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UNF Poll: Majority Favor Referendum On Jax Beach Fire Dept. Merger

A majority of Jacksonville Beach voters surveyed favor a referendum about contracting out fire services to the City of Jacksonville, according to a poll released Tuesday by the University of North Florida’s Public Opinion Research Lab. 

Last month, the Jacksonville Beach City Council delayed a vote on whether to merge its fire department services with Jacksonville's. That vote was rescheduled for this coming Monday, May 20.

Polling lab Director Michael Binder said the poll wasn’t commissioned by anyone. Instead, it was triggered by an overall lack of awareness about the plan.

“Certainly awareness is absolutely not the case considering that well over 60% indicated that they were either not at all familiar or even just slightly familiar with the process," said Binder. "Jacksonville Beach is, you know, on the precipice of making a very important decision about how they handle their fire safety.” 


Nearly two-thirds, 61% of respondents, believe that the Jacksonville Beach City Council should call for a binding referendum to approve the fire service agreement with Jacksonville. Meanwhile, 26% say the city shouldn’t hold a referendum.
Among Democrats, support for a referendum is at 67%, with 58% of Republicans in support.

“Moving to a referendum may prolong this decision to November or March of next year, which could impact the Jax Beach Fire Department negatively; however, the additional time may be just what residents need to become more familiar with this agreement,” said Andrew Hopkins, assistant director of the Public Opinion Research Lab at UNF, in an email to WJCT News.

Time is running short to raise the question of whether the decision should be moved to a referendum, with the City Council's scheduled vote on the contract on Monday.

According to the draft agreement between the two cities, Jacksonville Beach would pay $2.2 million the first year, with the amount increasing 2.5% annually for all the services provided by Jacksonville under the 20-year contract. 

Jacksonville Beach Fire Lt. John McDaniel told WJCT News last month the merger could save Jacksonville Beach taxpayers $15.7 million over 10 years.

Critics of the plan are worried merging the departments will slow down response times. 

“The question today is will this council continue their local control over one of the most important government functions or sign it away to a massive, faraway county government,” said Ryan McAvoy in April. He is a shift commander at the Jacksonville Beach Fire Department. “I personally believe better is not always bigger.”  

The UNF survey also asked registered Jacksonville Beach voters what they think the beach city's top issues are. Crime is believed to be Jacksonville Beach’s most important problem, according to 21% of respondents, followed by homelessness at 15%.

UNF said the poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 5.3% with 343 responses from  registered Jacksonville Beach voters.

The full results from the UNF poll, including its methodology, are available here.

Bill Bortzfield can be reached at, 904-358-6349 or on Twitter at @BortzInJax.

Bill joined WJCT News in September of 2017 from The Florida Times-Union, where he served in a variety of multimedia journalism positions.