2017 Year In Review: City officials share their noteworthy events

2017 Year In Review: City officials share their noteworthy events
2017 Year In Review

Iyou were to ask the question “What event had the biggest impact on Jacksonville during 2017?” most residents, if not all, would answer Hurricane Irma.

Without a doubt, a storm that caused the highest level of flooding in the city since the mid-1800s is nothing to discount. Even now, nearly four months later, residents in the urban core, and in historic neighborhoods like Riverside, Avondale, Ortega, St. Nicholas and San Marco are still in recovery mode.

Hurricane Irma – which hit Jacksonville Sept. 11, along with a nor’easter which dumped up to 15 inches of rain on the area and higher than normal tides due to lunar cycles (a full moon occurred five days before Irma made landfall) – created a storm surge that took many by surprise.

District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer and City of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry also put Irma on their list of top noteworthy events in 2017.

“The catastrophic flooding that much of the northern part of the District suffered as a result of the storm, on top of the tree damage and power outages across the District makes this a clear number one,” said Boyer about the event which was Number 1 on her list. “Some businesses have permanently closed, many residents are still not back in their homes and repair work continues throughout the District. The storm also brought enhanced focus to our drainage system design and maintenance as well as to our regulations for construction in low areas. It also demonstrated how our residents rose to the occasion to support one another. I’m proud to live here.”

The mayor also commented on Jacksonville’s resilience. “Jacksonville was on the way up before this and continues to be on the way up,” he said.

Number 2 on Boyer’s and Curry’s lists was the return of the City budget to a pre-recession level with, most importantly, the addition of 100 police officers.

“This year’s budget included the addition of 100 JSO officers – a restoration of force size to earlier levels. Sheriff [Mike] Williams contends that this increase in staff is essential to tackling the violent crime issues we have seen in recent years and making our City safe for all our residents – something we all desire,” Boyer said, reinforcing Mayor Curry’s statement that “JSO was at dangerously low levels when we [Curry and Williams] got into office.”

Boyer added, “And, the budget also saw an increase in capital investment in roads, drainage, parks and similar projects that improve our quality of life.”

For District 14 Councilman Jim Love, other funding in the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) is crucial for a long-standing problem in Ortega Hills.

“The only way in or out of that community requires crossing a railroad track that runs along U.S. 17/Roosevelt Boulevard. Unfortunately, at these two crossings there is a side track (a second track) which is used to park freight trains to wait for the oncoming Amtrak train. If the cargo train is long enough it can block both entrances and the citizens of this 500-plus unit residential community are blocked, sometimes for hours,” Love said. 

“This project has been an ongoing hassle for years and we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”

“This is a major safety concern as rescue, fire and police personnel are also blocked from serving this neighborhood. Fortunately, a third exit is funded for the design and the purchase of land in fiscal year 2018-2019 and to be built the following year. This exit will bypass the side track and allow an entrance and exit to Ortega Hills in nearly all situations.”

Love also said one of the most important bills to be passed in 2017 by Jacksonville’s City Council was Ordinance 2017-15, the Human Rights Bill which amended the Ordinance Code to insert sexual orientation and gender identity into the classes of persons specifically protected from discrimination in the areas of employment, housing, and public accommodations. 

“This bill was sponsored by Council Members Aaron Bowman, Tommy Hazouri and myself to help provide equal protection to the LGBT community. Most of the country have these protections in their code and this brought Jacksonville up-to-date by the expansion of the non-discrimination classifications,” said Love. 

“A byproduct of the bill passage is the economic effect of ensuring that companies considering moving to Jacksonville don’t cast us aside because we don’t have these protections in place,” said Love.

Indeed, economic development was high on the mayor’s list of important 2017 events, citing the addition of a second Amazon fulfillment center in Jacksonville that would add 1,000 more jobs to the 1,500 at the first fulfillment center on the Northside.

