By Dale Martin
City Manager
Fernandina Beach
January 28, 2022

City Manager Dale Martin

The City Commission convened on Wednesday for its annual Goal-Setting Workshop. The meeting was conducted at the City Golf Course, starting at 8:00 AM. Ms. Cindy Jacoby again served as the “host/hall monitor.”

After preliminary comments about rules and expectations for the day, the Commissioners reviewed the goals established last year. Those goals, divided into five general categories- Assets, Debt, Conservation, Waterfront, and Long-term- were gauged to be generally successful, but a few have yet to be fully resolved and remain works in progress. The only “red” failures (Marina and Golf Course debt resolution, tree ordinance revisions, and seawall completion) are more related to the timeliness of completion rather than the completion itself. With the exception of the tree ordinance revisions (completed last year, but later than desired), the remaining “red” should be successfully resolved within the next sixty days.

The Commissioners were then asked to share what they considered other recent successes. The responses were varied from the Commissioners. Commissioner Sturges highlighted the implementation of the revised noise ordinance (the effort for which generate significant community interest and many hours of City Commission and staff effort) and the City’s stormwater improvements at the waterfront. Commissioner Bean added as successes the clarification of e-bike usage in the City (specifically the Egans Creek Greenway) and the elimination of the City’s mask ordinance. Commissioner Ross reached a little further back than simply last year for successes, noting several conservation efforts, beach efforts, City facilities (Marina reconstruction, Peck Center restoration), and waterfront projects (seawall, riverwalk, Ash-Centre sidewalk, planned Alachua Street re-opening, and the support to realign the federal navigation channel). Vice Mayor Kreger applauded the City’s grant and other funding successes for beach walkovers and other conservation efforts. Mayor Lednovich cited the waterfront infrastructure efforts (seawall construction, Brett’s Waterway Café substructure review), the adjusted rollback rate tax levy, and the City Charter referendum.

Ms. Jacoby then brought attention to the format of the meeting, sharing that, unlike the past several goal-setting sessions that served more as “brain-storming” and then prioritizing goals, this session had pre-determined issues. The City Commissioners had been invited to place issues of interest on the agenda for discussion. The presented issues included wages, capital improvements, waterfront, Marina, and affordable housing.

The discussion regarding wages for City staff was essential due to the roiling impact of the Covid pandemic and other national factors (such as unemployment compensation and inflation) that trickle down (actually, flood) to the local level. Wages are rising throughout the labor market, leading to what is commonly referred to as the Great Resignation, and jobs are not being filled.

Ms. Denise Matson, City Human Resources Director, shared several insights and comments with the City Commissioners (and the dozens of City staff attending). She highlighted that the City’s pay structure had not been revised in fourteen years, that staff turnover for the past two years was approximately twenty percent and this year was nearing thirty percent, with the bulk of the turnover among the junior (less than five years’ tenure), and that several positions had been open for many weeks, attracting limited applicants.

After Ms. Matson shared what recent efforts had been implemented (raising the City’s minimum wage to $15/hour and adjusting the wages of critical staff), she presented the next steps to be proposed to the City Commission to address the labor and wage issues. These efforts, a one-year revision to one of the City’s collective bargaining agreements and the adoption of a revised Pay and Classification Plan, will be presented for consideration at the City Commission at the Feb 15 City Commission meeting. The efforts, as presented, drew preliminary unanimous City Commissioner support.

The City Commission had previously directed staff to prepare estimated costs for three general projects for consideration to be funded by a General Obligation (voter approved) bond (or loan). The three projects were continuing the seawall efforts, downtown renovations, and City facilities. Added for additional consideration were trails and sidewalks. The first three projects have an estimated cost (by City Engineer Charles George) of $20 million (the City facilities estimate is being currently validated by an assessment of key City facilities, expected to be completed next month).
Rather than committing solely to one project, the City Commissioners asked if parts of the various projects could be pulled out and combined into a broader effort for consideration. Staff will review and determine what components can be separated and completed as part of a general effort. The City Commissioners, in general, appeared to support continuing the effort to prepare for a bond referendum. Significantly more work needs to be completed before such a referendum can be placed on the August or November ballot.

Those topics were just the early morning discussions. I’ll finish my review of the day next week.

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Doug Mowery
Doug Mowery
5 months ago

At this point….raising wages is mandatory.

DAVID LOTT
DAVID LOTT
5 months ago

The issue with staff compensation and staffing levels needs to be evaluated from a more holistic perspective. Certainly, a salary market survey needs to be made and salary ranges adjusted appropriately, but salary is just one part of the overall compensation program offered by the City. How do components such as holidays, sick/vacation leave, pension programs, healthcare/life insurance coverage compare as well. I also believe that the staffing levels need to be examined. The current budget calls for the City to add 26.5 full-time equivalents over 2020 levels – a 11% increase; whereas by the City’s own figures, the population of the City only increased 3% during that same time. While much of this increase comes from the City taking over the operation of the golf course, how does the personnel costs compare under this new structure? Unfortunately, the City has changed its previous practice of making previous budgets available on its webpage but now have to be requested from the Finance Department. How has the personnel count increased since 2018 and prior years?

GERALD DECKER
GERALD DECKER
5 months ago

Since 2014, the city population has grown by 10.1%, while the city staff has grown by 21% and the revenue collected through ad-valorem taxes has increased by a significant 58.7%.

The most notable staff increases are in Parks and Recreation (35%), Planning (126%), Building (107%), and Stormwater (from 0.5 to 6.0 full-time equivalents). Note that public safety has only grown by 15%–well in line with our actual increase in population.

Millage-based revenue has gone from $9.68M to $15.4M, which, given the meager population increase means individual property taxes have risen significantly.

Have we overdone it a bit? Is it time for a real honest look at how our tax money is being spent?

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