By Faith Ross
February 14, 2022

Youth Soccer, a city complex near the airport and used by county and city youth.

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.

Flag Football at Central Park.

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.

0 0 votes
Article Rating

Share this story!

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

17 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Michael Carabetta
Michael Carabetta (@guest_63909)
7 months ago

Faith:

Who is or should be responsible within our city government to get our fair share of the County recreation funds? My experience is that it takes serious lobbying to get funds redirected back to the people that pay these taxes.

Also a second question – why does the City fund the Marina and Golf Course? Shouldn’t these two activities be funded 100% by the dues and fees that the users pay for their use?

Faith Ross
Faith Ross (@guest_63912)
7 months ago

Sometimes it takes awareness to encourage our City and County governments to start a strategic plan for getting funds redirected back to where they need to go. The City often thinks that it is not part of Nassau County, however, in general 38% of a City taxpayer’s bill goes to Nassau County. They have every right to expect some of that tax revenue to come back to them in services that are offered to the rest of Nassau County.

DAVID LOTT
DAVID LOTT (@guest_63915)
7 months ago

Michael, the City (and the Island as a whole) have always been the cash cow for Nassau County. But the City/Island only has 1 1/2 of the commissioners representing them on the 5-person Board. The other commissioners rub their hands in delight at the money coming in from the Island that they get to spend for their pet projects off island. The appointment of a representative from Callahan to the Amelia Island Tourist Development Council which receives all of its revenue from on-island lodging tax is so blatantly political it defies understanding – but then that is how county politics works.
As to the golf course and marina, yes they are enterprise funds and are supposed to pay their own way but for a variety of reasons, are unable to do so. Solutions have been sought for the last couple of decades with no success. The long term solution to the marina is a realignment of the docks to the north but that has a several million dollar price tag.

Bruce Smyk
Bruce Smyk (@guest_63919)
7 months ago
Reply to  DAVID LOTT

My recollection is that the golf course, as an enterprise fund, was very profitable prior to 2008. Instead of letting the fund accumulate profit, the City billed the course $100,000 per year as “accounting fees” back at least to the early 1990’s. The City dumped this money into the General Fund. Had these funds been allowed to accumulated in the hands of the golf course, it most likely wouldn’t have its present problems.
Second item – why not dissolve the City?

chris nickoloff
chris nickoloff (@guest_63923)
7 months ago
Reply to  Bruce Smyk

Why not dissolve the city? I counter, why not dissolve the county? Why? Because city services are far more superior to county services. As an example, how many times you see a county street sweeper out? I see a city sweeper 2x/wk on my street. Or even, petition to become city and county of Fernandina Beach. That way city residents won’t have to subsidize the county as it is currently. Until the county starts providing the city services equal to the percentage of taxes they receive from city citizens, the city should explore options to provide relief to themselves and their taxpayers.

DAVID LOTT
DAVID LOTT (@guest_63927)
7 months ago
Reply to  Bruce Smyk

Bruce, you are right about the transfer of funds. That was a common way to siphon off the “profits” of the enterprise fund to feed the General Fund under the argument that the enterprise fund was using the services of some of the General Fund departments (i.e. HR, Finance) and needed to be compensated. A valid argument although there never was any realistic cost accounting done to see how much of those services were really used. The City still does that today with the Utilities and Airport enterprise funds which are still profitable.
We have to take into account that the market conditions around golf courses has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. Overall, play (hence revenue) is down so courses are closing, funding is being cut so conditions deteriorate or the courses are being heavily subsidized by other departments.

As to your second question, why do you think that is a solution? Most residents believe there is a quantifiable value in having our own police/fire rescue, parks and recreation and utilities departments and are willing to pay a premium for that. As Faith notes, the County has long taken advantage of the City with not providing supporting funding for infrastructure costs for services used by non-city residents.

Bruce Smyk
Bruce Smyk (@guest_63932)
7 months ago
Reply to  DAVID LOTT

If the City is dissolved, the County could take over the golf course (and parks) and, theoretically, would have deeper pockets and usable equipment to help the course. The bonus is that the taxpayers would escape the incredible incompetence, incoherence and ineptitude of our City Commissioners dating back into last century.
Three questions for you. How much will the marina repairs ultimately cost and how much has been spent? Is the proposed bond issue being used to recoup the money previously spent/wasted and swept under the carpet? What happened to the Federal Covid funds to the City?

