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City Finance Committee Hears Hemming Park Spending Audit

Saphara Harrell

Funding for Jacksonville’s Hemming Park is up in the air after its management almost ran out of money a couple months ago.

The city’s Finance Committee heard an auditor’s report Wednesday about how the park uses taxpayer dollars.

Friends of Hemming Park only has enough money to keep managing the park until the middle of next month. The nonprofit, which had already spent about $1 million city dollars, had asked for $250,000 to make it until the end of the year, but the city agreed to just a $100,000, pending an audit.

The money was set aside for the park in a special contingency fund, but council members said it wasn’t guaranteed.

The audit also said 44 percent went to contracted services, and nearly $158,000 went to employee salaries, including raises and bonuses.

“Two employees received a 3-1/2 percent increase that took effect back in December, the CEO (Vince Cavin) received a bonus of $1,500 in that time,” Auditor Kirk Sherman said Wednesday.

Friends of Hemming Board Member Bill Prescott defended the raises saying they were meeting all the criteria laid out in the management agreement.

Council is considering a bill that would give Friends of Hemming its remaining requested $150,000. But Councilman Matt Schellenberg isn’t pleased with the audit, pointing out IKEA and Apple TV purchases.

“I just see the extravagance that was done,” Schellenberg said. “It doesn’t have any care whatsoever for the taxpayer’s money that  you were given.”

Councilman Bill Gulliford, on the other hand, said he blames himself and the entire Council for not setting up stricter operating guidelines.

“While we said we were going to give ’X’ number of dollars, we were not specific about usage and there’s where we fell down,” he said.

He said, moving forward, the city should pay for capital improvements but not programming.

Expected to begin next week, a special committee will consider Hemming funding as the city hashes out next year’s budget. Mayor Curry is recommending a quarter-million for six months until Council figures out a plan beyond that.

Hemming has been spending about $60,000 a month. Prescott said they’ve cut back to about $37,000 and he expects the park to make up for any gaps with fundraising.