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Eye on Jacksonville managed to break through Mayor Lenny Curry’s Wall of Silence this week by attending a town hall meeting on the Billion-Dollar Plan.

We got an answer – sort of – to one of the questions we’ve been asking.

City Council Member Randy DeFoor – who said she had not made a decision on the plan – held the meeting at a church in Fairfax Manor.

More than 30 people attended either in person or by the internet.

Jordan Elsbury, Curry’s chief of staff and a former Eagle Scout, put on a slick sales pitch for doubling the local gas tax. Nat Ford of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority gave details of transit plans that are in the plan.

Ford gave the good news that the 50-year-old Skyway Express can be made useful — at a cost of at least $240 million.

Elsbury said the gas tax increase was needed because the city had backlog from a period 2008-2015 when it spent relatively little on infrastructure during a recession. He also said 96,000 people who don’t live in Jacksonville drive into the city each day yet pay nothing to help maintain the roads.

The higher tax would amount to “only” $42 a year for the average person, he said.

Some neighboring counties have higher local gas taxes yet sell gas cheaper, Elsbury said.

The gas tax revenue will help provide services residents were promised in the past, he said.

The borrowed money will free up about $300 million now programmed in the five-year capital outlay plan.

From that, $100 million will be spent on parks, $100 million for the Emerald Trail and $100 million to replace septic tanks, Elsbury said.

A handful of liberals were on hand to applaud the plan to increase taxes and spending.

The mayor’s office no longer provides Eye with information, so during the question and answer period, we asked questions we have been asking in vain.

What promises were made, who made them and who were they made to, we asked.

Elsbury tap-danced his way through his answer. He doesn’t know, he said. He hasn’t lived here very long.

In other words, after railing for months about unkept promises from consolidation, he admitted he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

So, we asked another question:

“Where are the thousands of leaking septic tanks and why haven’t the owners of them been required to fix them if it is a public health hazard? Why did the city permit them in the first place?

That question was ignored. The meeting was dismissed.

We had other questions.

Elsbury kept referring to spending more than $1 billion of Other People’s Money as “investing.”

In an investment, you put your money at risk and you either lose it or get back your money with interest.

What is the risk to the citizens of Jacksonville? When do they get the profits in their bank accounts?

You can always count on politicians and their acolytes to assure you that:

  • They need a little bit more of your family’s money to do wonderful things for you.
  • It won’t hurt much.
  • The benefits will be huge.
  • Other people pay higher taxes (shame on you).

Too often, you wind up with boondoggles like the Skyway Express. It has cost Jacksonville families billions, carried few people and is too expensive to dump so we have to spend more money on it to make it worthwhile.

Without question there are some needed projects in the Billion-Dollar Plan – but most of them already are funded. The plan merely tacks on a few, including the idea of replacing septic tanks that may not need to be replace, and connecting homes to new sewer lines at no cost to the homeowner, whether rich or poor.

This will enhance the value of the property so it is a cost on the taxpayer that will be redistributed to homeowners who have chosen to use septic tanks and were allowed to use them by politicians.

A recent poll showed a majority of residents do not support the gas tax increase, which may be why Curry is sending his lieutenants out to pitch it with a vote in council looming.

Tip for the mayor: Ford is a credible spokesman. Elsbury, not so much.

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Lloyd was born in Jacksonville. Graduated from the University of North Florida. He spent nearly 50 years of his life in the newspaper business …beginning as a copy boy and retiring as editorial page editor for Florida Times Union. He has also been published in a number of national newspapers and magazines, as well as Internet sites. Married with children. Military Vet. Retired. Man of few words but the words are researched well, deeply considered and thoughtfully written.

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