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Aundra Wallace, CEO of the Downtown Investment Authority
Jax Daily Record Thursday, Aug. 21, 201412:00 PM EST

DIA, Downtown face budget dilemmas

by: David Chapman

When Aundra Wallace addresses the City Council Finance Committee today, he’ll attempt to do what many department heads before him tried — and failed — to do.

He’ll try to add employees, a bump from four to six full-time staff members.

With the year-over-year budget down $129,000, the addition of a budget and compliance officer along with a design and development review member would still end up saving the city, Wallace told the authority’s board Wednesday. It’s a relatively new organization trying to establish itself, he said.

“I think it’s a reasonable request,” he said.

Typically, budget reviews include give-and-take when it comes to staffing levels and expenditures. This year’s finance committee, though, has held the line on new employees in any part of government. Instead, 10-15 positions have been cut in the group’s annual budget review.

Wallace said he’ll advocate hard for the positions, specifically mentioning the fiscal and monitoring responsibilities associated the budget officer.

At this point, it might not matter. It’s likely staff won’t be added, at least in the first wave of review, council member Lori Boyer told the board.

“Don’t be devastated by anything that happens tomorrow … because it’s not necessarily the final outcome,” said Boyer, a member of the committee and liaison to the authority.

With such cuts, the budget would drop to a tentative $1.1 million from about $1.43 million approved last year.

It’s not the only cuts that have taken place. The authority’s Downtown economic fund also wasn’t replenished to the level Mayor Alvin Brown proposed. The committee in its first day of budget action curbed such spending, meaning $1.2 million wasn’t provided.

And Friday could mean more possible cuts to Downtown-related projects within the authority’s jurisdiction.

Brown has included projects such as $11.8 million for Jacksonville Landing renovations and $4 million to tear down the former courthouse along Bay Street, but his Capital Improvement Plan relies on borrowing.

Members of the finance committee already have made it known they want to reduce borrowing and are poised to cut from the plan.

So, the authority’s board loosely established priorities in the event Wallace or members are asked.

Boyer said the group needed to “take a stand” on what projects it deems should stay.

Already the group has supported a contract for Hemming Plaza’s revival and a Downtown retail enhancement program, totaling about $1.5 million.

With the spending, the authority’s fund has about $2.5 million left.

While the Landing and courthouse can be seen as large-scale changes, board members said they supported them but need more information. Instead, the board was more focused on pushing for $1 million toward engineering evaluations for converting Downtown’s one-way streets into two-way. And after that, better lighting and wayfaring signage to help.

In addition to the authority, the finance committee is reviewing budgets from the Office of Economic Development, Special Events and independent authorities throughout the day.

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