Consolidation panel to review independent authorities
Thursday, September 12, 2013
by David Chapman, Staff Writer

One of the bigger topics the Task Force on Consolidation has been charged to undertake begins Wednesday when the 32-member panel starts its review of the independent agencies and their relationship to the city.

The Jacksonville Port Authority, Jacksonville Transportation Authority, Jacksonville Aviation and JEA — with their respective CEOs or executive directors at the forefront – are scheduled to present.

Common factors for each presentation, as asked by the task force, will be how the authority uses central services —activities such as legal, information technology, fleet management, personnel and marketing — and how their mission and goals align with the city.

For example, the aviation authority has its own central services but uses the city fire department at a cost of more than $3 million per year, aviation authority Steve Grossman said in the presentation he will provide task force members.

He explains it is "crucial" that the people who provide central services to the aviation authority have knowledge of Federal Aviation Administration rules and regulations and the authority itself so they understand client needs.

"The bottom line with regard to central services is that JAA needs specialists, not generalists in providing these services," Grossman said. He goes on to say the model works and there is a "high level of cooperation" in the setup.

In addition, the city's and authority's mission align and there are "no apparent conflicts," he said.

One individualized question to the aviation authority pertains to potential unfair advantage over neighboring private property owners for commercial development. Those on JAA property do not pay property taxes, but the advantage is because of state law. The authority changing it to allow non-aviation companies that have no use of runway be subject to such taxes.

Grossman also responds that there is no unfair competition, citing that most businesses want to own instead of lease land.

From 1968-2001, the port and aviation authorities were together. The task force also seeks the advantages and disadvantages of them being combined and separated.

Combined, the two entities compete for internal resources, which "was certainly true in the case of Jacksonville." And, "if the last 12 years are any indication, both have thrived under this structure" of being separate, Grossman said.

Nancy Rubin, port senior director of communications, held a similar belief, saying Wednesday that both authorities have made progress in the 12 years since the split.

The port uses some city central service functions such as legal, but also has additional requirements such as maritime insurance and most information technology assistance.

"A seaport is a unique place in its work and requirements," she said.

City Council member Lori Boyer chairs the task force and said she envisions some of the topics could end up in the hands of subcommittees later formed.

The group has been charged by Council President Bill Gulliford to review all aspects of consolidated government and come back with potential legislation or referenda to make any changes., (904) 356-2466