Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
August 22, 2021
At their August 17, 2021 Workshop, Fernandina Beach City Commissioners (FBCC) considered one item: the possibility of crafting a bond referendum that would go to City voters in November 2022 for an up or down vote.
Why consider a bond?
The City of Fernandina Beach is facing many, expensive challenges. Due to climate change and rising sea levels, it is becoming increasingly urgent that the City take action to protect shoreline property from inundation during storms and extremely high tide. The downtown area has already experienced significant flooding during heavy rain events. The areas along Egans Creek are also at risk.
Downtown infrastructure needs upgrades or replacements. The last major upgrades to the Central Business District occurred in 1978. Since then, sidewalks and pedestrian lighting have deteriorated, and landscaping needs refreshing.
Beach accesses have become unsafe or otherwise in need of attention.
City Hall, which is over 100 years old, needs rehabilitation to accommodate needs of a modern city.
Other facilities — like the Atlantic Rec Center and the MLK Rec Center — were constructed in the 1950’s. The Atlantic Rec Center has developed a crack in a wall, causing it to move off plumb.
There is also the goal often expressed by the public of adding land to conservation to prevent the destruction of tree canopies and fragile ecosystems.
Any one of these projects is a big ticket item for a city of 12,000 to handle.
Time to stop kicking the can down the road?
This City Commission has expressed a desire to solve some of these long-standing problems by issuing a bond to finance some, but probably not all, of the City’s capital needs that have grown more serious over the years. The solution lies in funding the improvements. And that’s where past Commissions have fumbled. Should today’s taxpayers bear the entire burden of fixing problems that they did not create? Or should the costs be spread among those who live in the City today and those who will be able to reap the benefits of the investment in the future?
So the choice for Commissioners is:
- Raise the millage rate — putting the financial burden on current property owners, or
- Issue a bond — payments over many years will lessen the pain for current taxpayers and insure that future City residents also help pay for the improvements that will improve their life in the City, or
- Do what previous City Commissions have done: kick the can down the road.
Current City Commission thinking
At their August 17 workshop, Commissioners were asked to agree upon and prioritize projects to be funded under a General Obligation Bond (GOB). During their discussions, they considered many projects, but came to consensus on the following three:
- Shoreline stabilization – resiliency ($19-26M)
- Downtown Infrastructure ($10M)
- Beach accesses ($ unknown at this time)
Commissioners agreed that projects considered for bonding should benefit the largest number of citizens throughout the City. Infrastructure and resiliency, Commissioners agreed, were of vital importance to the future survival of the island and the City, both physically and economically.
Commissioners acknowledged physical needs of City Hall but balked at building a new one at this time. Commissioners spoke to the history and tradition of the current building, agreeing in general that the building should be rehabilitated and retained as City Hall. Suggestions that City Hall could move to the Peck Center were quickly dismissed both because the general feeling is that City Hall belongs downtown, and the Southside Community considers Peck Center an integral part of their tradition and community.
Commissioner David Sturges suggested that the City explore purchasing the warehouse building at 115 South 2nd Street to provide office space for both the Building Department and the Planning and Conservation Department. He believed that purchase and renovation could be covered by funds in the Building Department, which must be used for Building Department purposes. Commissioners appeared willing to explore this possibility.
There was no consensus on adding recreation facilities to a bond referendum; likewise adding more land for conservation. Generally Commissioners seemed willing to tackle repairs on recreation facilities via the Capital Improvement Plan.
Mayor Mike Lednovich reminded Commissioners. “This is a directional list to staff. It is not a final list. It’s giving staff guidance on what to bring back to us.”
There has been no decision to move forward with a bond referendum at this time. Should the FBCC decide that bonding is the best way to pay for some longstanding capital needs, the question will be put to City voters to make the final decision, probably in November 2022.