EDITOR’S NOTE: Since our story aired, the mayor’s chief of staff, Jordan Elsbury, issued this statement:
“When Mayor Curry ran for office he promised to aggressively invest in every neighborhood throughout our city. He has spent the last 5 years delivering on that promise and our over half a billion in infrastructure spending in our budgets reflects that. The Mayor is also committed to downtown, which is an economic engine for the entire City and also a neighborhood. We remain committed to investing in every neighborhood and every corner of our city.”
News4Jax will follow up on this story Monday with more information about the budget from the Mayor’s Office.
The News4Jax Trust Index Team is fact-checking a statement made by Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry about the millions of dollars he says the city has invested in Jacksonville’s neighborhoods.
When New4Jax asked Thursday how he plans to convince taxpayers to invest in the Lot J development project, the mayor pointed to nearly $200 million of infrastructure investments his administration has made in neighborhoods.
According to Curry, taxpayers should feel comfortable with the city of Jacksonville investing $233 million in direct spending for the Lot J project because the city has already adequately invested in Jacksonville’s communities.
“The infrastructure investments I’ve made as mayor, most recent one, almost $200 million for the year. The year before I got into office the city of Jacksonville invested $20 million in neighborhoods. My first year in office I invested $70 million in neighborhoods. The future years, the last few years, it’s been $100-plus million, this year almost $200 million. So my budgets have represented investments in neighborhoods, we’ve invested in neighborhoods before bringing a downtown project like this,” Curry said.
News4Jax wanted to know how Jacksonville is investing nearly $200 million in neighborhood infrastructure investments in this year’s budget.
Here are the numbers the city sent us to explain the mayor’s statement:
- $21.5 million is being spent on three new fire stations and upgrades to existing fire stations
- $6 million is being invested in the Jacksonville Zoo and the Florida Theatre
- The city earmarked more than $100 million in the northwest quadrant as part of this year’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP)
- $14 million is being spent for improvements for neighborhood parks, including the development of the Emerald Trail
- The city is committing $47 million to hydrology and resiliency projects throughout the county and hiring a chief resiliency officer
- There is $30 million in annual operational support for UF Health Jacksonville, including $20 million for capital improvements
That’s a total of nearly $239 million.
But an expert familiar with city budgets told the News4Jax Trust Index Team that not every dollar in the capital improvement plan is targeting neighborhood improvements. Many of these projects benefit the city as a whole and are not addressing needs in individual communities, like septic tanks, drainage, sidewalks and blight.
Projects that aren’t clearly neighborhood infrastructure investments include:
- Approximately $40 million for public facilities for things like maintenance and improvements at city-owned buildings.
- Approximately $25 million (of the CIP budget) is for public safety, like fire station maintenance, but again this isn’t an investment in neighborhoods that have been neglected for decades.
- $14 million is for the expansion of the Trail Ridge Landfill.
- $9 million for ash site remediation, (this expenditure relates to a resolution of a lawsuit filed against the city.)
- $5 million for the Jacksonville Zoo, which is a community asset but not an investment in neighborhood infrastructure.
The mayor is also including nearly $1 million for spending to attract development to the old Shipyards site just down the road from the stadium and Lot J.
If you take away those expenditures, News4Jax estimates Mayor Curry’s budget is spending roughly $145 million on neighborhood investments, short of the nearly $200 million he said the city was spending.
The News4Jax Trust index team grades Curry’s statement that the city is spending nearly $200 million on neighborhood investments as “Be Careful.”
Again, while the expenditures do indeed benefit the city, not all of that spending directly addresses specific neighborhood needs especially in those neighborhoods that the city has neglected financially since consolidation in 1968.