Submitted by Chip Ross
Fernandina Beach City Commissioner
October 15, 2018 8:59 a.m.

Commissioner Chip Ross

Social media is great for getting out a message of concern or the mutual sharing of a joy.  But there are times when a reader of social media needs to understand that urgent financial issues facing the City are often not fully confronted with comments constructed from nanoseconds of thought. As a City resident who pays taxes, here are some factual items that others may want to consider when trying to confront the paid beach parking issue facing the City.

Who actually pays for City beach maintenance?  First, the obvious, City taxpayers (residents and businesses) contribute to beach maintenance with City real estate or ad valorem taxes. County taxpayer dollars do NOT assist with City beaches.  The not-so-obvious contribution is the Sand Tax. It was placed ONLY on City/County tax payers (residents and businesses alike) located on the island.  County residents OFF the island do NOT pay the Sand Tax. CITY taxpayers also pay for the maintenance of COUNTY beaches through their County real estate tax payments. Since the U.S. Navy provides beach renourishment to our City beaches, one needs to ask why Nassau County taxpayers aren’t assisting City taxpayers with City beach maintenance.

Off season at Main Beach. Photo taken October 13, 2018

Other than the City’s outsized outpouring of funding for all beaches, with minimal County funding for County beach maintenance from real estate taxes, the Tourist Development Council also contributes to ALL of the island’s beaches. Presently, NO County or City taxpayer pays to clean up our beaches.  The Tourist Development Council (TDC), through the “Bed Tax”, reimburses our local governments greater than $200,000 each year for our beach trash cleanup contract.  They also pay our local governments for the pickup of all beach umbrellas and other items left behind by ALL beach visitors. The TDC has set aside $1.5 million of the Bed Tax money to fund emergency beach renourishment services and presently pays for hurricane cleanup.  In other words, if our beaches get wiped out in a hurricane, they will be renourished immediately with little or no cost to local governments.

Through the marketing efforts of the TDC, the island’s “overnight” guests (paying the Bed Tax) spent over $626 million in Nassau County which produced over 36% of the county’s revenue.  They also saved the average county household $3,400 per year in local and state taxes. Without the marketing efforts, paid for by the Bed Tax, our restaurants would likely cease to exist as well as our historic downtown shops.  And 1 out of 5 jobs may be lost in Nassau County.  The present use of the Bed Tax monies for marketing the Island has kept our taxes down and our businesses flourishing.

If some citizens’ cries to cut the marketing budget from the Bed Tax are heeded to defray beach expenses, there is plenty of research out there to tell us what happens when an industry’s marketing budget is cut.  Who would pay to replace a 36% drop (or any drop) in county tax revenue, or the 1 in 5 jobs that may be lost? There is plenty of research documenting the consequences.  (See “The Rise and Fall of Colorado Tourism”,http://longwoods-intl.com/the-rise-and-fall-of-colorado-tourism/.)

So who gets the free ride?  The “day tripper”.  This growing segment of beach goers on City beaches contributes nothing to beach renourishment, City beach maintenance, beach cleanup, and wear and tear on City beach parking lots and roads. We get thousands per year. Most arrive from Nassau County, Jacksonville, and South Georgia.  These one-day guests, arriving by car, bring their food, beverage coolers, beach equipment, and leave their trash.  Unlike the “overnight” guests who pay the Bed Tax, they contribute little to our beach-related businesses. And unfortunately, in the near future, thousands more are going to arrive from Wild Light and other off-island developments as “day trippers”.  If the City cannot find a way to make money from paid beach parking, with free parking for City residents, we should all be looking for another way to tax the day trippers.  They provide little to no revenue to defray the cost of our beaches.

The fears of nearby beach homes can be allayed by the placement of “Resident ONLY Parking” signs to deter the day tripper from entering neighborhoods.  And to beachfront businesses with inadequate parking, please understand that you have had free parking provided by City taxpayers for many years.  If visitors can’t afford paid beach parking, they will likely not patronize your business.  And yes, they will likely move to the free county beaches to the south.

