City Council may sink water taxi deal

By Jim Piggott, General assignment reporter, jpiggott@wjxt.com
Published On: Jun 09 2014 04:56:09 PM EDT
Updated On: Jun 09 2014 07:28:16 PM EDT

Last week, city staffers spent more than $330,000 on new water taxis. They said the spending was an emergency measure, so water taxi service could continue. Then they found out Coast Guard approval was needed before service could start, and it could take until the end of this week. Now council members are asking if the city really wants to be in the water taxi business, and why this is an emergency.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

Some City Council members questioning Jacksonville's sudden entry into the water taxi business say they may try to sink the deal the mayor's office made to keep the service running.

Last week, Mayor Alvin Brown's administration announced a last-minute plan to spend $338,500 to buy two new water taxis and keep the service ferrying people across the St. Johns River beyond last Friday -- the day the Baltimore-based vendor was planning to pull out. Late that day the city said the ferries couldn't run for a week while the new boats await a Coast Guard safety inspection.

On Monday, some City Council members are asking if the city really wants to be in the the water taxi business, and if so, why is it an emergency.

DOCUMENT: Water Taxi Opinion from General Counsel's Office

"I am certain it is not legal. I have yet to figure out why water taxis are an emergency, but we are going to have to figure it out now," said council member Richard Clark.

A spokeswoman for Brown addressed why the expense was an emergency.

"It's an emergency because, I think, because this is, when you think about it, is bigger than boats. The city has been focusing on the river. We are telling people how important our river is. Hotel operators downtown have been marketing this," Karen Brown said.

DOCUMENT: City's emergency purchase of two passenger pontoon boats

Even though the city will own the boats, they will be operated by an Atlantic Beach company on a temporary basis. The mayor's Office  hopes to have a permanent contract within six months.

Other council members question not only the spending, but the way it was handled.

"I think this is bizarre. I think this is typical of the way City Council is treated," said council member Robin Lumb. "We spent $300,000 that we don't have on water taxis that we don't need after chasing out a perfectly qualified vendor."

The matter is likely to be discussed at Tuesday night's council meeting.

City leaders said water taxis should be running again on Friday.

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