Advocates for an experimental opioid addiction treatment program fended off stiff opposition from a group of Jacksonville City Council members and secured nearly $1.5 million in public money to support the program for six months.
The council also unanimously agreed to pay up to $9.8 million in economic incentives to restore downtown’s Barnett Building and the Laura Street Trio, which have remained vacant for years despite efforts to get them occupied.
The treatment program would focus on putting overdose patients into drug rehabilitation as soon as they leave emergency rooms. The plan is a blend of several treatment approaches that have never been used in concert.
Councilman Garrett Dennis spearheaded a volley of attempts to undermine the legislation to fund the program, which was proposed by Councilman Bill Gulliford.
Dennis first proposed to only give the program half of the money and ask its organizers to show their results before receiving the other half.
Raymond Pomm, a local doctor who developed the program, said that would be disruptive to his efforts.
“I have no problem submitting reports on a monthly basis in any way you wish. I’m just concerned about reaching a brick wall,” Pomm said.
Dennis later backed off. Then, Councilman Danny Becton joined the scrum and called for it to be reviewed more extensively before the council voted on it. That move failed in a 10 to 7 vote.
“We all know this is a good cause, along with all the others. I’m not going to sit right here and be guilted into pressing the button,” Becton said.
Councilman Reginald Brown also pushed hard against the program, saying that he was concerned about whether it was a prudent use of taxpayer money.
Gulliford fought back against his colleagues, saying the program needed to be done soon - and done the right way, as determined by mental health professionals. He noted statistics that put the city on track to see more than 700 people die from overdoses this year.
“Some have asked, ‘What is the rush?’ Ask someone who is close to the almost 2 people we lose every day,” Gulliford said.
After all the acrimony, the funding passed in a 16 to 1 vote. Becton was the lone dissenter.
The City Council unanimously approved an agreement with the downtown buildings’ developers, which would see a total of $78 million worth of work that would build apartments, restaurants, a bank, hotel and bodega market. The developers would also build an adjacent parking garage, according to the agreement.
The agreement follows years of failed attempts to redevelop the vacant buildings.
“This one has been a very long time coming,” said Council President Lori Boyer.
The developers, Molasky Group of Companies and Southeast Group, would receive economic incentives from the city in three stages.
Developers would receive a $2 million grant after finishing the Barnett Building. The developers would receive another $6 million grant once the Laura Street Trio is completed.
In addition to the grants, the city would rebate half of the property taxes generated by new construction at the Laura Street Trio worth up to $1.8 million over the next 20 years.
The developers expect to begin work on the Barnett Bank Building within the next 20 months. They’d begin restoring the Laura Street Trio about eight to 12 months later.
According to initial plans released by the developers, the Barnett Bank Building would include up to 100 apartments and 50,000 square feet of commercial space.
You can read the original Times-union article here.