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