Jacksonville, FL - They’re two opposing views that show the battle ahead despite a final vote next week.
It’s been a seven month journey since I first asked just how many of your tax dollars were tied in city-owned vacant land, only to find out the city didn’t know for itself. Since that time I’ve chronicled the city’s attempt to fix that problem while digging deeper on the problems behind the greater issue.
The city has proposed to spend $150,000 to hire a private company to come in and comprehensively inventory and assess all the property it owns, and help determine what to do with it. They would issue a request for proposal (RFP) for companies to bid on the project and, ideally, meet that budget. After gaining approval through committees this week, that measure is finally up for a final full council vote Tuesday.
“Unless I get all my questions answered, I probably won’t support it Tuesday,” says Councilman John Crescimbeni.
Crescimbeni’s main concern is the scope of the project. Through committee meetings, there has been consistent questioning on where the $150,000 figure came from, and the Department of Public Works says the city consulted a number of companies. Those discussions appear to have been predicated on a rough estimate that the city owns about 2800 parcels of land.
Since this process began, however, I uncovered that as many as 1500 of those parcels are actually owned or partially owned by JEA, meaning the city could not act on them.
Because we’re now dealing with fewer than half the original parcels, Crescimbeni thinks the price needs to drop as well.
“It’s their property. We shouldn’t be messing around with it without their permission,” he says.
As recently as Tuesday morning, the city added language to the RFP, which I obtained, that recognizes the JEA ownership and says once land is identified as JEA-owned, nothing further would be done with it. It does not, however, make any adjustment in the larger price cap.
The cap itself is a question for other councilmen- but some want to see a higher limit.
“That sounds like an awful lot, in a short time frame, to do the kind of detailed work that we’re requiring,” says Councilman Matt Schellenberg.
The RFP draft I obtained is 46 pages and lists, in detail, nearly 40 specific tasks that must be completed for the thousands of properties. Those tasks are divided in to four general categories- inventory, assess, allocate use, and implement action. While this current draft of the RFP does not include many specifics on the timeline, committees were told this week the RFP would go out shortly after gaining approval then allow 30 days for responses, two weeks to deliberate those companies, and then 90-120 days to complete the work.
“If they do a shortcut, then we’re in trouble because that means we haven’t really accomplished what we wanted to do,” Schellenberg says.
He tells me he will support the bill, despite these questions, because he wants to ultimately see the solution realized.
I will be at the council meeting Tuesday to follow this final vote, and will continue to investigate this process until this vacant property gets put back to productive use instead of continuing to tie up your tax dollars.