1st draft of study finds timing is good to sell JEA

Some Jacksonville City Council members recommend public vote on sale

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A draft of a study requested by JEA's board suggest that now might be a good time to privatize or sell the city-owned utility.

Last December, JEA Chairman Tom Petway asked staff to investigate the possibility of selling and report back. The summary of the report says market condition right now would be good for a profitable sale, although such a sale would be enormously complex and would have a big impact on the taxes and payments the city currently receives from JEA.

“While local control and presence are appealing, there is also a fundamental question of whether it is prudent for the city to remain in the utility business," the authors wrote. "It is a business that is changing rapidly due to technology and market forces. It may be more prudent to leave this business to larger, more nimble companies that have the ability to absorb risk and uncertainty."

DOCUMENT: The Future of JEA: Opportunities and Considerations

Prior to the study, JEA was estimated to be worth about $2.6 billion. 

The study is ongoing and the findings could change. There was no word on when the report will be presented to the full board. Its next meeting is set for Feb. 20.

JEA and the city have come under fire from some City Council members and members of the public who said the talk of the sale is happening behind closed doors and should instead be held out in the public. At a special council meeting Tuesday, several council members said the decision should be made by a public vote or referendum, not simply with the approval of the JEA board and city leadership.

"This is a crown jewel of Jacksonville. This is probably our biggest asset," Councilman John Crescimbeni told News4Jax Tuesday. "It’s owned by the ratepayers, and I think they should participate in that decision."

Mayor Lenny Curry is on the record saying he wants to do what is best for customers and the city and has been waiting for this report before forming an opinion on the sale.

The utility has over 455,000 electric customers and hundreds of thousands of others in Duval County and beyond who get water and sewer service from it. 

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