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City Council Finance Committee Chair Richard Clark
Jax Daily Record Friday, Aug. 29, 201412:00 PM EST

Friday afternoon update: Money for Landing, other capital projects on hold

by: David Chapman

The City Council Finance Committee effectively scrapped Mayor Alvin Brown’s proposed Capital Improvement Plan on Friday, choosing instead to not authorize new debt.

Instead, the nine-member committee will determine how much can debt service can be handled and spend within those means. That will require cleaning up past plans with projects still outstanding to determine what funding has been committed.

Then, the group will have to figure out how much is obligated this year for items like fleet purchases and breathing equipment for Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department. Then it could start building a spending plan using a combination of old and new projects.

Freezing new borrowing means projects Brown has proposed like $11.8 million for Jacksonville Landing improvements, $43 million for a Trail Ridge landfill expansion and $1 million for the harbor deepening project are on hold.

In all, Brown proposed spending $111 million for 2014-15 project plan.

A subcommittee consisting of council members Lori Boyer, Matt Schellenberg and Bill Gulliford was formed to formulate a list of projects. Department heads with items in the plan have been asked to start prioritizing. When council members determine how much the spending plan will be, the new list will be created.

The paring down began during Friday’s daylong meeting, with Public Works, Information Technology, Parks , Recreation and Community Development, and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office closing out old projects.

Closing out projects means borrowing that was authorized for them won’t be allowed any longer. Council members, led by Boyer, have been critical of the administration for taking funds borrowed for one authorized project and transferring to another. Cash balances that remain in some projects would be pooled for the new plan.

Council received a new capital plan Aug. 25, the week after Boyer listed several examples of errors and discrepancies in the original plan. Reviewing the plan was then pushed back until Friday.

When the afternoon discussion turned to that plan and Boyer’s idea of how council should proceed, it turned testy. She said if the committee was going to make such decisions based on the CIP’s stated accounts, they needed someone to tell them they were correct — then asked a member of the city Finance Department to be put under oath for assurance.

Chris Hand, Brown’s chief of staff, quickly stepped in to offer a strong, formal objection to the idea. He said the staff member was providing financial information to the committee and wanted the Office of General Counsel to weigh in.

“He’s not answering questions at this point without taking (the) oath,” Chair Richard Clark said.

Council rules allow for a person addressing council to be put under oath, with council member Bill Gulliford saying administering the oath would convey the seriousness of the situation. It never amounted to that — the committee proceeded without the assurance, moving on to other tasks.

But, Clark offhandedly suggested other people addressing the committee could be sworn in.


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