By Faith Ross
February 14, 2022
Recently, a movie theatre on the island closed. Some became concerned that another child-friendly activity was being lost, and that the island was transitioning into a retirement community. For those who have not looked around recently, the island has been transitioning toward an older population for several years. The most recent 2020 Census data reports the City’s population over the age of 65 has risen from 20 to 34%. For Nassau County, this is beneficial for its tax base. Most balanced tax bases require an older taxpayer to balance the books. Older households still pay School taxes, generally require little service from the Police Department and judicial system (less crime and incarceration) and tend to supply volunteer work to benefit the community. They also provide many high paying service jobs with the use of medical services, medical technicians, plumbers, electricians, HVAC services, and keep the real estate market busy with transitional housing.
However, despite a precipitous drop in the number of children, the City’s population, with its businesses, continues to offer numerous activities for children and young adults. In only 12 square miles, the City works hard to pack 3 miniature golf courses, duck pins, summer camps, day care, swim lessons, tennis lessons, 2 County youth swim teams, skatepark, 2 restaurants with play equipment, 5 parks with diverse play equipment, lighted soccer, football and baseball fields, lacrosse and 6 miles of beach. Additional extensive program offerings are continually published in the Recreation Roundup section of the local newspaper. Amazingly, they are ALL City offerings. None of it is funded by the County or the TDC’s Bed Tax, not a dime.
According to the 2020 Census, what is even more interesting is that half of the City’s households survive on less than $64,000 per year, while half of the County households take home over $70,000 (Median Household Income, 2020 Census). The City has 12.5% of its population living at the Poverty Level (County 9%). It’s obviously not the Plantation and its environs.
If County Commissioners, through the TDC (Tourist Development Council) wish the City to maintain and finance MORE programs and recreation facilities for tourism, please note that City residents and their businesses pay County taxes. City taxpayers, as County taxpayers, fund almost a quarter of the recreational funding for the entire County. Despite a 12.5% poverty level and a lower Median Household Income, none of the City’s tax revenue paid to the County returns for recreation. Generous City/County taxpayers also fund 22% of Nassau County’s budgeted funding of non-profits, then they again fund more nonprofits in their own City budget.
The TDC (Tourist Development Council) pays to clean both City and County beaches. However, the Nassau County Commissioners, through the TDC, are demanding 5-star parks and recreation facilities from City taxpayers. Half of the TDC’s Bed Tax revenue is City generated. But only the Nassau County Board of Commissioners are permitted to vote on how the City’s Bed Tax money is spent. We all know where the money ISN’T going for those 5-star requested amenities.
Though at least half of the City’s residents may be the least able to meet TDC and County Commissioners’ financial demands, the City taxpayers graciously place equipment, parkland, parking, and an extensive array of recreational services out for all to use. Nassau County residents, tourists and home-schooling parents heavily utilize the City’s recreational areas, mostly without cost and no investment.
Many City residents may not be rich, some in poverty. But we do offer many kid-friendly activities and facilities, and still manage to fund 22% of the County’s recreation budget without getting a dime back. I guess it’s too much to ask for a proportional return of City recreation money from the County recreation budget for more kid-friendly activities. We pay for it. It’s sad that generosity continues to only remain inside the City’s limits.
Editor’s Note: Faith Ross serves on the Fernandina Beach Parks & Recreation Advisory Board. She is married to Fernandina Beach City Commissioner Chip Ross.