On September 5, 2000, Jacksonville voters had overwhelmingly approved the Better Jacksonville Plan (BJP) which included a $190 million budget for a new county courthouse complex (with an opportunity to utilize part of an additional $35 million contingency for any of the ‘vertical' projects). However, the budget for this project had escalated until in the summer of 2003 it was estimated somewhere between $242.8 and $281.9 million, and the project was only in the design work, building plan and site preparation phase.
Councilwoman Faye Rustin, Audit Committee Chair, along with the Audit Committee and fellow council members, held a meeting last Tuesday morning, September 23, 2003, to review how our city had gotten off target to be at the $242.8 mark. At the chairwoman's request, Sam Mousa, former Chief Operating Officer for the City, presented facts and figures on how the project costs and budget had developed since 1999. But the Committee's perspective was that bottom line, taxpayers had only agreed to $211 million (the original $190 million, with an additional $21 million from BJP contingency funds). As to the design criteria and construction plan, Judge A.C. Soud gave his recommendation for the site selection and the advantages of continuing a horizontal design over a vertical high rise plan.
After hearing this and other reports, the Audit Committee discussed the issue and then passed a substituted bill (2003-1118) offered by Councilman Kevin Hyde, At-Large, Group 4. This proposed resolution urged the City not to exceed the $211 million budget for this project, and to fulfill specific design criteria in order to meet the current and anticipated courthouse related space and facility needs for our growing community. If the scope of work cannot be accomplished within this budget, the Council would then like the Mayor to submit legislation by October 28, 2003. The legislation should include a detailed project budget and scope of work for the courthouse project either for the $211 million budget or for the budget in excess of $211 million. It also specified that between now and the review of this legislation by the Council, work would not stop.
Later that night, this same legislation passed the Council unanimously. Audit Committee Chair, Faye Rustin, commented, 'The completion of this project – on budget and on time - was a commitment our government made to local voters as part of the Better Jacksonville Plan. In one day, we have accomplished an awful lot. We, along with the residents of Jacksonville, want answers to some pretty tough questions so that we can resolve this and I think we are on our way.'