Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

$35 Million Contingency Fund Spent Delaney Allocates Last of Money for Better Jacksonville

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

$35 Million Contingency Fund Spent Delaney Allocates Last of Money for Better Jacksonville

Article excerpt

Byline: David DeCamp, Times-Union staff writer

Mayor John Delaney has doled out the entire $35 million contingency fund for the Better Jacksonville Plan, a move drawing flak from some City Council members.

Delaney is earmarking $9 million to add to the originally $25 million new ballpark, another $5 million for the planned $125 million arena, and $21 million to the $190 million county courthouse. Delaney's office is allowed by the Better Jacksonville ordinance to initially allocate the money without council approval. A committee of top mayoral advisers approved the amounts Monday.

But Councilman Reggie Fullwood, chairman of the council's Finance Committee, said the mayor needs to explain the reasons and details of adding more money to the projects. Cost overruns often occur during construction, but significant changes to the cost this early in projects is rare, said Fullwood, an executive with Vestcor, a developer.

"It sounds like we're talking about some major miscalculations," Fullwood said.

"That's just not so," Delaney said, adding that using the fund was always planned as the city developed projects. "We are just building it [the projects] nicer."

The contingency fund, drawn from the $2.2 billion overall plan, is only for the four major building projects, not road work. The new $95 million main library is not slated for any more money.

Sam Mousa, city chief administrative officer, said the contingency fund must cover any costs above the original estimates, which were submitted to voters in September 2000. Otherwise, work raising project costs won't be done because there's not enough money.

"It's locked," he said.

Last month, Delaney quickly added an initial $4 million to the ballpark to guarantee it can be built to hold 10,000 people, after the Times-Union reported he had cut 1,500 seats to keep the project at cost but below the size promised to voters. At the time, he also said $2 million to $3 million would be used for landscaping and road improvements surrounding the arena.

But Mousa said city officials are still calculating exactly how the additional $5 million will be used at the ballpark, as well as the remaining $2 million or so for the arena. …

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