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Jacksonville taxpayers demand answers to questions about city's Lot J proposed development

Matt Carlucci chairs the city council finance committee and said he has received more than 300 emails from taxpayers concerned about the costs.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — The Lot J proposed development is a $450 million project with almost half of the money coming from Jacksonville taxpayers.

It is a mixed-use project that will include apartments, retail and an entertainment venue near the sports complex, but the price tag is raising questions. 

Matt Carlucci chairs the city council finance committee and said he has received more than 300 emails from taxpayers concerned about the costs.

"They don't like the loans," Carlucci said. "The amount of money that the taxpayers are putting in, that is the tone of the emails."

Carlucci said he too has concerns but he wants to be an honest broker and will listen to all sides —  the mayor, the people and the city council auditors.

"I want to be fair to everybody, yet I have my own personal concerns like any other constituent," he said.

City Council President Tommy Hazouri at home recuperating from lung transplant surgery echoed the same concerns.

"I'm comfortable with the concept, but won't be comfortable with the numbers until the council auditors give us the good, the bad and the ugly, " Hazouri said.

The Lot J venture is billed as a 50-50 partnership between the Jaguars and the Cordish Companies. 

But it relies on a direct public investment of $152.7 million plus a $65 million interest-free construction loan.

Now a new shadow on the deal. There are reports of several city council members being invited to meet on Jaguars owner Shad Kahn's yacht for lunch about the proposal.

"I was not invited," Carlucci said. "I don't know who was on there. Truthfully, I don't I know. I wasn't there."

Carlucci said the team president and lobbyist Paul Harden came to his business like any other constituent and made a presentation. We wanted to know if laws were broken. 

Carla Miller, the city's ethics officer tells On Your Side: 

"Florida law allows receipt of gifts up to $100 in value; the lunch was reportedly $60 in value, no ethics violation there."

"It doesn't look good to the public," said Ben Wilcox.

Wilcox is with Integrity Florida.

He wonders if Florida's open meeting law was violated. The State Attorney's Office would be the one to investigate.

"It causes the public to lose confidence in their local government," said Wilcox.

Dr. Tracye Polson emailed the following list of questions to Matt Carlucci:

"1. In terms everyday Jacksonville residents will understand, what is the calculated return on investment for taxpayers of the proposed Lot J incentives?

Also, have the assumptions underlying any ROI calculations in the Lot J proposal been rigorously evaluated?

2. What are the specific incentives and why are they being used in this proposed arrangement? For example, does this proposal include JCTC (job creation tax credits), property tax abatements, investment tax credits, research and development tax credits, and/or customized job training?

3. On average in the U.S., business incentives are concentrated more in the first years of a business investment but are still large even after 5 or 10 years of investment. Longer-term incentives are less effective per dollar than shorter-term incentives. How does the structuring of the proposed Lot J deal reflect that reality (shorter-term more effective)?

4. The biggest type of incentive is the job creation tax credits (JCTCs) followed by the property tax abatements. How does the Lot J proposal impact taxpayers? For example, what contemplated future City of Jacksonville capital improvements or other budget items will be deferred if the Lot J proposal is passed?

5. Are there any independent evaluations of previous City of Jacksonville incentives showing in one summary report their actual impact: jobs created, median wage per job, the sustainability of those jobs and wages, and provision of benefits including health insurance important to the solvency of local healthcare providers?

6. What correlations have been shown between previous incentives used and Jacksonville’s unemployment and median household income levels subsequent to the provision of those incentives?

7. Does Jacksonville have an “agglomeration” economy? That is, are there productivity advantages due to a concentration of related economic activities in our area? Such economies benefit other nearby businesses, the pool of skilled workers or the capacity of specialized input industries. If so, how is that quantified or demonstrated?

8. Has it been shown that previous incentives redistribute income from taxpayers to capital owners or vice versa? And, if so, where can taxpayers easily find that documentation?"

Questions that will be answered in the days ahead. The mayor plans to introduce the legislation requesting approval for the lot J development on Tuesday.

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