JEA reacts to private City Council plan | News

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JEA reacts to private City Council plan
News

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- City agencies are finding out about a Jacksonville City Council plan to find ways to get your money, possibly hundreds of millions of dollars of it, from agencies you may use every day.

The plan was brought to light in a First Coast News investigation on Friday.

The money that belongs to these agencies is money you pay in taxes and fees. Now, the fight has begun to figure out who is really entitled to your money.

"We got $300 million set aside," said JEA chief financial officer Paul McElroy.

That's how much JEA has right now in cash and investment reserves. McElroy said he has not heard about the secret City Council idea.

He said JEA already pays the City every year. Part of the payment is from revenue, the other, public service tax and franchise fees.  

"In that budget, there is a proposed $236 million dollars to be transferred from the customers of JEA to the City for the City's general funds," McElroy said.

The City Council is going to start studying all city agencies and authorities, more specifically, JEA, Jacksonville Port Authority, Jacksonville Aviation Authority and Jacksonville Transportation Authority. 

The Council wants to find out how much money these agencies have, if it can get access to this money, and if the money can be redirected it so the City can use it. Maybe on re-development, maybe on city maintenance, or any other use City Council may earmark for that cash.

"At any point and time that we can open up a dialog with Council with the financial affairs and business affairs, the community stands to benefit," McElroy said.

But here's the catch, McElroy said: Based on JEA's debt and commitment to lower rates, any change in the amount it gives the City could hit your pocketbook and the services you receive.

"If there is more money transferred, that money would have to come from somewhere. That money would either come in the form of either debt or rates," McElroy said.

City Council President Bill Bishop says in the next few weeks, council committees will be studying the numbers to see if that is true.

"In a sense, we need to recapture them under them under the global umbrella of the consolidated government," Bishop said. "And reacquaint everybody with what the purpose of the organizations is, which is to serve the City."

JEA said it is constantly communicating with council about its finances (See JEA's transfer payments and government transfers).

JTA provided financials, but a spokesman said no one was available for an interview.

JAA also provided numbers, including its May balance sheet. Its CEO is out of town, and a spokeswoman said the CFO is unavailable for an on camera interview.

JaxPort also sent its budget and May balance sheet, but a spokeswoman said the CEO is out of town, but is trying to arrange a phone interview. She also said they are in constant contact with council auditors and the City Council President.

First Coast News has requested and is still waiting to hear back about interviewing the City's legal department to figure out if City Council could legally do this.

And tomorrow, a special debate about this issue. Two city council members who have very different ideas about how the government can spend your money will go head to head tomorrow at 2:30 at City Hall. It will be on the 4th floor in the City Council conference room A. You are invited. If you can't make it there, we will re-air that debate tomorrow on First Coast News.

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