Are other options being ignored as the JEA Sale Red Ball Express roars down the tracks?
An interesting bit of intel picked up by Eye this week: A few local experts on finance – investment banker types – are for their own amusement examining the city’s finances to see if there are ways to restructure and finance in ways that could make sale of the city’s utility company less attractive.
For example: tax-exempt bonds are at record low interest rates. If JEA’s debt were to be refinanced, it might free up $50-$60 million in cash. One way that could be used is to lower JEA rates.
Some 25 years ago, during the John Delaney administration, some creative work was done as the JEA took over water and sewer service, did other restructuring and helped finance the port and Delaney’s Better Jacksonville Plan. It can be done.
But in City Haul, the main focus seems to be on getting a huge pile of cash from the sale of the utility and using it to reduce the unfunded liability (potential future shortfalls) of the city’s pension plans and build infrastructure.
One thing Jacksonville residents can look forward to, in addition to anything the financial experts might produce, is the work of the Jacksonville Civic Council. It could release within a couple of months recommendations based on its examination of the JEA. City Council also is ramping up to get more involved now that potential buyers are showing interest.
If there is any certainty, it is that one group will benefit bigly over the JEA ruckus – no matter how it turns out.
In the storm of controversy and litigation that is certain to happen, lawyers will rack up huge fees. Already, several large law firms that bill hundreds of dollars per hour are involved, and the number will only increase.
One irony is that protracted litigation and regulatory hurdles might hold up any sale – if one were approved by local voters – so long that Curry might be out of office before the big check is written by the new owners.