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Jacksonville: Relief available for those affected by the partial government shutdown

Saying families and retirees are caught in the middle, Jacksonville leaders are highlighting aid available for furloughed federal employees in the city, as the partial government shutdown continues.

If you are in need and can demonstrate that you don’t have sufficient resources, there are small grants available through the City’s Social Services Division. You need to have documentation showing you have been furloughed or are experiencing a stoppage in pay from the federal government. The City says there is more than $500,000 available through these small grants, which are for assistance with rent, mortgage, utilities, and food.

To apply for these small grants, you can contact the COJ Services Division at 904-630-0545.

JEA is offering bill management programs, which include payment plans and payment arrangements. A payment plan is designed to help customers who need a few extra days, and a payment arrangement lets you pay a past due amount over several months. 

To determine the best option for you, you can reach JEA customer service at 904-665-6000.

Specifically for Active Duty Coast Guard personnel affected by the shutdown, the City is offering a one-time, interest-free loan of up to $500 through the Military Affairs and Veterans Department Jacksonville Veterans Resource and Reintegration Center. To be eligible, you must be assigned to a base in Duval County or reside in Duval County, and have a Military ID Card. The loan is repaid over six months, after normal pay has resumed.

You can find out more about this loan and other resources by contacting the Jacksonville Military Affairs and Veterans Department at 904-630-3680.

There are several other organizations, including the United Way and USO that can provide relief in various areas. 

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WHAT TO KNOW: Old City Hall Annex Downtown will be imploded Sunday

The old City Hall Annex is set for implosion this weekend, and there are important things to know if you plan to be within a few blocks of the 220 E Bay St. building when it happens.

The implosion is scheduled for 8AM Sunday, January 20th. From 7AM through around 10AM, there will be restricted access to the area bordered by Main Street, Liberty Street, Adams Street, and the St. Johns River. Adams Street and southbound lanes of Main Street will be open, but northbound lanes of Main Street will be closed, as well as roads in that area. Foot traffic will also be prohibited within this “Exclusion Zone”, River traffic is restricted, and air traffic- including drones- is restricted to a half mile radius above the site.

JSO will reopen access and roads, as clean-up efforts come to an end.

If you’re required to be in the area, the City wants you to stay inside, with doors, windows, and entry ways closed and exhaust fans on. The City says noise and sound pressure levels could be harmful to your hearing, and lingering dust could pose a safety risk, especially if you have respiratory issues, which is why they want you to stay inside. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office will communicate when access is restored within the Exclusion Zone.

You will hear a series of sirens at 7:58AM, as a two-minute warning to the implosion. When the implosion is done- which is expected to be about five minutes later- there will be another siren sound. The City says anyone who is sheltering in place should continue doing that, because even when the implosion is done, falling debris could produce dust that could travel through the area, especially if there is wind. JSO will notify the public when it is safe to be outside.

The City hopes that conducting the implosion on a Sunday will provide for the least amount of disruptions for you.

Jacksonville’s Zoo’s ten-year overhaul poised to begin

With funding for the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens’ Master Plan now in motion, WOKV is learning more about when you will start to see the changes.

As part of the City of Jacksonville’s annual budget process, a plan was approved to borrow $5 million each of the next five years, with the Zoo matching that amount in private donations, and all of the money dedicated to the ten-year Zoo Master Plan. While the total $50 million will not cover the entire tab, Zoo Executive Director Tony Vecchio says he was satisfied and excited to see the City sign on to the funding.

“We’ve been working on it so hard, for so long, for it to finally come together,” he says.

FULL COVERAGE: Jacksonville’s $1.2 billion City budget

WOKV has learned from the Zoo that the first project under the Master Plan that is already in motion is a $3 million overhaul of the parking area. Planning is already well underway, with construction expected to start in then next couple of months.

Vecchio says it’s important to start with parking, because as the Zoo has grown in popularity, so has the traffic to get in and congestion in the parking lots.

“I don’t want people to start their visit here with a negative experience, so being able to fix that from the very start is really exciting,” he says.

FULL COVERAGE: In-depth look at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens Master Plan

They are reworking their retention ponds, to create a water feature at the entrance point to the Zoo. There will be an entrance bridge over that water, which funnels cars on to a landscaped lane that encourages cars to continue moving toward the front of the lot to park- near the main Zoo entrance, which is also being moved under the Master Plan. Traffic can navigate off the main drag and in to the various rows to park, as well. This new central flow is aimed at not only making traffic more streamlined, but improving your safety, because you’ll now be walking with the flow of most of the traffic. The lots themselves are being repaved and marked, and about one hundred new spots are being added as well. The exception is Lot C, where they won’t be paving everything, but they will be more clearly marking spaces, in order to ensure the parking lot can be used in an orderly manner, even if there is no attendant.

