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Columbia County Observer

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Lake City

Lake City Tries Again for $750,000 Parking Lot Grant: Will the 4th Time Be a Charm?

The City is requesting $750,000 of the American People's money to level the building next to the existing parking lot and construct one big parking lot: $73k for plans; $60,000 for admin.

LAKE CITY, FL – This past Monday night, June 15, 2015, the City Council approved the fourth Community Development Block Grant application for a $750,000 one-half acre downtown parking lot, half of which is already there. The only Councilmember who seemed to have any idea of what was going on was veteran councilman George Ward.

The grant, if awarded by the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), will be funded by the American People and includes $73,000 for the parking lot plans and $60,000 for grant administration.

In 2009, J.L. DuPree Construction bid and built a 1/2 acre parking lot across town from the Lake Shore Hospital Authority: the cost $165,983.

The mandated public hearing for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) was called to order soon after the Council got underway. Lake City provided no maps; no project description; no details, nor any costs with the rest of the back-up materials for the evening's agenda.

The Public Hearing

North Central Florida Regional Planning Council Director, Scott Koons.

The North Central Florida Planning Council's Executive Director, Scott Koons, one of Florida's most experienced and respected planners, addressed the City Council:

"The project that has been developed by your staff is a downtown commercial revitalization grant application for a parking facility on Veterans Street located adjacent to the city police and fire department. It would be a $750,000 grant. One of the requirements to get additional points in the application is for the City to commit some community redevelopment area funds of $50,000 over a two-year period to match the $750,000 grant. There is no guarantee that the City will receive these funds. There are always many more projects each year than there are funds available to fund projects throughout the state."

Your reporter asked, "Is there an application somewhere for this? I didn't see it in the agenda packet. Is there a completed application?"

Director Koons answered, "There is an application on file in the [City] Office of Growth Management."

Earlier in the week your reporter requested the information from the Planning Council and received three maps.

Assistant City Manager Grayson Cason added, "I'm sure there is one and if you would like a copy we can provide it."

Your reporter followed up, "I am trying to understand how the Council can approve this without having a copy of the application ...?"

Councilman Ward responded, "We approved the property."

A little while later, the City Council approved a resolution authorizing the City to apply for the Parking Lot Grant, after which Councilman Ward said, "This is the third year we have applied for the same thing. That's why it's old hat around here."

Before Director Koons left the meeting, he gave the Observer his copy of the grant application.

Bonus Points: Squandered by the City Three Times

Once the grant applications are completed, they are scored. It is a relatively complex process and it is the reason the Planning Council's help is used.

The Small City Community Development Block Grant Commercial Revitalization Applications receive 100 bonus points if a sealed set of dated plans and specifications are submitted with the application. A receipt of penalty points voids the use of the 100 bonus points.

According to documents from the Planning Council, Lake City applied for the parking lot grants (Commercial Revitalization) for FY 2011, 2012, and 2013.

In FY 2011, Lake City was among 5 grant applicants. It finished in 4th place and received 25 penalty points.

In FY 2012, there were two applicants for the Commercial Revitalization Grants, Mascotte's final score was 503.29 points and was awarded $700,000.

Lake City came in second with 501.72 points. If the City had submitted plans, it would have won the grant award of $700,000. It received nothing.

In FY 2013, Lake City came in 5th of 5 grant applicants. First place Avon Park had a final score of 634.37. Second place Palatka received a final score of 562.21. Had Lake City provided plans, its last place score of 513.42 would have bumped up to 563.42, edging out Palatka for the second spot and $750,000. Instead, Lake City received nothing.

City Plans – City Engineers: Where were they?

Aerial view of the proposed parking lot site. Plans were not provided in 3 grant cycles.                           ++ Click to enlarge

For years Lake City has had engineering firms on retainer, as well as having a City Engineer on staff. The City Engineers were Professional Engineers (PE's) who could have easily drawn plans for the parking lot.

The NCFRPC's Koons told the Observer, "They tried to secure funding without the plans. We encouraged them to have plans."

Assistant City Manager, Grayson Cason, responding to a phone call spoke for the City.

The Observer asked Mr. Cason why the City did not submit plans with the grant applications.

Mr. Cason responded, "I suspect that it was going to cost them money and we didn't have any money."

The Observer pointed out that the City's last engineer was hired on October 28, 2013. "He couldn't have drawn plans for the parking lot?" your reporter asked.

Mr. Cason answered, "He's not that kind of Engineer."

City Engineer, Jason Sparks, was a certified PE. A PE, according to the National Society of Professional Engineers, "Is the engineering profession's highest standard of competence, a symbol of achievement and assurance of quality."

The Mr. Cason told the Observer, "At the time, I guess we thought we could get the grant without it [plans], and we almost did, but we didn't."

The Latest Grant Application

The grant application, which was approved on Monday night, was for fiscal year 2014. It appears DEO took a while to approve the rule changes approved by the legislature in 2014. Those rules were finally approved in April of 2015, the reason for the delay in the FY2014 applications, which are due on June 22.

In this round, Lake City will be providing parking lot plans developed by ASA Engineering & Surveying, Inc., out of Valdosta, GA.

According to a high-placed City source, "The engineers that are doing the Blanche are supplying the plans, gratis."

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