Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
August 20, 2021
Each year prior to final adoption of a budget for the new fiscal year which begins in October the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) by ordinance sets fees for services performed by each City Department. The amended Master Fee Schedule consists of fees levied by the Airport, Building, Business/Code Enforcement, Cemetery, City Clerk’s Office, City Manager’s Office, Fire, Golf Course, Marina, Parks and Recreation, Planning, Police, Sanitation, Stormwater, Streets, Wastewater, Water, and Impact Fees, excluding Water and Wastewater Impact Fees. The City recommends these fees based on the cost to provide the services and facility rentals.
This year when presented with proposed Ordinance 2021-26 and an amended Master Fee Schedule at their August 17, 2021 Regular Meeting, Commissioners balked, approving the ordinance on first reading with the stipulation that changes be made prior to final adoption in September.
Commissioners called for a workshop prior to the Second Reading to discuss proposed fees and revisions. That workshop will be held on September 7, 2021 at 5:00 p.m. preceding the FBCC Regular Meeting.
Commissioners expressed concerns that some fees, notably those in the Planning and Conservation Department, are too high, while others at the Golf Course and in the Parks and Recreation Department needed to be higher for non-city residents.
Click here to see the Master Fee Schedule as presented at First Reading.
Following a motion by Commissioner Bradley Bean and a second by Commissioner David Sturges to approve the Master Fee Schedule, Vice Mayor Len Kreger began the discussion by reminding Commissioners that the City had approached the Nassau County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) on two separate occasions asking for financial assistance to allow the City to continue providing recreational services to non-city residents. On both occasions, the BOCC denied the request, suggesting that if the City needed additional revenue, it should raise its rates.
Kreger said, “I think we need to raise non-resident fees significantly—at least 50 percent, maybe 100 percent. We’ve supported non-resident use of our recreation programs and facilities forever, and it’s time to collect the money, since the County has refused to assist us in any form.”
Kreger continued on a different matter, “I’m also concerned with some of the Planning fees, which are outrageous, I believe. In discussions I’ve been told on two separate occasions that the [high fees] are part of [the City’s] no growth policy. I don’t know that we have a no growth policy. I know that people want to limit growth, but to charge exorbitant fees is unacceptable. So I’m not going to vote for this fee schedule [as presented].”
Commissioner Bradley Bean said that Kreger had raised some excellent points and that he too wanted to see changes before the Master Fee Schedule is adopted.
Commissioner Chip Ross raised a concern over fees for violating the short term rental policy. He suggested changing the current $1,000 fee to $250 per day of violation. He also questioned why, if the City does not collect fees from Uber drivers, it should collect fees from taxi drivers. His third point dealt with illegal signs, which he proposed should be $25 charged per sign. His final question was why the golf course and marina fees were included at all since previously the FBCC had agreed to let the operators set their own fees.
Commissioner David Sturges echoed the need for changes, especially on the Planning side. “Some of those fees are astronomical and don’t really need to be as high as they are,” he said.
Mayor Mike Lednovich agreed with concerns raised by other commissioners, announcing that he would vote to approve the ordinance on First Reading with the understanding that changes would be made prior to Second Reading. He supported the inclusion of golf course fees, taking issue with non-residents only required to pay $100 more than residents for membership. “[City] taxpayers pay and support the golf course,” he said. “County residents pay nothing to support our golf course. That fee needs to be 25-40 percent higher if you live in the County and use that amenity,” he said.
Lednovich continued, “The Vice Mayor is correct that essentially the county told us when we asked for financial assistance [to maintain recreational facilities]: ‘Raise your fees.’” He cited fees charged for swimming lessons as insufficient. “Send the message,” he said. “This is the CITY pool. County, you pay no taxes to support the City pools.”
The Mayor recognized 3 public speakers. Two of the speakers were county residents; all are volunteers involved in a variety of team sports that are played on City fields. Speakers said that while they understood the City’s position, they did not want to see children suffer due to the disputes between the City and the County on funding for recreation. They pointed out the irregular City boundaries, which make it difficult to determine who lives in or out of the City, as well as the 32034 ZIP code that extends to addresses outside the City. Children who live in the County may attend schools in the City, which complicates the situation even more. Speakers addressed their fears that adding additional fees to those children who play team sports may push them out of sports.
Commissioner Chip Ross responded to public concerns. “Here’s the challenge,” he said. “We are a city of 12,000 people, yet we have 1.6 million people crossing the bridge each year to use our stuff. Non-City people are using our ballfields, and we are stressed. We can’t afford it anymore. So the County just came up with a recreation master plan that calls for spending $140M over 10 years. And you know how much of that was to go to the city? If you said anything other than zero, you’d be wrong. So they’re not going to give us any money, and we are frustrated. We all support kids; they are our future. But you need to go talk to [County Commissioners] and say, hey, we’ll work with you. Because we’ve done it many times, and all they do is turn away from us.”
“Yes,” Ross said, “I believe all kids should be able to play for free, if we could pull that off. But we can’t. There is a cost to mowing the grass, doing this, doing that. It’s expensive to keep all these sports fields maintained. It’s not sustainable what we’re doing. If you can go to the County and get them to help us, we can all work together.”
Lednovich said, “I agree with Commissioner Ross. The County has put us in an untenable position. ‘Go raise your fees,’ they said.” Directing his remarks to the speakers, he added, “I appreciate your coming here. But you need to go to the next BOCC meeting and tell the County Commissioners that by their telling the City to raise fees on County residents, this is the impact on COUNTY kids.
“I consider them all OUR kids. But this is a result of the County making a conscious decision not to support recreation in this City. I support our kids but this is a conundrum. The County’s got to put some skin in the game. This has been going on too long.”
The ordinance passed unanimously on First Reading with the understanding that more work needs to be done to address concerns identified by Commissioners before final passage.