By Dale Martin
April 1, 2022
During the current series of Citizens Academy sessions, the participants are becoming more aware of the fiscal challenges of City operations. Several discussions have revolved around the need to develop alternative sources of revenue for the City. A few interesting ideas have been proposed.
A potential revenue source is related to the community’s passion for trees. The conservation of land and the preservation of trees is a spirited effort. To capitalize on the desire to maintain a strong tree canopy, perhaps trees should be taxed- lots of trees, lots of revenue. Perhaps a simple tax of $100 per tree (of a minimum appropriate size) on each privately-owned parcel. The revenue generated can, in turn, be restricted for further land conservation and preservation purposes.
If the use of such a “tax” is not permissible under state statute due to (increasing) restrictions on home rule, the tree tax could be re-branded as a “tree fee.” Unlike taxes, fees are considered voluntary. The tree fee could be made “voluntary” by offering property owners, from the date of adoption of the fee, a one-year grace period to remove any and all trees from their property without restriction or permits. That provision would enable property owners to reduce the fee to an acceptable level: if a property owner wished to not pay a fee, simply clear cut the property; if the property owner desired a wooded parcel, the property owner can leave the parcel unscathed and pay the fee accordingly.
If the fee were set at $100 for every tree, the fee would generate $100,000 for every 1,000 trees retained. With the number of trees within the City limits, the total revenue would likely approach $1,000,000. For consistency throughout the island, I have shared this concept with Nassau County officials, too.
In contrast to the strong desire for trees, it is becoming increasing evident that island residents are not happy with the increasing amounts of traffic, especially downtown, where the demand for convenient parking continues to grow. Another potential source of revenue (that has been implemented in several major cities) is a congestion fee (again, voluntary, not a tax).
A congestion fee for downtown would be charged on a per-vehicle basis. If a vehicle owner wishes to drive downtown, the vehicle driven would have to display a previously purchased placard on the passenger windshield. Without such a visible placard, the driver/vehicle would be subject to a significant fine within the congestion zone.
The defined congestion area could be limited to what is traditionally considered downtown (Front Street to 8th Street, Ash Street to Alachua Street, as well as the riverfront parking lots). Since the ultimate intent is to reduce or even eliminate vehicular traffic downtown (which would provide a further “green” benefit of eliminating emissions in a typically heavy pedestrian environment), the congestion fee would be substantial: $500 annually per vehicle and a $1,000 fine for operating a vehicle within the congestion zone without a placard. The fees and fines for out-of-state vehicles would be double. The congestion fee could address a myriad of challenges: too much traffic, limited parking, and additional revenue. If successful downtown, the designated congestion area could be expanded (imagine the implementation of a congestion fee around schools!).
A third source of potential revenue is still somewhat in the developmental stages. Facebook has become, to the pleasure of some and the chagrin of others, widely popular. It has been speculated that due to this popularity, that Facebook, in the process of being rebranded as “Meta,” will transition from an advertiser-based platform (revenues generated by “clicks” on advertisements for products and services) to a subscription-based platform.
Several media sources have speculated that when this subscription model is implemented, Facebook users will be required to link a credit or debit card or a bank account to their Facebook account. Facebook users will then be charged a nominal fee for each post to the social media platform (tripled if the posted information can be demonstrated as false or fake). In part associated with the Facebook corporate philosophy to influence governmental activity and pursue policy initiatives, local governments will be provided a portion of the revenue generated by charges related to Facebook postings. The social media subscription model is currently being reviewed by the Department of Commerce, but approval and implementation are expected by the beginning of the next calendar year. This program could be substantially lucrative to the City (and governments throughout the country).
Welcome to April. Have a great weekend.