JEA could cut hundreds of jobs, raise rates if changes aren't made

Jacksonville-owned utility says rate hikes remain a possibility

By Jim Piggott - Reporter, Steve Patrick - News4Jax digital managing editor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Hundreds of JEA workers -- including upper management -- could be laid off and plans for a new headquarters building could be scrapped as the city-owned utility deals with falling revenues.

The JEA board of directors discussed changes it wants made to the utility's charter so it can adjust its business model as demand for electricity drops. With customers using less electricity due to energy efficiency and rooftop solar panels, the JEA board wants to generate revenues in ways that are not included in the current charter.

At a Tuesday morning board meeting, the board said that unless changes are made, the city-owned utility could face layoffs of 574 employees, combined with a 26% rate increase. Even plans to move its headquarters to a $72 million new building could be scrapped.

The job cuts could go right to the top of the organization.

"It’s actually over 50% of upper management, including myself," CEO Aaron Zahn said.

PRESENTATION: Scenarios shown to JEA board

JEA has informed the Ryan Company, the company building the new headquarters, that the utility wants an out in the contract.  Ryan's regional vice president, Doug Dieck, said that is not unusual.

”Technically what it means is, they are being prudent with their business," Dieck said, adding JEA told him it's full steam ahead for now. 

Union members at the meeting were surprised by the discussion of layoffs. Valerie Gutierrez, business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2358, left the meeting without commenting.

The board directed staff to return at next month's meeting to present specific plans to address the utility's falling revenues.

JEA staff said if the city would change its charter to allow the utility to expand into solar installations and other high-tech business opportunities, it could improve its revenue forecast and avoid such deep cuts and steep rate increases.

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