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Jax Daily Record Friday, Jun. 13, 201412:00 PM EST

Update: City demands $339,000 back from boat company; Harry Frisch offers to pay for the vessels

by: David Chapman

After spending almost $339,000 last week on two pontoon boats meant to continue water-taxi service, the city is now demanding that money back from the vendor for failure to meet its promises.

A letter requesting the refund was sent today from David D’Agata, an assistant general counsel and chief of commercial litigation, to Robbie Cunningham, owner of Tavares-based Trident Pontoons Inc.

Mayor Alvin Brown’s staff made the purchase as an emergency last week, though it was later deemed an unauthorized purchase by another assistant general counsel.

The emergency language on a bill to authorize the purchase was rejected by City Council on Tuesday, with many members lampooning the administration’s decisions that water taxis were an emergency and the boats should be paid for by borrowing from the banking fund.

But, it wasn’t that criticism that led to the letter, city Chief Administrative Office Karen Bowling said Friday afternoon.

Instead, as the letter states, the vendor “failed to meet its promises, and failed to timely deliver operational and certified vessels” in time for use last weekend to assure service wouldn’t be interrupted. The agreement, according to the letter, meant the 102-passenger Lady L and 50-passenger Sea Charm I would be in town and Coast Guard-certified.

That didn’t happen.

The company also ignored telephone and written requests Wednesday from City representatives to suspend the transaction and shipment of the boats, even after receiving and verifying the requests, the letter states.

The company instead delivered the Sea Charm I yesterday to Sadler Point Marina in Ortega.

The city is expecting the money to be returned in three days.

“This is exactly what we expected,” said council member Richard Clark, who for the past week has said the city needs to get its money back. “Hit the reset button.”

Council President Bill Gulliford called the decision “probably the only option available right now” given council’s decision Tuesday. But while Clark said he was confident the business owner would provide the refund, Gulliford wasn’t as sure.

Council member Don Redman attended many of the city meetings over the past two weeks on the issue.

He said he was disappointed in the way the administration has handled the ordeal and more disappointed with the fact there won’t be water-taxi service in the near-term.

“It’s going to hurt,” Redman said, referring to Downtown business interests.

The administration said Friday the plan is to have a request for proposal for a long-term vendor in place in about two weeks. Redman said the administration told him the hope was to have the deal in place by mid-July.

Beaver Street Fisheries owner Harry Frisch has offered to buy the boats. There aren’t many boats around that can be used for water taxis, he said, and he doesn’t want to lose the opportunity for the city to benefit from them.

Frisch said he’s not concerned about who will operate the boats or even who will own them at this point. “I just want Jacksonville to have water taxis,” he said.

Frisch added that he contacted Bowling after reading about council rejecting the funding request.


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