Citizens for a Better Nassau
August 29, 2016 5:00 a.m.
Citizens for a Better Nassau County was formed just over 11 months ago. Our sole purpose is to raise awareness of the financial challenges that our large and diverse county and each of us as taxpayers face, and to suggest a path to future prosperity that will create the softest landing for this county that we love. We believe that informed citizens make better, stronger and more prosperous communities.
Along the way, a few have suggested we’re a political committee. This is false. Our 501(c)(4) structure prohibits us from advocating for any candidate or engaging in electioneering communications. Several people are also still trying to sell the false narrative that we’re little more than a mouthpiece for developers. This couldn’t be further from the truth. A quick scan of our coalition members and supporters on our website will show you that less than 10 percent of them are associated with the development community at all. As many will recall, this dialogue casting our organization as an unseemly cast of characters with evil intentions, started upon the inception of our group and has only grown stronger as we near Primary Election Day.
Amidst all of the scare tactics and false narratives, we made reference to a quote from John Steinbeck: “Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts…perhaps the fear of a loss of power.” We think that these last few weeks have been clear evidence of that. To us, there’s no need to resort to fear mongering. The facts are the facts and Nassau County can no longer afford to have our citizens misled.
According to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s July 2015 Summary of Employment, Demographics, and Commuting Patterns for Nassau County, Florida (often referred to as a Labor Shed Analysis), 59.5 percent of our workforce was employed outside the county. This same study was updated in May 2016 and now 65.7 percent of workers who reside in Nassau County are employed outside the county. Why should we care?This is simply more evidence of a jobs-to-housing imbalance that results in our county having tremendous growing pains, requiring investment in schools, roads, parks, and services, such as fire/rescue and law enforcement, without the tax base to mitigate for these growth pains.
On average, residential development consumes $1.38 for every $1.00 it returns in taxes. As we’ve pointed out for quite some time, this simply isn’t sustainable. And while we’re fortunate that we have a robust and growing tourism economy, particularly on Amelia Island, few of these jobs are high-wage jobs. Simply put, residential development and tourism cannot pay the freight for the growing pains across our entire county of 725 square miles unless we’re all willing to accept dramatically higher property taxes and/or significant cuts in government services and deteriorating infrastructure.
What is the answer? Attracting private capital investment in non-residential land uses that cannot be homesteaded – office, commercial and industrial – and high-wage jobs will help balance the residential development that is here (and will continue to come) and will broaden and diversify our tax base to keep our residential taxes relatively low. We need to also continue to encourage long-range planning (100 years in land use planning is not a long time). Smart growth land use principles that include compact and multimodal, mixed-use communities are also part of the answer. These communities internalize many of their impacts and reduce up-front infrastructure costs, as well as the ongoing maintenance of that infrastructure.
Don’t buy the false narrative that economic development will reduce our quality of life here. It won’t. It is just the opposite. Our county is large and located at the Gateway to Florida on I-95. We have unique highway and rail infrastructure close to deepwater ports in Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia. The county has worked hard to develop a sound long-range comprehensive land use plan, based on what the citizens said they wanted in the Vision 2032 effort. The county commission has positioned us to grow far smarter in the future than we have in the past.
Citizens for a Better Nassau County is not about protecting developer’s interests. Our organization is about stewardship and jobs for current and future generations, better long-range land use planning and smarter growth. These are principles designed to protect our citizens and taxpayers and their quality of life. If you’d like to learn more about our organization and the challenges we’ve touched upon here, we invite you to visit CitizensforaBetterNassau.com. While you’re there, if you agree with our approach to planning and future prosperity, we encourage you to sign on as a supporter.
This opinion piece was submitted by retired Nassau County Commissioner Jimmy L. Higginbotham and retired Businessman Robert W. Spaeth, co-chairs of Citizens for a Better Nassau County.