Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Budget Issues Stall Town Center Planning; Storm Cleanup Was Costly This Season; City Seeks $2.1 Million in Reimbursement from FEMA

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Budget Issues Stall Town Center Planning; Storm Cleanup Was Costly This Season; City Seeks $2.1 Million in Reimbursement from FEMA

Article excerpt

Byline: David Bauerlein, The Times-Union

Jacksonville City Hall's planned expansion of its Town Center Initiative is on hold because of budget problems, leaving four neighborhoods unable to advance in a program aimed at enlivening the appearance of older commercial areas.

The program will spend up to $1 million per area for items like brick crosswalks, ornamental lighting and benches. The idea is that if the city improves the appearance of the streetscape and it's easier to walk around, businesses will likewise invest in the upkeep of their buildings.

But of the 17 applications in the program, the city has money to do engineering for just 13 to prepare them for construction.

"We're getting the pretty words, and we're getting all the promises, but we're getting no delivery," said Roberta Thomas, president of the Fort Caroline Club Estates South Civic Association.

Her group recently completed its town center plan for Rogero Road but can't proceed to the next phase of drawing up engineering plans for construction.

"If there's a commitment, put your money where your mouth is, and the money's not there," she said.

The Town Center Initiative began in 2002 with a $12 million budget for revitalizing at least 12 commercial corridors that are more than 30 years old and experiencing decline. Mayor John Peyton and the City Council agreed this year's budget, which started Oct. 1, would earmark another $2.1 million for the town center.

However, the $2.1 million is an unfunded line item, contingent on the city finding money during the year. The city was counting on an audit of last year's financial books to show there was unspent money that could be earmarked for the town centers. The audit is scheduled to be finished by March. Mayoral aide Susie Wiles said it does not appear the money will be available.

Wiles said cleanup of storm damage during hurricane season was costly. The city will seek $20 million in reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and use that money to fund the $2.1 million for town centers.

"We have every expectation that the FEMA will be forthcoming before the end of the [budget] year," she said. …

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