Recycling, homelessness, healthcare, crime: Jacksonville sets priorities for years to come

The challenges Jacksonville faces range from aggravating trains to dying children – and many in between, according to city council members who met Thursday to set strategic priorities for the next year, three years and five years.

Naturally, the controversial issue of Confederate monuments was on the list. The faulty septic tanks too. And health care for the poor. And downtown parks. And garbage collection. And more.

Here is the list compiled by about half of the board members:

Five-year initiatives

  • Gradually remove septic tanks.
  • Reduce homelessness by 50%.
  • Solve the problem of trains blocking vital intersections and entrances to schools and communities.
  • Improve access to health care for the working poor.
  • Reduce infant mortality rates.

The consolidated government has made the phasing of septic tanks a priority in recent years. Mayor Lenny Curry included $ 50 million for the program in his council-approved capital improvement plan earlier this year.

City Councilor Aaron Bowman introduced the measure to tackle homelessness, suggesting the city consider partnering with local and national organizations to provide housing, as funding itself was not an issue.

“I work downtown quite frequently and have noticed a slight increase in our homeless population,” Bowman said. “I have also seen a significant increase in neighborhoods of vacant properties with the establishment of homeless camps, and that is just plain bad in many ways, I mean, to the dignity of the homeless population. -shelter.”

Council members Ju’Coby Pittman and Randy White noted the persistent problem of trains causing a nuisance to residents by blocking entrances to neighborhoods and schools and pushing back traffic, sometimes for periods beyond what is allowed in the streets. local ordinances.

Jacksonville has the state’s highest infant mortality rate in years and has been the subject of municipal initiatives in the past.

City Councilor Ron Salem, who chaired the strategy meeting and chairs the council’s finance committee, also championed the cause as a city priority.

“We have more children who die before the age of 1 than anywhere else in the state,” he said. The council’s budget for the current fiscal year included $ 200,000 specifically to combat the trend.

“We were also number 8 in the country,” said board chairman Sam Newby, describing the city when he first became involved in the board in 2015. “I think with our work we went from number 8 to number 20 probably, but it’s something that we really need to keep investing our money in. “

Newby called for future funds to be diverted to more organizations, especially those serving Districts 8 and 7.

“The scary thing is that there are really only two districts that really determine this number,” he said.

Some initiatives that were not retained: securing retention basins and investing in nature reserves.

Three-year initiatives

  • Increase after-school and summer programs.
  • Develop riverside parks in the city center.
  • Implement a pilot crime reduction project.
  • Update equipment in city parks.
  • Review policies with the mayor’s office on waste, including labor and landfills.
  • Increase subsidies to fight against the scourge and the beautification of cities.

“I would like us to take a look at the after-school and summer programs that we would consider,” said Council Vice-Chair Terrance Freeman. “Making sure they have the right funding to help keep kids off the streets, it will tie into literacy and financial literacy, mental health awareness, all of those things lumped into one. only element. “

Until recently, Freeman was the CEO of Read USA, a non-profit organization focused on children’s literacy and student programs. During its tenure there, the organization was awarded a non-competitive grant of $ 100,000.

Several members proposed different initiatives to green the city, beautify the streets and fight against the plague and abandoned houses.

“It’s said differently, but I think we’re all going to the same place,” said councilor Al Ferraro. “It could be worded differently, but it’s basically about helping our communities and neighborhoods get more funding and more help.”

Salem made the decision to combine them into one move, which was the overwhelming favorite when ranking options.

The Crime Reduction Pilot Program, which operates through several organizations outside of city council, is located in Durkeeville, Eastside, Newtown, Justina and Arlington.

Initiatives to focus on affordable, low-income housing to cope with Jacksonville’s burgeoning population haven’t made the cut, along with a nuisance reduction board and campaign to establish grocery stores in food deserts.

One-year initiatives

  • Restore recycling collection.
  • Develop a comprehensive plan to remove, relocate, or rename Confederate symbols.
  • Fund the industrial training of the workforce.
  • Create a corridor for small businesses.
  • Install public art works in the 14 city council districts.
  • Establish a fair practices and diversity initiative for community grants.

The discussion of the one-year plans focused on pressing issues that board members wanted to address immediately.

The shutdown of the city’s recycling service has been a burning issue for the council, with many citing it as a common complaint from voters as well as delays in waste handling.

The council was also in hot water for the failure of efforts to remove a Confederate monument in Springfield Park, formerly Confederate Park, at last week’s meeting when they decided to withdraw a bill rather than risking a vote against.

Bowman, who had emailed council over the weekend that he would address the statue at Thursday’s meeting, pitched the idea of ​​a strategic plan to address all statues, markers and monuments Confederates who remained on public lands.

“I think where we ended up last Tuesday is not where we need to end up.… I look at our advice that we probably have over 50% turnover in a year and a half, we have a new one. mayor is coming, this council needs to take control of this situation and look at the monuments and decide what we do, ”Bowman said.

“Nineteen of us voting for a million people on this is probably not where we need to go. We need to hear from the community. My phone has been ringing over the past few days on people volunteering. and bringing in ideas. this one is, is to take control of the monuments issue, to make a plan and to put this one behind us. “

Raymon Troncoso

An informal voting system showed that the initiative to establish a comprehensive plan to deal with all remaining Confederate symbols was the council’s first choice for the one-year plans.

Bowman’s suggestion became the first choice for one-year initiatives. Notably, this is not an initiative to deal with bylaws within the year, but having a plan to do so by next year before the board sets a budget for the year. 2022-2023. The plan would also leave the possibility open for certain Confederate symbols to remain.

Jeanne Miller, CEO of the Jacksonville Civic Council, a coalition of local business leaders, pledged support from the organization to help city council develop the plan as well as provide private resources to resolve the controversy.

“It takes time, but it is not insurmountable. And we believe it can be accomplished next year,” she said.

City Councilor Randy DeFoor advocated for the public art initiative, asking council to invest $ 700,000 in the project. Approximately $ 50,000 would be given to each district of the council.

“There is some important data and I can give a paper that shows that public art really makes a difference in terms of reducing crime, by helping people see themselves differently in a positive way,” DeFoor said. “And it is beautiful.”

An initiative by Chairman of the Board, Sam Newby, to donate an additional $ 200,000 to an industrial workforce program was also selected.

Once again, initiatives to tackle food deserts and affordable housing have not been included in this bundle.

And after?

The attorney general’s office will draft the one-, three- and five-year plans in a formal resolution that will be voted on by the entire city council.

It will go through the typical six week process that most bills and ordinances go through. It will be read at a council meeting, potentially as early as Tuesday, before going through a cycle of committees where experts will testify to each initiative.

The resolution will likely go to a final vote in late December or early January, with opportunities for public comment in committee and at city council meetings.