Buzz: Jacksonville Budget, Bullies, Buggies and More

City Council Approves Budget

The Jacksonville City Council has finally approved a $1 billion budget that restored police, fire and library services cut by Mayor Alvin Brown in his budget proposal, but it also raises taxes. In a marathon session, the Council, by a 16-2 vote, imposed a higher millage rate, which will cost the owner of a $150,000 home, with a $50,000 homestead exemption, an extra $140 a year. The mayor did not veto any items in the budget.


Bullying Hotline Launched

Duval County Public Schools has relaunched its anonymous tip hotline for students to report cases of bullying. Students can call 390-CALL (2255) to discuss a case or email or text to [email protected]. The district added the text feature because many students feel more comfortable communicating that way. The district has a full-time counselor answering calls 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Messages left after hours will be answered within 24 hours, said Marsha Oliver, a district spokeswoman.


St. Augustine Considers Carriage Drinking

Bowing to requests from both the horse carriage industry and tourists, the St. Augustine City Commission is considering an ordinance that will allow passengers riding in carriages to drink alcohol, the St. Augustine Record reported. Wedding couples and others will be allowed to clink glasses if the driver holds a commercial driver’s license and a passenger approval. After a public hearing and a commission vote, drinking on carriages could be allowed as soon as Oct 24. The proposed ordinance acknowledges “that the horse drawn carriage industry serves an important function relating to promoting the city’s heritage and tourism activities,” and the city is a popular wedding destination.


Cabinet Approves $27.5 Million for JaxPort

As part of a $150 million package of improvements approved by the Florida Cabinet for Florida ports, JaxPort is receiving $27.5 million in funding. About half of the amount, $14.8 million, will be used for Blount Island improvements, including the development and redevelopment of terminal facilities, wharf rehabilitation and paving, tenant building and rail improvements, drainage upgrades and repairs. “This investment clearly sends the message once again: Florida’s leaders understand the value of building port infrastructure today, and the returns that will come in the forms of jobs and economic opportunity,” said Brian Taylor, JaxPort’s CEO, in a news release.


Ton of Cocaine Seized

Sailors aboard a U.S. Coast Guard vessel unloaded a ton of cocaine on Sept. 20 at Mayport Naval Station. The cocaine, wrapped in burlap packages, with a street value of $78 million, was seized from a Costa Rican fishing vessel by a Coast Guard law enforcement team aboard a Navy ship, the USS Rentz. It was transferred to the Coast Guard cutter Forward on Aug. 16 and delivered to Mayport. Two fishermen are in custody in Costa Rica. The Drug Enforcement Agency took possession of the drugs under heavy Navy guard.


Officers Disciplined in Perrywinkle Case

The head of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office homicide unit said he plans to appeal his three-day suspension and transfer following an internal investigation into the abduction and murder of 8-year-old Cherish Perrywinkle. Lt. Rob Schoonover, a 32-year police veteran, said the penalty was too harsh. Five other officers were disciplined for the delay in notifying the media when the little girl was kidnapped; she was later found murdered.


Nassau Kicks Deficit Down the Road

The Nassau County Commission is taking the Scarlett O’Hara view on its budget: It will worry about it next year. With the start of the next fiscal year approaching, the commission determined it was still $12 million short of the proposed $154 million fiscal year budget. The gap keeps getting wider between revenue and expenses. So, the board decided to take money from its savings to help pay the bills and deal with the budget problems next year, according to the News Leader.


Kelly Mathis on Trial in Allied Gambling Case

For the next six to eight weeks, prosecutors and defense attorneys will be laying out their cases in the trial of Jacksonville attorney Kelly Mathis.  Mathis is accused of being the mastermind behind the Allied Veterans of the World gambling ring. Prosecutors have argued that Mathis “gamed” the system, while Mathis says he was only representing his clients as their attorney. Still awaiting trial are Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police President Nelson Cuba and Vice President Robbie Freitas, who have waived their right to a speedy trial and are expected to face trial some time next year.