At some point, City taxpayers need to be reimbursed for the multitude of City beach costs associated with the thousands of day trippers arriving at our City beaches.  Are City taxpayers really willing to finance the additional life guards, police protection, wear and tear on beach parks, or the costs associated with the additional car traffic from the additional thousands of day trippers?   Paid parking is only the beginning of a quest for a solution to the taxation of the day tripper. With the arrival of Wildlight and other off-island development, the exponentially growing population of day trippers should not be allowed to invade our island and City beaches without sharing the cost. The growing cost of additional beach services should be shouldered by ALL beach goers, not just the City/Island taxpayers and the “overnight” Bed Tax visitor.

I am open to further suggestions for beach funding at any time.

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27 Comments
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LeaGallardo
LeaGallardo
3 years ago

Thanks for a good explanation of the situation (from a city resident).

Mac Morriss
Mac Morriss
3 years ago

Interesting arguments. However, the TDC is doing a great job bringing tourists to our beaches. Which is its goal, well done TDC. Tourists who overwhelmingly say they come here because of our beaches. Which are heavily promoted by the TDC. The TDC is obligated by State statute to spend money for beach maintenance. So it is Not being altruistic.

The beach is the TDC cash cow and its obligation. The beach sand Renourishment that the TDC recently helped pay for is greatly appreciated. Otherwise the County would have had to start honoring it’s old agreement to share Renourishment costs again. The same County that has the power to disband the TDC by County Commission vote.

Asking the TDC for $500,000 a year to repair and maintain beach walkovers, parking lots, bathrooms, etc., in the City is not a big ask. The TDC just received an additional penny of Bed Tax, up to 5% now. With a projected revenue of more than $7 million plus for 2019.

More of that revenue is needed to repair the damage caused by the TDC’s extensive marketing. Those hundreds of thousands of people drawn to our beaches by a successful marketing team.

Will we capture money from every beach user with meters? No. They will just park further away and walk. Causing new issues further away from the beach. Parking congestion, littering,vandalism, being a few of those issues. So meters and fees is not the perfect answer either.

Part of the reason people come to our island is the small town charm. Free parking and access to our beaches is part of that of that charm.

Pam Hart
3 years ago
Reply to  Mac Morriss

I could not agree more with you Mac. My husband grew up in Naples, Fl and with the crowds came the paid beach parking which did nothing but contribute to chaos and more and more salaries needing to be funded. It also caused people to seek parking in neighborhoods off of the beach and was inconvenient for residents who had to share their vehicles with family members who came to visit so that they could go to beach using the car with the permit in the windshield, And the machines themselves are an eyesore!

Dave Lott
Dave Lott
3 years ago
Reply to  Mac Morriss

Mac, we are going to disagree on this one. You identify some legitimate impacts regarding beach fees, but I think they can be dealt with. While the bed tax information by property is confidential, I am guessing that the Omni, Ritz and Summer Beach properties represent the lions share of that revenue. And how often do you think those guests go to a portion of the beach not in front of their resort? I am guessing very little, so the bed tax they pay that goes to the beach maintenance more than pays their fair share.
As Chip points out, the day trippers are the ones primarily getting the free ride and the only way to get them to pay a portion of their fair share is a parking fee. They can go down to the county parks but I wonder how long it would be before the county implements a fee given their financial hurt?

Karen Thompson
Karen Thompson
3 years ago

Thanks for telling like it is Chip Ross. I think you should pass this explanation of the truth to every person that will show up at the commission meeting tomorrow night to speak without knowing what is actually going on. I am all for charging day-trippers for parking at the beaches.

brandon farmand
brandon farmand
3 years ago

Perhaps a middle ground? Forget about changing allocations. For the fiscal year ended September 30, 2017, the TDC brought in revenues of $5,537,662. I believe that was a record year for tourism on the island. During the same year, the TDC had expenditures of $6,626,791, of which $856,960 was a one time expenditure to fund 100% of the local cost of beach renourishment. So net recurring expenditures are about $5,769,831. Also, the reserves are in place to fund another emergency beach renourishment, should another storm hit are shores. Given that, if $5.7 million is the baseline expenditures needed to keep “heads in beds”, which in turn keeps other local taxes down, how about for a period of time (say 3 years), any revenues earned above $5.7 million get ear marked for capital improvements to the beach? Things like dune walkovers, bathroom repairs, etc. This way we don’t kill the economic engine of the island by short changing the marketing required and the beach gets some much needed one time investments, that will not have to be replaced for many many years.