The parking overhaul is expected to take inside of a year to complete.

A few months after construction on the parking begins, Vecchio says they start work on the new entrance.

The main gate and the education center are being flipped, under the Master Plan. The intent is to have a more centrally located main entrance, which creates two possible “loops” through the Zoo, as opposed to the current set-up, which requires a long walk to get to the end. The new entrance will have a restaurant and gift shop, as well as admissions area.

Tandem with that project is adding a new entrance exhibit, which will be “Manatee River”. The exhibit will highlight the species, while also showcasing the work that’s done at the Zoo’s Manatee Critical Care Center, which is not open to the public. The Center cares for and rehabilitates manatees until they can be released back in to the wild. Two of the manatees currently in the Center- Percy and MJ- have been there more than a year, but could be released as soon as next month, according to the Zoo. The exhibit will feature a long-stay manatee or one that can’t be released back in the wild, in a natural setting.

The new education center, when it’s moved, will also serve as an event space. It will overlook the to-be moved and rebuilt lion exhibit, which will be “wellness-inspired”, meaning the lions will have a lot of features that allow them to climb or otherwise entertain themselves, to ensure they’re healthy mentally and emotionally, as well as physically.

The Zoo’s “Range of the Jaguar” and “Land of the Tiger” are other big cat exhibits that have “wellness-inspired design”. The new “Great Apes Loop” in the African Forest embraces that as well.

“We want our animals to thrive and be happy, and we’re using that philosophy as we design our new exhibits,” Vecchio says.

Vecchio says they’re doing everything they can to keep the impact on you minimal, including planning construction around high-traffic months, looking at phased approaches, and more.

“We want every day to be a great experience at the Zoo. We don’t want to say, ‘Well, yeah, you’re having a crummy time today, but come back in a year because it’s going to be better’. We intend it to be a great experience every day, so we’re very careful about how we time construction and the logistics of what’s going to be closed,” he says.

There is a lot involved in this Master Plan beyond this first phase as well- a new attraction, and overhaul of “Wild Florida”, the addition of an “Orangutan Reserve”, a flex exhibit that can feature different animals, a new “Nature Play Zone” outside of the main gate to use for education and programs targeting at-risk youth, and more.

“Hold on to your hats. It’s gunna be an exciting ten years here at the Zoo,” Vecchio says.

Who’s running: Jacksonville city elections are set

We now know who will be on your ballot in March, with the qualifying period closed for Jacksonville’s municipal elections.

The election will take place March 19th, with all candidates appearing on the ballot. If a candidate wins a majority of the votes, he or she wins that race outright. If no candidate secures a majority, then the top two vote-getters- regardless of party- face a runoff on May 14th. 

The biggest race to watch is for Mayor, where six candidates have qualified. Three of them are Republicans- incumbent Mayor Lenny Curry, Jacksonville City Councilwoman Anna Lopez Brosche, and former Atlantic Beach Commissioner Jimmy Hill. Omega Allen qualified as NPA, and Brian Griffin and Johnny Sparks are write-in candidates. No Democrats qualified for this race.

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams, who’s a registered Republican, will face a challenge from JSO and Army veteran Democrat Tony Cummings.

Property Appraiser and Tax Collector are also contested. Sitting Property Appraiser Republican Jerry Holland is running against Democrat Kurt Kraft. Incumbent Tax Collector Republican Jim Overton will face Democratic City Councilman John Crescimbeni, who is termed out on the Council. Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan, a Republican, will keep his seat as he is unopposed.

A few of the Jacksonville City Council races are already settled, as they’re without opposition. In District 3, Republican Aaron Bowman retains his seat; in District 5, Republican LeAnna Cumber will join the Council; in District 11, Republican Danny Becton keeps his seat; and in District 13, Republican Rory Diamond joins the Council.

A lot of intrigue sits with District 8, where suspended Democratic City Councilwoman Katrina Brown has qualified for re-election. She and suspended District 10 Councilman Reggie Brown were jointly federally indicted and subsequently suspended by then-Governor Rick Scott. Ju’Coby Pittman, a Democrat, was appointed to replace her, and has qualified to run for re-election to the seat. They’re joined by Democrats Tameka Gaines Holly, Diallo-Sekou Seabrooks, and Albert Wilcox Jr. in the race.

