By Dale Martin
Fernandina Beach City Manager
January 21, 2022
The City Commission next week convenes for its annual Goal-Setting session. This day-long “retreat”, conducted at the City Golf Course, provides an opportunity for additional deliberation on key City Commissioner priorities. This is the beginning of the budget preparation period for the 2022-2023 budget (the 2022-2023 budget year begins on October 1, 2022).
Ms. Cindy Jacoby will return again to moderate the discussion. Ms. Jacoby, a City-resident and graduate of Leadership Nassau, is the principal of BizHelp Consulting. Her professional efforts seek to build collaboration and an effective workplace environment. This will be her fourth engagement with the City Commission Goal-Setting, so she is able to provide a historic perspective on past City Commission efforts.
The City Commissioners were invited to offer topics for discussion at the workshop, and five principal issues have been placed on the agenda (the agenda is available, as are all agendas and supporting documentation, on the City’s website, www.fbfl.us).
The session will begin with a brief recap of last year’s efforts. The goals formally adopted by the City Commission were visually codified on a mousepad at each City Commissioner’s workstation in the City Hall Commission Chambers. The Commissioners, City staff, and local media are also provided weekly reminders of the adopted goals.
In general, most of the 2021 goals have been achieved. A few are still working toward completion, but have not been achieved by the original target date. If I were grading the City goal achievement effort (a combination of City Commission political support/focus and City staff capacity/effort), I’d offer a modest ‘B.’
Following the review, the first agenda item is a discussion regarding City wages. The labor market has been roiled by the global pandemic and national policies, creating workplace challenges everywhere, including the City. Many articles have dissected the impact of fewer workers (for a variety of reasons) available for numerous job openings: if you want a job, you have an overwhelming number of opportunities. This labor market has seen an unprecedented rise in wages. Since private sector employers can typically respond more nimbly to the changing conditions, many experienced and tenured public sector employees find the allure of double, if not triple, wages too attractive and they leave the public sector or use their experience to garner higher wages elsewhere in the public sector (City employee turnover has texceeded twenty percent for the past two years).
The City has lagged in its review and classification of employees for over a decade. The shifting labor market has now challenged the City to address this negligence. The City has been unable to fill several necessary positions due to low wages, and now middle to senior managers are also recognizing other opportunities. Some potential staff losses would have a remarkable impact on the City to maintain its current level of services. The City Commission will have to provide preliminary guidance for next year’s personnel budget.
The second topic is capital improvements. The City Commission has raised the issue of seeking a General Obligation bond (funded by an additional tax levy) for three projects: waterfront protection from flooding, downtown improvements, and City facilities. Whether to pursue this funding option will likely be determined next week.
The City has also received significant money from the federal government through the American Rescue Plan (approximately $6.5 million). The use of those funds is restricted, and the City Commission has directed that roughly two-thirds of the funds be used for stormwater and wastewater projects. The City Commission will be asked to re-confirm those projects and funding, as well as offering priorities for the balance of the funds.
The Amelia River waterfront makes its obligatory return for consideration and hand-wringing.
The City Marina, now fully restored and operational, will be a separate topic for the City Commission. Following the lengthy and successful fight, the first portion of FEMA reimbursement (approximately $800,000) for Hurricane Matthew damages has been received. The City Commission will have to address future Marina operational and capital revenues and expenses.
Finally, the City efforts to address affordable housing will be considered. The perception of “affordable” greatly varies, but “affordable” housing is specifically defined in statutes and regulations: housing is defined as affordable if a person’s/family housing costs do not exceed thirty percent of the region’s median income). This means “affordable housing” in Nassau County costs approximately $1,700 per month. What, if anything, should the City be doing to promote/encourage “affordable housing” when a desire is actually for housing at significantly less cost than “affordable”?
It will, as always, be an enlightening and deliberative effort. The workshop is open to the public: 8:00 AM, Wednesday, January 26, at the City Golf Course clubhouse.