Gary Castella
Gary Castella
3 years ago

These one-day guests, arriving by car, bring their food, beverage coolers, beach equipment, and leave their trash.

What really needs to be done is a live survey of who is using the beaches. As a so called day tripper who has spent a grand total of less than 1 hour on your beaches as I do have a FL state Parks pass. I solely use beach parking to patronize local beach front businesses. I definitely drop more cash on your side of the river.

Lawrence Piper
Lawrence Piper
3 years ago

FYI, I rarely go to the beach and I live in Jacksonville FL. BUT, my wife and are building a 2nd home in downtown Fernandina. We’ve already paid over 10k in fees(it’s a small house) and will be paying un-homesteaded taxes on that property for years to come–probably more than residents with the same size home who are getting the homestead exemption. Will we be comsidcons a “resident” when it comes to paid parking?

Frank Quigley
Frank Quigley
3 years ago

Is it possible to estimate the annual number of day trippers? That would help estimate annual revenue (using a fair pricing scheme). I’d personally like to keep all FB parking free, but if there are significant dollars to be gained that would help the debate.

I’m a Fernandina Beach homeowner and I do appreciate Commissioner Ross’s pro-active approach on this and other matters.

Steven Crounse
3 years ago

I agree with Dr. Ross, Off island residences, should assist in the cost of maintaining our “Crown Jewels” The Beaches. Bumper Stickers could be issued to City residences for their autos. to exempt them from parking charge. Day Trippers should pay on a daily basis, or for those who frequent the Beaches often, a seasonal pass would do. I’m sure other communities in Florida have already figured this out.

Frank Quigley
Frank Quigley
3 years ago
Reply to  Steven Crounse

Administration wouldn’t be hard. Mid-Atlantic beaches just put a kiosk at the entrance. They wave residents with passes through or charge non-residents on the spot for a day, week or annual pass. That’s the only investment needed, no need for patrols.

Gerald Decker
Gerald Decker
3 years ago

So how many “day trippers” are there, really?? Perhaps less than 10%, less than 20%….if we don’t know we can’t rationally decide whether they represent a significant impact. Remember, this is a question regarding use of beaches within the CITY limits.

Lets get some facts, than consider options…….enough rhetorical arguments…..facts folks.

Vince Cavallo
Vince Cavallo
3 years ago

Chip good article. I’d like to remind city officials that some county residents do pay fees to the city too. Those who reside in the county on the island who were with FPU water have been charged a 25% surcharge upon their water and sewer bills notwithstanding they were customers of a regulated utility when the city purchased it.

Ian Kobler (@AnotherDayOL)

I may not live in the city limits, but I patronize the beaches, and the local beaches. I share the local zip code, and proudly say I live in Fernandia. While there can be more balance, if Dr. Ross feels I am less important by consistently referring to me as a day tripper, then I can move further down the street to a county beach where the parking is free. I can patronize the businesses there.

I was good enough to help save the dry sand but in Dr. Ross’s eyes apparently I am a less important citizen. There is an answer, but not to alienate one of the largest revenue sources.

K Shostak
K Shostak
3 years ago

How much will it costs to implement paid parking? Card scanners? How much is annual upkeep on those machines? How much will patrolling the lots for passes on windshields cost? Who will be writing those tickets? Which city department will be handling receipt of payments of fines? Will more employees be needed? Intial costs and then annual costs must be part of any decision if this is all about raising funds for the city.

Valencia Gower
Valencia Gower
3 years ago
Reply to  K Shostak

I was thinking the same. But if the revenue outweighs the costs, all is good and some new employment is offered.

