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City crafting timeline for unpaid courthouse bills

City crafting timeline for unpaid courthouse bills

City crafting timeline for unpaid courthouse bills
Photo Credit: Stephanie Brown

City crafting timeline for unpaid courthouse bills

What was a check-in on progress quickly became a call for action.

The Courthouse Oversight Special Committee has given the administration one week to put together a timeline of when they plan to pay the bills they owe Turner Construction over the new County Courthouse.  Jacksonville’s Chief Financial Officer says there are four invoices totaling about $6 million that the city has yet to pay, and the earliest dates back to July.

“We had found some math inaccuracies that we wanted to alleviate,” says Mayor’s Office spokesman David DeCamp.

The Finance office says the issues have come up over time, and the span of time it has taken so far deals directly with their desire to both check the work they are paying for and make sure that all the billing is done properly.

But Mark Alles with Turner Construction says there has been little communication on the reason for the delay before this meeting.

“That’s how you solve a problem is you figure out what the issues are and then you can attack the issues. Right now, we don’t know what the issues are,” he says.

He told me it would generally take under a month to have an invoice clear, so seeing some take seven months at this time is “interesting.”  He says it also has a direct impact on up to 90 local subcontractors and vendors who are still waiting for Turner to pay them.  Alles says the subcontractors will be paid when Turner is paid.  Four local contractors came to the Oversight Committee to express their concerns about this hold-up, which has been “devastating” for their business.  The amount of money they were owed ranged from about $40,000 to $85,000.

“The subcontractors did not make any math errors, that is not their responsibility,” says Committee Member E. Denise Lee.

The chain of payment is still a big question mark.  Turner says in their contracts both with the city and sub-contractors, they are not obligated to pay until the city does.  The city declined direct comment on that, however, citing a potential for litigation down the road.

Lee says the administration has every right to make sure the work is in order before the payment, but while that dispute is hammered out, it shouldn’t be the local companies that suffer.

“We need to step up our game as the city and resolve this matter,” she says.

By next week, she has asked the Finance Department for a timeline on the payment to Turner.  Belton made it clear that the Committee may not like the answer he has to offer, but the Committee wants to at least get that answer and give the contractors a timeline.

ADA Compliance

The new County Courthouse still has not gained a permanent certificate of occupancy because of a few issues that are nearly complete.  One, however, remains a very divisive point between the city and Turner.

There have been ongoing questions on the pressure needed to open many doors in the Courthouse, and whether they meet ADA compliance.  While the city Wednesday acknowledged that the doors barely meet the standards (but meet them), they are looking in to automating the doors to completely get rid of any doubt.  The cost per door would run about $3,000 however, and there were more than one hundred doors being considered at one point.  There has been no final count or decision made yet, however, and the city is actually consulting with the Department of Justice in moving forward.

When asked whether installing the automation would mean the city was absolving Turner of its role in the door installation, however, the answer was no.  It seems the city would seek payment from Turner for them, although if that were to happen it could mean litigation, something that the committee members pointed out would be costly.

New State Attorney’s Office

The new State Attorney’s Office budget was also examined at the meeting, and some controversial recommendations have come forward.

After not having any bid that fit within the budget, the city has been working with one company to cut items from the project and get the budget down.  They are now under the limit, although with a very small contingency fund, so there will be another round of meetings beginning Friday with all interested parties to see what else could be cut.

The Public Works Department, with the backing of City Council President Bill Bishop, has suggested delaying construction on a secure bridge between the new office in the old Federal Courthouse and the new County Courthouse.  This is a $740,000 part of the project and, if delayed, its budget would move in to the contingency fund.  The bridge is something the State Attorney’s Office has continually lobbied for as a safe path for employees.  Lee asked whether there would be a guarantee that, if delayed, the bridge would still be built.  Public Works Director Jim Robinson couldn’t offer that guarantee.

Another hope of the State Attorney’s Office was, now that there is a finite idea of the budget they have to work with, that the City Council would encumber those funds.  Essentially, freeze that amount of money so it could not be used on any other portion of the Better Jacksonville Project.

City Councilman John Crescimbeni says this isn’t something the city supported in the past, and probably not a good idea again.

“I think we are empowered enough to be responsible to not use that money for other things,” he says.

Crescimbeni pointed out that encumbering the money could force the overall project over the $350 million budget, although he suspects it is already past that point.

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