Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Big Challenges Await the City in 2018

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Big Challenges Await the City in 2018

Article excerpt

It's customary at year's end to look back at the previous year. We would rather look forward.

So here are some big issues that Jacksonville will face in 2018.

NEW SUPERINTENDENT

The Duval County School Board is searching for a new superintendent after Nikolai Vitti left for Detroit.

The board needs to find an outstanding leader for its huge system - its $2 billion budget, 128,700 students, 11,876 employees and 196 schools (including 36 charter schools).

The board needs to find a leader that it will leave alone without micromanaging.

As the Jacksonville Civic Council has advised, the board can help avoid more tension between board and superintendant by waiting until after an election in 2018. Two board members are term-limited, and the third is up for election.

OPIOID CRISIS

Overdose deaths have been four times the number of murders in Jacksonville with far less attention paid to them.

Finding solutions to the surge of deaths caused by overdoses involves overcoming issues involved with mental illness and substance abuse - stigma and lack of funding.

An experimental program is underway that seeks to stabilize overdose patients and persuade them to enter treatment. If this works, funding needs to be found.

Medicaid has been used to finance substance abuse treatment.

Since the Legislature has stubbornly refused to accept federal funding for expanding Medicaid, then some other source of funds must be found.

PENSION REFORM

Jacksonville will continue to benefit from the remarkable political victory in 2016 of the pension sales tax referendum.

Legislators and political insiders consistently told us that it was unlikely that the Legislature and the governor would approve this clever sales tax device in which the half-cent devoted to the Better Jacksonville Plan would transition to paying off the city's gargantuan pension debt.

The wise guys also said that Jacksonville voters would take out their frustrations on any sales tax vote, no matter how it was explained.

But the experts were wrong. The current fiscal year includes funds for capital projects and more police officers. More of the same can be expected in 2018.

ACTION DOWNTOWN

Finally, progress is being made Downtown with work actually starting at the Barnett Bank building and the Laura Street Trio.

A surge of apartment buildings is taking place in LaVilla as well as a new JTA regional transit center.

The new year will be marked with FSCJ students living Downtown. Let's hope this is just a start. An influx of students Downtown will add excitement.

The District on the Southbank is showing progress with approval of its marina, promising to be a game changer, a place make and a market maker.

Meanwhile, the Shipyards property are being offered for free if Amazon brings its second headquarters here. …

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