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_63934)
7 months ago
Reply to  Bruce Smyk

Do you live in the City or County? I live in the City and actually think our City Commission is competent, coherent, and diligent – especially in light of what’s happening in the County..

Michael Carabetta
Michael Carabetta (@guest_63925)
7 months ago
Reply to  DAVID LOTT

How much would the daily golf fee need to be increased to fully recover the cost of the course. I am not a golfer but it looks like the municipal rates are 1/2 the rates of nearby courses. I suspect a $5 or $10 increase would not affect the number of golfers. I got to believe the pro shop collected enough data to figure this out (visitor versus resident, etc).

DAVID LOTT
DAVID LOTT (@guest_63926)
7 months ago

Michael, that you are not a golfer is a key component to understanding why your idea won’t work. The price a golfer is willing to pay to play a course is directly tied to how they view the condition of the golf course and their playing experience. Many golfers are willing to pay $100+ for a round of golf on a course that is in excellent condition as far as the tee boxes, fairways, bunkers and greens. The FBGC generally gets a “fair to poor” condition rating, hence the lower fees. Up until the early 2000s, the FBGC was essentially the only game in town, but now there is strong competition from better maintained courses both on and off the island. Yes, you could raise the rates but then many players would probably say that if they were going to pay a rate comparable to say Amelia River, they would rather play the Amelia River course. Think of going to pick out a rental car and if a Toyota Corolla was priced at the same daily rate as a Toyota Camry, which one are you going to select?

Michael Carabetta
Michael Carabetta (@guest_63928)
7 months ago
Reply to  DAVID LOTT

If there are better golfing alternatives and you can’t break even why not shut the course down? Alternatively, I keep looking at the property and wonder why you could not reduce the course to 18 holes. Then take the 9 holes closest to the airport and let a company that does concerts build a world class concert pavilion with parking and access from Amelia Island Parkway. the Island needs this kind of venue. Use the rent from this land to stabilize the remaining 18 holes.

Last edited 7 months ago by Michael Carabetta
Joe Blanchard
Joe Blanchard (@guest_63916)
7 months ago

The City and County have had a love hate relationship for many years. At one time the County offered to install a phone system in the City at no cost but the City turned them down. It later cost the City over 200K for the same system. As a member of the Marina Advisory Board, I approached the County about financially helping fund the marina. When I mentioned this revenue source to the City, they were adamantly against it. It has always amazed me that these two government units operate the way they do.

Faith Ross
Faith Ross (@guest_63917)
7 months ago
Reply to  Joe Blanchard

Presently, playground equipment at Central Park needs to be replaced. Old equipment fell apart. Can’t use Impact Fees for a replacement ($100,000). Do we fund a Marina or playground equipment? Can’t do both, and really can’t afford to do either one without taking the money from an emergency fund.

DAVID LOTT
DAVID LOTT (@guest_63918)
7 months ago
Reply to  Joe Blanchard

Joe, my recollection about sharing the phone system is a bit different than yours as far as being “free”. My recollection is that the City would still be paying for the new equipment (handsets, etc.) that would be required as well as a share of the ongoing maintenance fees. I remember one of the big concerns was the reliability issue. You are right there has been this difficult relationship that probably reached its lowest point when the City successfully fought the county’s efforts to move all of their governmental offices to Yulee. They love the money coming from the City but don’t want to send any of it back. They seem to forget that city residents are also county residents.

Lowell Hall
Lowell Hall (@guest_63910)
7 months ago

The implementation of the tourist development tax, 40 years ago, was to build, through regional, national and international marketing a strong high-end tourism revenue base to take the tax burden off the island and off island taxpayer that is created by the recreational use amenity demands of a growing resident and visitor base. Its past time to sunset, or by voter petition, abolish the state legislated tourist tax and replace it with a city of Fernandina and Nassau county hotel, motel, food and beverage tax, under the rule of local government.
The goose has laid the golden egg it’s time to scramble it.

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_63935)
7 months ago
Reply to  Lowell Hall

Well said, Lowell.

Danny K Ferreira
Danny K Ferreira (@guest_63921)
7 months ago

ONE MUNICIPALITY GOVERNMENT: I believe we should consolidate the entire island. No part excluded or left out. A constitutional municipality to self-govern.

17
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x