Reggie Brown’s seat is now an open race between five candidates- Republicans Reginald Blount and Charles Edward Fetzer II, and Democrats Celestine Mills, Kevin Reshad Monroe, and Brenda A. Priestly Jackson. Republican Terrance Freeman was appointed to Brown’s seat, where he is currently serving, but he has chosen to run for At-Large Group 1. In that race, Freeman is opposed by Republicans Gary Barrett and Jack Daniels, Democrat Lisa King, and NPA Connell Crooms.

Other incumbent City Council members running for re-election:

District 1- incumbent Democrat Joyce Morgan will face Republican Bill Bishop.

District 2- incumbent Republican Al Ferraro will face Democrat Carson Tranquille.

District 4- incumbent Republican Scott Wilson will face Democrat Timothy Yost.

District 7- incumbent Democrat Reggie Gaffney will face Democrats Nahshon Nicks, Solomon Olopade, and Sharise V. Riley.

District 9- incumbent Democrat Garrett L. Dennis will face Democrat Marcellus Daniel Holmes III.

District 12- incumbent Republican Randy White will face Republican David A. Taylor.

At Large Group 3- incumbent Democrat Tommy Hazouri will face Democrat James C. Jacobs and Republican Greg Rachal.

At Large Group 5- incumbent Republican Samuel Newby will face Democrat Chad Evan McIntyre and NPA Niki Brunson.

Open Jacksonville City Council seats:

District 6- race between Republicans Michael Boylan and Rose Conry.

District 14- race between Democrats Sunny Gettinger and Jimmy Peluso, Republicans Randy DeFoor and Henry Mooneyham, and write-in Earl Testy.

At Large Group 2- race between Democrat Darren Mason and Republican Ron Salem.

At Large Group 4- race between Republicans Matt Carlucci, Harold McCart, and Don Redman.

Nassau County Humane Society aiding massive German Shepherd rescue in Georgia

The Nassau County Humane Society is taking in some of the 163 dogs that are being rescued from a massive breeding and hoarding situation in rural Georgia. It’s one of two scenes connected to the case, which totals close to 500 dogs in all.

GALLERY: German Shepherds rescued from hoarding/breeding situation in Georgia (Note: Some of the photos can be considered graphic)

The Candler County Sheriff’s Office says 163 dogs have been rescued from their location, three had to be humanely euthanized, and one escaped from a rescue group. A suspect has been arrested, and the investigation is still ongoing. 

The Atlanta Humane Society says the German Shepherd dogs were found in “extremely neglectful conditions”. The Nassau County Humane Society says most of the dogs have not ever been in a home or on a leash. 

These specific animals will require veterinary care and behavioral assessment before being available for adoption. NCHS says they will provide updates on their Facebook page, as these animals become available for fosters and adoptions, but at this time, they’re not accepting applications. 

If you want to help, NCHS is instead asking for donations, to assist their work in this rescue operation. They’ve taken in one batch of dogs so far, but plan to receive more in the coming weeks. 

DONATE: How to give to the Nassau County Humane Society

The organization is thanking the community for their overwhelming support so far. They’re also crediting other rescue organizations that are working together to take in these dogs.

Jaguars to keep Coughlin, Marrone and Caldwell next season 

Minutes after the Jaguars lost their season finale to the Texans, Owner Shad Khan announced he plans to keep Tom Coughlin, Dave Caldwell and Doug Marrone for the 2019 season.  Jacksonville finished the disappointing season with a 20-3 loss in Houston. The Jaguars managed one first down in the opening half and finishing with six. Blake Bortles was 15 of 28 for 107 yards.

“I have the same trust in Tom, Dave and Doug as I did upon their introduction two years ago, and I do believe our best path forward for the moment is the one less disruptive and dramatic”, said Khan. 

After an appearance in the AFC Championship Game last season, the Jaguars finished the 2018 season at 5-11.  Jacksonville must decide what to do with Bortles before next season. Most believe he won't return in 2019 after going 24-49 in five seasons. The third overall pick in the 2014 draft also is due to count $21 million against the salary cap, and the Jags can save $9.5 million by cutting him with a post-June 1 designation.

