A Jacksonville City Council member is pushing back against one of Mayor Lenny Curry’s budget priorities, saying he may even vote against the entire budget.
Councilman Danny Becton is taking issue with spending $8.4 million on Jacksonville's historically black college, Edward Waters.
Curry is proposing the money to create a new athletic field for college football games and community use, as well as refurbish a dormitory with major air-conditioning issues.
Becton started the Finance Committee discussion Tuesday with, “I know I’m not going to be a popular guy on this in this committee.”
He said he’d rather spend the money on something like an unfinished JEA project replacing and extending water mains on the Northside of town. Becton said he’s prepared to vote against the entire budget if the EWC money remains while collapsing wells continue leaking pollution into the city’s groundwater.
“When we spend these kind of dollars – $8 million to do a grant like this to a private corporation – I just don’t think that’s the right way to spend our city dollars,” he said.
Becton proposed an amendment to reroute the money for water projects, but none of his colleagues on the Finance Committee seconded it.
Edward Waters College is located in the so-called New Town Success Zone, targeted for improvement because of the neighborhood’s history of crime and health problems. City Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa told the committee that improving the school will act like a beacon to the surrounding community.
“Our passion is to create a lighthouse on that campus, where every young kid who’s in the neighborhood can look at that lighthouse and say, ‘One day I want to be at that college,’” he said.
With Edward Waters in Councilman Garrett Dennis’s district, he said he supports the mayor’s plan but asked, If the administration is prioritizing safety, why not create a campus police department like the University of North Florida’s?
Mousa said the mayor’s proposal has a different focus.
“We’re talking about is helping kids get off the street,” Mousa said, “giving them hope.”
He added, better dorms will also help Edward Waters financially because more students will want to live there.
As Councilman Bill Gulliford pointed out, ongoing city investments in Arlington are similarly benefiting Jacksonville University.
The full Council will vote on the budget after hearings wrap up this week.