During Thursday’s meeting, Northeast Florida Regional Council (NEFRC) CEO Beth Payne told her board of directors she thinks the Jacksonville City Council will vote to continue funding the organization.
That comes after the City Council last week passed a last-minute budget amendment to end the city’s annual financial contribution to the NEFRC, an organization that helps seven counties and 26 municipalities on the First Coast with everything from economic development to resilience against rising sea levels.
“I’ve been doing lots of legwork and groundwork and meeting with as many of the 19 Jacksonville City Council members as I can. I’ve spoken in front of three committees in the city, and really garnered an amazing amount of support from our partners, from council members themselves, and from our partner agencies from around the region,” NEFRC CEO Beth Payne told her board of directors Thursday.
District 2 Councilman Al Ferraro’s last-minute floor amendment to cut funding to the NEFRC passed 12-to-7, but the bill that would have formally withdrawn Jacksonville from the Regional Council, a step that’s required under the interlocal agreement that established the NEFRC, failed.
That legislation is now making its way through committees before it goes back to the full City Council. Meanwhile, a bill that would reinstate Jacksonville’s contribution to the NEFRC, filed by Group 2 At-Large Councilman Ron Salem, is going through the same process.
“I had to confirm my seven as they stood and then get a few extra, and I do believe I have the votes that I need,” Payne said.
While Payne is confident the NEFRC will end up getting the support it needs from the Jacksonville City Council, she and her colleagues are preparing for both possible outcomes.
“Either way, the operations of the council will shift. If we get the money, we recognize that we have a huge community that doesn't see the value of what we do. So we certainly need to work harder at that,” she said. “If we don't get the money, there certainly will be hard conversations to have about what the council looks like moving forward… It certainly could necessitate a change to how we do business.”
“Should Jacksonville withdraw from the Regional Planning Council, regional planning will cease to exist in Northeast Florida,” said Fernandina Beach Vice Mayor Len Kreger, who serves as vice president of the NEFRC’s board of directors. “We will continue as a regional board providing other services... but it's a terrible message.”
The issue of NEFRC funding is expected to come up again during the City Council’s next meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 8. Several council members are also scheduled to meet and discuss the NEFRC at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 4.