Jacksonville Transportation Authority to $ 247 million.
The vote on the Emerald Trail followed that reduction by giving the $ 132 million a landing pad to build 19 miles of trails to be used for walking and cycling.
The city would weave these avenues into a 30-mile network connecting 15 neighborhoods and the inner city. The centerpiece is hiking trails and green spaces along Hogans Creek and McCoys Creek to the St. Johns River.
Build or tear down the Skyway?
The skyway remains the largest single item on the project list. The Skyway has failed to get close to the original projections for driver populations, but JTA officials say the expansion beyond the current 2.5 mile tall structure will allow them to build driver populations by using rubber-tired automated vehicles, who can also drive on the streets of the city in the Ultimate Urban circulator system.
Cumber, who has argued that JTA should reduce its losses and tear down the structure, said the money on the Skyway could instead be spent “on real infrastructure needs” with a gas tax hike.
“I just think a quarter of a billion dollars is a significant amount to pour into an existing concrete structure that isn’t going to add value to all of the places and things everyone’s been talking about,” she said.
Dig a little deeper:Jacksonville City Council cuts $ 132 million from the Skyway project on gas tax roster
More:The Jacksonville Civic Council is in favor of increasing the gas tax but would like Skyway funding to be cut in half
The council opposed an amendment by Ferraro that would have put the proposed gas tax on the August 2022 ballot paper that voters could vote on.
The council supported an amendment by Dennis that included $ 250 million in gas tax for “direct contracts” with companies in the city’s Jacksonville Small and Emerging Business Program and JTA’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program.
Nat Ford, CEO of JTA, and Jordan Elsbury, chief of staff at Curry, said the companies in these programs have the capacity to handle this workload without slowing down the pace of work on projects with gas taxpayers’ money.
Freeman said the city and JTA can help these companies get ready to get the job done.
“The responsibility is ours,” he said. “Shame on us if we can’t.”
The JSEB program requires the business owner to live or have a county headquarters in Duval County while living in the five-county metropolitan area. Entry is not based on the race or gender of the business owner.
The disadvantaged company targets minority-owned companies that include women and disabled people. The program is also open to people who are not minorities if they have long-term disadvantages for their companies. JTA information on its website does not indicate that the company or its owner must be based in Duval County.
The final vote on gas tax legislation is scheduled for May 26th at 10 a.m.
City council members don’t usually switch the votes they cast on committee, but that has happened on some high profile laws. Most recently, a planned redevelopment agreement for Lot J with Jaguar owner Shad Khan in the sports complex was favored 15: 4 in a meeting of the “committee as a whole”, but the final vote was 12: 7 and fell short of the super majority required for this piece back the legislation.