As Mark Twain might say, reports of JEA’s death are greatly exaggerated.
The Jacksonville Civic Council just gave the JEA and Mayor Lenny Curry a big pie in the face, accusing proponents and JEA of being secretive, uncooperative and misleading.
In essence, the council said the process needs to slow down and open up, and the proponents of selling the city utility company need to make a much better case.
It simply is not true, as proponents have said, that the JEA is in a “death spiral” and must take drastic action soon, according to the JCC — a non-profit, non-partisan group of local citizens who have studied the proposal for months.
They concluded the JEA is healthy and could have a bright future if properly managed.
Asking for bids, as the JEA has done, is “at best premature” the JCC said.
Gerald C. Hartman, head of Hartman Consultants, did an evaluation. He said JEA has not thoroughly explored all its options.
Proponents of selling the water, sewer and electric company contend that it is losing revenue because customers are conserving, and that it will have to cut costs and employees, increase rates and defer capital expenditures.
At the same time, JEA is proceeding with building a grand new headquarters building for its supposedly shrinking operation. Maybe its board does not believe the forecasts either.
The city utility has not even done a comparison of sales of similar properties.
It appears the process is operating under a “cone of silence” and without due diligence, the report said. It also said the JEA has produced misleading information about being in a “death spiral.” For example, JEA rates are comparable to other utilities and declining. It had a residential customer growth rate of 1.8 percent a year from 2013-2018.
According to the Florida Municipal Power Association, all other Florida utility companies are projecting growth, contrary to JEA’s doom-and-gloom forecasts.
It also said the rate increases forecast by JEA are not unreasonable and are in line with those projected for other Florida utility companies.
FMPA called JEA “a well-run and valuable utility.”
JCC CEO Jeanne Miller told City Council President Scott Wilson that the JEA was cooperative in providing information – at first. However, it has become less cooperative over time about providing information needed for a detail analysis.
“Rather than allowing the effort to generate needed revenue through a one-time sale of the city’s biggest (and revenue-generating) asset, we respectfully ask that you stop the head-long rush to sell JEA and Initiate a thorough, transparent process to determine the city’s financial needs and how to meet them in a sustainable manner,” she said.
Any sale or other transfer of more than 10 percent of the utility’s assets must be approved by the City Council and a public referendum, JCC emphasized.
That was a clear warning that proponents need to do a better job of justifying a sale if they hope to persuade the public.