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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Sep. 25, 200112:00 PM EST

Plan sound, says City

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by: Mike Sharkey

While the stock market is plunging, the national economy is floundering and America prepares for its longest war since Vietnam, the $2.2 billion Better Jacksonville Plan is, financially, in good shape.

It may be difficult to find much quantitative work associated with the Plan, especially concerning the four major vertical projects, but the needed funds are available. And will continue to be available, say city officials.

Early last summer the City issued $325 million worth of bonds. The money served as up front cash to get the projects within the Plan rolling and also gave the City time to start collecting and saving money from the half-penny sales tax increase voters passed last fall.

Considering the events of the last couple of weeks, it’s a good thing Jacksonville bought the bonds when they did. Asking anyone for $325 million right now might not be the most popular thing to do.

“Right now my advisors are telling me we went out and got our bonds at a really good time,” said Shari Shuman, the deputy director of administration and finance.

Since the Plan’s approval, Shuman has worked diligently to get the much-needed bonds, doing everything from researching the bond market to deciding what kind of bond was best for Jacksonville to determining where to buy to urging City Council to approve the bond issuances.

With $325 million in pocket, the Plan is in good shape and nothing is in jeopardy. Shuman said a couple of things are actually working in Jacksonville’s favor regarding the financing of the Plan — the tax and time.

“We can also go on cash,” she said, referring to the sales tax increase. “We are holding our own. And, remember, we looked at it [the tax] over a 20-year period, not one year.”

The slowly-evolving national economic recession shouldn’t have much of an impact either, said Shuman. And, neither should the obvious slowdown in tourism dollars that helps mold Florida’s economy.

“We are in pretty good shape,” said Shuman. “This will not affect the Better Jacksonville Plan at all. I’ve got no one telling me to hold back.”

As far as war goes, Shuman said she doesn’t really know how that will affect the bond market or the economy. The talk out of Washington is that the war against Osama bin Laden in retaliation for his attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. two weeks ago will be a long, drawn-out, unconventional affair. How the economy responds is anybody’s guess.

“I’m not sure what we are entering into,” said Shuman, adding she also isn’t sure what the long-range effects of the recent economic trend will be. “I can’t project what will happen in a year. Right now, there are no indicators it will go horrible. I haven’t asked anybody about it.”

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