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Updated: 3:54 a.m. Monday, April 29, 2013 | Posted: 8:29 p.m. Thursday, April 25, 2013

Your tax dollars tied in city-owned vacant property at least through this year

Vacant Buildings Tour
Stephanie Brown
Ceiling holes and open ducts.

By Stephanie Brown

Jacksonville, FL —

After weeks of delays, the City of Jacksonville is finally ready to release its plan on inventorying and assessing all city-owned real estate.

TIMELINE

It was two months ago the Jacksonville’s City Council allocated $150,000 of your tax dollars toward the city’s plan to hire a company to inventory and assess all its real estate and determine what to do with the properties moving forward.  At that time, council was told the Request For Proposal (RFP)- essentially the project guideline that is released in order to solicit bids from companies interested in the job- would take another week or two to finalize before it would hit the streets and start bringing in bids.

“The original expectation was just not realistic,” says Public Works Director Jim Robinson.

Only this Thursday was it finally approved, two months after that vote, and Robinson tells me that’s par for the course.  He’s not sure where exactly the original estimate came from, but is happy with the progress through this point, and the proposal as it stands now. 

The delay is only a small portion of the lengthy road I’ve followed to uncover this solution.  Nine months ago I first brought the question of just how much vacant land the city owned straight to the city itself.  At that time I confirmed the city didn’t know how much vacant land it owned because it didn’t have an accurate inventory of its real estate at all.  Since that time, I’ve followed the plan to fix that, this inventory/assessment.

It took months to get the proposal in front of council, and while it sailed through that six-week process, I’ve learned we’re still a long way away from getting the full answer.

According to the 40+ page RFP I obtained, the bids can be submitted through May 29th

“Hopefully, the responses we get will be good and compliant and we can get underway on this,” Robinson says.

But he tells me after the bids are in, the evaluation committee will likely take a month to look through the proposals.  At that point, the city’s Procurement Division takes the reigns and, if the proposal gets through on one vote, it will go to the Mayor quickly.  From there, contract negotiations start, meaning actual work could begin by late August. That’s when the four month contract will take effect- so December is the earliest we will see some answers.

The RFP does allow for a one year extension of the contract, however.  Robinson says that will mainly cover any additional scope they decide to add on if there is extra money uncovered.  Conversely, however, if there is more work they determine that’s needed, the one year allows it to get done, but that could be at an additional cost to you.

MANAGEMENT AND MENTORING

When reading the proposal I saw a key difference to what was in front of your City Council.  Originally, the city intended to hire multiple companies to complete the four part project, but this final project looks for one to tackle the whole task.  Robinson says it’s an intentional change.

“Management of the project on the city’s part would be more streamlined,” he says.

That streamlining could benefit a common thread that ties the proposal together- the need to train and mentor city employees through this process.

I asked Robinson how the city got to this point- having a vast portfolio of property with no complete inventory.  He likens it to filing cabinets, saying right now the information is in 15 disorganized cabinets, and they’re now moving it all in to one neat place.  And in order to keep that “filing cabinet” in order, the consultant who’s hired will make sure the city is fully trained on every aspect of the project.

“City staff needs to pick this up and run with it on a day-to-day basis,” Robinson says.

He says the consultant will “wean” the city off of its aid within the four month contract, with the intent of not needing a long-term relationship.  Robinson says he feels comfortable that can happen in the timeframe, and for the allotted budget.

ENTIRE SOLUTION?

I first brought you a troubling problem in the city’s real estate rolls- that not all the listed property was actually city owned.  Of the roughly 2800 parcels of land listed as Jacksonville-owned, more than half of those have at least a partial interest of JEA because of a landswap agreement from more than a decade ago.

After my pressing, the city has taken caution to clearly define that your tax dollars will not be used to assess and plan for property the city doesn’t own, but given this comprehensive real estate overhaul, I asked Robinson whether the title’s would be changed over to JEA, so the new rolls would be completely in order.

“That’s a separate policy decision outside the parameters of this project,” he says.

Meaning there may still be work to do even after this long-labored inventory is put in place.

WHO’S INTERESTED?

The most heavily weighted criteria that will be considered are the company’s competence, rate quotes, ability to meet project requirements, and demonstrated commitment to small and minority businesses.  As a prerequisite to even applying for the job, the consultant must have completed “a minimum of five (5) similar projects to the services described” according to the RFP.

If you’re interested in bidding for the job or possibly trying to take on some of the property the city may eventually deem to-sell, I’d like to speak with you.  You can email stephanie.brown@coxinc.com.  WOKV will continue to follow this story until we’ve got the exact figure of how much money you’ve been spending on vacant property as well as the exact day that will be fixed.

 
 
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