Full statement from Jaguars Owner Shad Khan:

I informed Tom Coughlin this week that I want him to see through our shared goal of bringing a Super Bowl title to Jacksonville. Given our overall body of work over the past two seasons, I offered to Tom that I preferred entering the 2019 season with as much stability as reasonable or possible at the top of our football operation. However, those decisions, at all times, are Tom’s decisions, and I would respect any call he made on our general manager and head coach. I am pleased that Tom sees our situation and opportunity similarly, so we will return to work this week fully confident and optimistic with Dave Caldwell as our general manger and Doug Marrone as our head coach. 

I have the same trust in Tom, Dave and Doug as I did upon their introduction two years ago, and I do believe our best path forward for the moment is the one less disruptive and dramatic. Stability should not be confused with satisfaction, however. I am far from content with the status quo and while it’s best to put 2018 behind us, I will not overlook how poorly we accounted for ourselves following a 3-1 start. There were far too many long Sundays over the last three quarters of the season, with today’s loss in Houston being the final example, and that cannot repeat itself in 2019. That’s my message to our football people and players, but also our sponsors and fans, both of whom were remarkable. 

Metallica spreads $1M donation across 10 community colleges

Nothing else matters to Metallica when it comes to furthering education.

>> Read more trending news 

The heavy metal rockers donated $100,000 each to 10 community colleges across the country as part of its Within My Hands Foundation, the Houston Chronicle reported.

The nonprofit organization, formed in 2017, was established to support workforce education, the fight against hunger and other services, KUTV reported.

"Ten colleges from across the country will receive $100,000 to support more than 1,000 students training to enter the American workforce," the band said in a news release. "These students will become the first cohort of Metallica Scholars."

The 10 schools are:

  • Central Piedmont Community College, Charlotte, North Carolina

  • Clackamas Community College, Oregon City, Oregon

  • College of Lake County, Grayslake, Illinois

  • Community College of Baltimore County, Baltimore

  • Gateway Technical College, Kenosha, Wisconsin

  • Grand Rapids Community College, Grand Rapids, Michigan

  • Lone Star College, The Woodlands, Texas

  • North Idaho College, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho

  • Spokane Community College, Spokane, Washington

  • Wichita State University Campus of Applied Sciences and Technology, Wichita, Kansas

How to dispose of your Christmas tree in Northeast Florida

As you start to bring down those holiday decorations, disposing of your Christmas tree can sometimes be a challenge. Here are some general rules for disposal across the First Coast.

In Jacksonville, if you already have curbside recycling and yard waste collection, you can put your tree out on your normally scheduled day. The tree should not be bagged, and should be stripped of all ornaments, decorations, and tree stand. If you do not have curbside service- like if you live in an apartment- you can bring your tree to the Old Kings Road Landfill on Old Kings Road or First Coast Mulch on Camden Road. Your individual complex may also make alternate disposal plans.

The City says illegal dumping of trees is traditionally a big problem, so they’re asking you to safely and legally dispose of your trees.

Because there was no collection on Christmas Day, services through this week are pushed back one day. Solid waste collection on New Year’s Day will run as scheduled. 

Jacksonville Beach and Atlantic Beach both say apartment, condo, and commercial customers who don’t have curbside service should make arrangements through Advanced Disposal about proper disposal. They also add that artificial trees are considered bulky items, and should therefore be put curbside on bulk collection days, as opposed to yard waste days.

In St. Johns County, you can “Tree-cycle” your tree in four locations in the new year. This program is for real trees that have been stripped of all decorations, and does not allow for artificial trees.

Separate from Christmas trees, St. Johns County is also asking you to recycle your used cooking oil, holiday lights, batteries, and electronic devices. You can stop by Francis Field at 25 West Castillo Drive or behind the St. Johns County Parks and Recreation office on West 16th Street on Friday January 4th from 7:30AM through 2:30PM.

Cooking oil should be cooled and stored in a sealed container that you will not get back. If you donate any of these items, you will get free funnels that the County says can be used for future recycling efforts.

WOKV is working to gather more information on other local collection operations, and this story will be updated as that information becomes available.

In Clay County, There was no curbside collection on Christmas Day and will not be on New Year’s Day, so collection services are delayed one day. They’re asking you to have waste out by 6AM in order to ensure your collection doesn’t get missed, as the schedules change.

The Town of Orange Park says real trees should go out with yard waste, and artificial trees should be put out with regular trash.

And if you want to keep the cheer going by not simply getting your tree in to the trash, there are several local organizations that are asking for donations.

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