Paula Mutzel
Paula Mutzel
3 years ago

I am a yearly visitor to Fernandina..I lease a property every year in March. I live year ‘round in Cape May NJ so I am very familiar with what you all are discussing regarding the costs of care and maintenance of your beautiful beaches. NJ has a very workable solution to these very same problems..Beach Tags. We sell them as daily,weekly,seasonal at varying costs. They can be purchased by young ladies or gentlemen who stroll up and down the beaches and ask visitors to produce them or they must buy them. They can also be purchased in various locations all over town. Before Memorial Day they are offered at s discount and for those who can show proof of service to our country, they are free. This has worked quite well for all concerned,it certainly helps with costs and solves the problem of the people who only come for the day which we have a lot of as well. I’m sure the Cape May County Board of Tourism would be happy to provide further details. You do have a treasure in your beaches and all should want to keep it that way. Paula Mutzel

Julia Newhouse
Julia Newhouse
3 years ago

Paula Mutzel’s idea of passes like Cape May seems very viable..

Eileen Widerman
Eileen Widerman
3 years ago

I, too, suggest considering Beach Tags. For years we had a summer home in Brigantine, NJ. There tags are sold much as Paula described–daily (about $8), weekly, or seasonal ($40). Youth and children are free; special rates for Seniors and Veterans. Tags are seasonal–Memorial Day through Labor Day. If applied here, city residents could receive a free tag for each person in their household. Tags would be checked by staff (usually young people as a summer job) strolling sections of the waterfront. Those who do not have tags must buy them from the checkers or leave the beach. Many hotels, rentals, B&Bs, etc. purchase a supply of seasonal passes for use by their guests. Shore communities also make money by charging for seasonal passes for cars on the beaches (about $150) and the number of these available is limited to protect the beaches.

Yes, having a tag system means hiring staff to walk the beaches and check for tags. But instituting parking fees would also mean hiring staff. A tag system would make sure beach goers are the ones paying, not those using parking spaces for other purposes. (I might point out, though, that almost all the Jersey/Delaware shore towns with beach tags also charge for parking.)

Regardless, as a tax-paying city resident I hope we can find a way to raise the money needed to care for our beaches.

chuck hall
chuck hall
3 years ago

Chip is right about this coming volume of beach-goers. When Wildlight and the others are built-out, there may be 75000 new county residents. They will all want to visit the beach. With only 800 parking spaces, we are in trouble.

Barnes Moore
Barnes Moore
3 years ago
Reply to  chuck hall

While it is unlikely that all 75,000 would be coming to the beach, there is no question that the volume will increase substantially. One other possible option would be to build parking structures near the beach that would be funded in part from beach access fees. One possible location would be on Atlantic Avenue where there is open space directly across from Ft. Clinch. The impact of additional traffic to that area would also have to be considered, as it will for the entire island since the current road system will not support much of an increase in traffic.

Bob Weintraub
Bob Weintraub
3 years ago

I think the long-term answer — once we’ve waded through all the other options — will be charging for beach access not parking. I lived in Long Beach, Long Island for 15 years and for 20 years before then that was my family’s go-to beach. Beach access fees paid for lifeguards, maintenance, garbage pickup etc. and created a lot of seasonal jobs for students. The county will have to get on board as there must be a common approach for all Amelia Island beaches.

Barnes Moore
Barnes Moore
3 years ago

Like many complex issues, there will be no single option that makes everyone happy, even if the option is doing nothing. I too came here from New Jersey and would lean towards a beach tag approach, as opposed to paid beach parking, especially at locations such as Main Beach where people may just be going to Sand Bar or Salt Life when it opens. Paid parking there could have an impact on their business – likewise for parking at Sliders. There are still many questions on how beach tags would be implemented. Would city residents be given a permanent beach tag? Would guests staying in local hotels or rental properties already paying a bed tax be required to purchase a beach tag? How many additional staff would be required to monitor beach access points? Would beach tags be required year round? Would an additional fee be required for Florida Park access if the primary reason for going to the park was to go to the beach? What other administrative costs are there? And, the most important question – what would be charged for daily, weekly, monthly, and annual beach tags? I generally agree that the costs of maintaining the beaches should be shared by all who use the beach, but there are many questions about how those costs would be shared. I think there are too many downsides to paid parking for it to be a viable option.