“This is an exciting development for Jacksonville and the Cecil Commerce Center,” said Curry a year ago at the announcement. “The center is a tremendous asset for our city offering companies like Amazon ample space, resources and accessibility. In addition to the state-of-the art fulfillment and distribution center to be located in northwest Jacksonville, I am looking forward to Amazon’s expanding presence in our city and contributions to its continued economic development and growth.”

Mayor Curry isn’t the only city official looking forward to growth in Jacksonville. A resurgence in downtown, in particular the Southbank, was item Number 3 on Boyer’s list.

“From the topping out of the new Baptist MD Anderson building due to open next year, and the new Baptist parking garage, to several new apartment communities, to the proposed multi-use project known as the District, things are booming on our side of Downtown,” she said. “These developments will provide new jobs, housing, high quality health care, and entertainment all within District 5.”

Meanwhile, similar developments are occurring in District 14, as Love noted in his top 2017 events list.

“The addition of two high quality riverfront apartments, one on St. Johns Avenue and Herschel Street (the RiverVue Apartments) and the second on Bishop Gate and the St. Johns River (yet to be named), will provide waterfront living without the stately mansion prices,” Love said. “Neither will be finished this year but both are well on their way to completion. In addition, the apartment on Bishop Gate will provide over 300 feet of public river walk.”

Access to public parks and waterfronts was high on Boyer’s list of importance, too, noting that although the Parks Partnership Program was adopted by City Council in 2017 with little fanfare, it provides a vehicle for individuals and businesses to donate to parks.

“Whether someone wants to donate a tree or bench in memory of a loved one, build a playground in an underserved community, or sponsor swim lessons for young children, the City can now accept those donations easily and provide recognition to the donors,” Boyer said. “I believe this program has the potential to substantially enhance our park system and at the same time makes it easy for donors avoiding the time and conflicts of ad hoc decisions.”

Jacksonville City Council also unanimously voted April 25, 2017 to adopt pension reform, an action the mayor considered historic. “Pension reform is the biggest milestone for the City of Jacksonville since consolidation nearly 50 years ago,” he said.

Pension reform affords Jacksonville the opportunity to extend an already approved surtax that has a sunset date of 2030 to continue for the sole purpose of addressing the unfunded liabilities of the City’s three funds – Police & Fire Pension Fund, General Employees Pension Fund, Corrections Officers’ Pension Fund. Revenues from the half-penny sales tax will only be used to pay down pension debt, and the tax will end when the plans are 100 percent funded or by 2060.

Transportation projects hit both Boyer’s and Love’s list of 2017 noteworthy items.

The Overland Bridge project, begun in January 2013, was due to be completed at the end of 2017, with some work continuing into 2018, “but we are nearing the end of a lengthy and often seriously inconvenient project for many in the District,” said Boyer. “Whether it is the noise from beeping trucks, lights from nighttime work, or the challenge of navigating new traffic patterns, this project has been an ongoing hassle for years and we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”

In the meantime, in Love’s district, the widening of the Fuller Warren Bridge from three to four northbound and southbound lanes has only just begun. The project includes a shared-use path for pedestrians and bicyclists, as well as expansion to the Riverside Arts Market (RAM), and provides for removal of the retention pond, the addition of 74 parking spaces, and spaces for additional RAM vendors, which should enhance the already vibrant Saturday mornings under the bridge, said Love.

The District 14 councilman rounded off his list by adding actions taken by City Council to slow the opioid epidemic in Jacksonville was important.

“Three bills, 2017-299, 2017-426 and 2017-674, were aimed to slow the death toll from overdosing on opioid drugs, which in 2016 was 464 citizens, more than the murder and auto accident deaths combined,” said Love. “These three bills sponsored by Council Member Bill Gulliford, and co-sponsored by myself and others, urged Governor Rick Scott to declare an opioid epidemic a public emergency (which he did), to provide money for a six-month Opioid Epidemic Pilot Program and to investigate and pursue litigation against pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors of opioids and any other parties that may have caused financial harm to our city. The opioid epidemic is a national concern and not taking action is a dereliction of duty.”

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)

You must be logged in to post a comment Login