Access to Capital, ex-offender jobs, travel budget bills cleared for full Jacksonville City Council
Wednesday saw the Jacksonville City Council’s Finance Committee pass bills related to small business microfinancing, city contractor jobs for ex-offenders, and the council travel budget for groups like the Florida League of Cities.
The full council will vote on these bills Tuesday night.
Microfinance: 2016-486 revives the city’s Access to Capital program for Jacksonville’s Small and Emerging Business program, allowing microfinancing from $5,000 to $100,000 for Jacksonville’s small and emerging businesses.
Microfinancing is a tough sphere for commercial lenders, and Accion International will be charged with loaning businesses money at an 8.99 percent rate.
A sum of $932,032.65 will be provided for this program from the city. Of that money, $425,000 goes to administrative capital, with the balance going toward the JSEB capital pool.
OED head Kirk Wendland said there would be $829,000 in the capital pool after this appropriation.
Councilman Greg Anderson lauded OED for trying to “reinvigorate” the program.
Wendland noted that Accion will vet applicants, on the basis of credit scores, a lack of outstanding tax debts, and other red flags that would preclude lending.
Loans can extend up to 60 months, and they are intended to be “working capital loans,” said Wendland.
Previously, JSEB dispersed roughly 10 loans a year, Wendland added.
“If we market it well, we can get some more activity,” Wendland continued.
Ex-offender jobs: 2017-35, a bill designed to ensure that city contractors make a good-faith effort to hire ex-offenders, emerged from the committee.
The substitute version of the bill allows contractors to hire ex-offenders who did not emerge from city-subsidized re-entry programs, while requiring “satisfactory evidence” of at least an attempt to hire an ex-offender.
“Once they hired an ex-offender,” bill sponsor (and contractor) Garrett Dennis said, “they would be a VIP contractor — exempt.”
Program providers would be responsible for providing a list of ex-offenders with skill sets, and contact contractors after they win the bid.
Those programs don’t have to be located in Duval County at present, which concerned Councilman Greg Anderson.
Another concern among many raised by Councilman Matt Schellenberg: a lack of hard training in these programs for the specific skill sets required.
Schellenberg noted that the Jacksonville Journey program likewise sought to integrate ex-offenders into the workforce.
Councilman Bill Gulliford raised concerns as to where the Jacksonville Journey funds are going in light of unsatisfactory answers from Journey staff about ex-offender job programs, noting that it may be time for the council to exert more oversight over Journey disbursements.
The Associated Builders and Contractors balked at the original version of the bill, asserting that it imposed an onerous burden on contractors — that argument proved more persuasive to council members as the bill worked through committees, leading to a deferral and the current substitute two weeks prior.
Councilman Dennis, meanwhile, is “very pleased” with the bill as it emerged from the process.
“As a contractor,” Dennis said, “we couldn’t ask for a better bill.”
Safe Travels: One unintended consequence of a hard cap of $3,000 on travel budgets for council members has been an impediment to traveling to association events, such as those held by the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties.
The issue has percolated for some time, and 2017-97 resolves that issue, with $16,408 appropriated from the current year’s budget for such travel.
Going forward, $20,000 or 10 percent of association membership fees will be appropriated for delegation travel.
Councilman Schellenberg and Councilwoman Joyce Morgan are currently delegated for such travel. Schellenberg has contended that other jurisdictions benefit from larger delegations at these events.
“This bill is essential to make sure we’re actively involved,” Schellenberg said.