Sheryl Harrell
3 years ago

As a county resident and property owner and tax payer of 46 years, I want to remind everyone that the beach belongs to the State of Florida. While I live on the mainland of our county, I am appalled to read that Chip Ross would consider me or anyone else that doesn’t live on the Island as someone that “should not be allowed to invade our island and City Beaches without sharing the cost”. Invade his island, really? I grew up going to the local beaches around this beautiful area, but mainly avoided Main Beach, just because it was filled with tourists and
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“Since the U.S. Navy provides beach renourishment to our City beaches, one needs to ask why Nassau County taxpayers aren’t assisting City taxpayers with City beach maintenance”.
~~~~
This is an absurd comment considering the US Navy is funded by the Federal Government and again, as a Federal tax-paying citizen of the United States, it is people like ME that already fund the Navy along with all other branches of our military. The dredging of the channel between Cumberland and Amelia islands are performed to enable submarine access from Kings Bay to the Atlantic. Amelia Island is a ‘convenient’ place to dump the dredge material and call it beach renourishment. This side of Mr Ross’s argument is offensive to some of us. Hopefully, he will re-think some of the possibilities and change his point from an ‘us versus them’ mentality.

John Tonetti
John Tonetti
3 years ago

I would like to thank Commissioner Ross for his clear explanation of the issue of beach parking. The island will change irregardless of whether there is paid parking or not. The question becomes one of whether we would like to some control and whether we as city taxpayers want to bear the ever increasing costs. We can institute something now or do it later when the city taxpayers are in worse financial shape, and there are 30,000 new households in the county who feel it is their right to use the beaches without paying their fair share and may park where ever they please.

Valencia Gower
Valencia Gower
3 years ago

Having lived in HIllsborough County for 30+ years, we enjoyed going to Pinellas County to the beautiful beaches of the Gulf. We had to pay to go over the bridge and pay to park. And yes, the people staying at the hotels and motels of Pinellas County paid a bed tax and the same tolls as the daytripper. I believe you have to do the same to visit St. Simons Island. My point — as sad as it is for one last beach to be “free”, the times, they are a changing.

Joe Palmer
Joe Palmer
3 years ago

The words “day tripper” Mr. Ross and others in the comments section are tossed around like insults and reek of exclusivity and snobbery. It sounds as if those of us who live on this island but mere yards outside its grotesquely gerrymandered city limits are all lumped in with guests who come here for a day from all points across the two bridges. Everyone on this island, as it’s been pointed out, pays the sand tax. Those of us islanders who live outside the city limits pay for city water services, as Vince Cavallo pointed out, so we, too, have a monetary vested interest in the city. And yet, it’s my understanding, that when, and we all know it will, the move to paid parking comes, those of us who don’t live inside the city limits will have to pay to park at the beach. My wife and I patronize hundreds of local businesses. We put tons of money into the city’s economy each year. We direct everyone visiting here to stay in the city’s many wonderful hotels, motels and B&Bs. We do our part. And yet, we’re to be treated as outsiders? “Invaders?” “Day trippers?” This is just wrong, wrong, wrong. As for or the comments from former New Jersey residents about requiring people to pay just to go onto the beach, I’ve been warning about this for years. But they’re not telling the whole story. In some places, you can’t even take a picnic lunch onto the beach with you. You have to buy food and beverages from vendors. Where does it end once the proverbial camel gets its nose under the tent? Good grief! I’m going to contact an attorney and investigate the legality of denying me free parking as a Fernandina Beach resident even though I have to pay for city water and the sand tax. If this is implemented the way it’s being planned to shut we islanders who live outside the city limits out of residential free parking, it might be illegal. If it is and is carried out, expect lawsuits, perhaps even a class action one from those of us who live on this island but outside the city limits, some of us by mere yards.

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