By Gerald Decker
June 22, 2022
There is that danger for many, as local property taxes continue to rise year after year, creating a real financial burden for many residents, with some actually forced to move. Paying for the wear-and-tear caused by a tsunami of tourists, as well as the exploding cost of government, is becoming an unreasonable burden. It is time for local politicians to fully understand and respect the taxpayers who quietly, peacefully, and consistently pay for government services.
Here are some key elements that define the profile of our small resort town and its’ citizens:
- Crime rates are 10% lower than Florida average.
- Cost of living is 9% higher than Florida average.
- Real estate prices are 65% higher than Florida average.
- Median income is $64,000.
- Median age is 57 years.
- Persons 65 years and over—30% and rising.
What emerges is a clear picture of the real taxpayers in this small city by the sea. Largely people who are nearing the end of their working life or have moved here after having lived their younger years in another part of the country, and who are either retired, living on a limited income, or semi-retired, supplementing their retirement with full or part-time work. Many are also retired military—thank you.
These citizens are drawn here by the magic of Florida, and the charm of Fernandina Beach, to enjoy a pleasant, peaceful, and rich life away from the rush and stress of raising a family and working long hours to earn a living—simply seeking a little bit of Paradise.
Not activists, they simply expect their local government to provide essential services and safety. They are willing to pay their fair share for those services, and will not complain even when the cost of those services keeps rising year after year—but who speak quietly about the ever-increasing burden, and no clear plan for lessening it. They do not descend on City Hall demanding change or else—some call them the silent majority—and are only heard on election days.
While a few have owned their home for 25, 30 years or more, many have not, and are being routinely challenged to pay large city and county property tax bills. For them, especially those on a limited income, a $4,000 or $5,000 or even higher tax bill represents a significant annual expense—for someone having a median income of $64,000 that is almost 10%–a major impact on their quality of life! A sort of “mortgage” that never gets paid off and goes up without end!
Property tax in Fernandina has risen significantly over the last 13 years. A home appraised at $287,000 in 2009 has seen this tax increase by over 55%, even with the protection provided by the Homestead Exemption and the annual assessment cap. The time is near when families will say “I cannot afford this”. Anger is beginning to develop over this attitude that local government cannot reduce spending in any significant way.
For how long, City Commissioners, will you try our patience? When will you realize you are making this Paradise an enclave only affordable by wealthy outsiders? It is time, as we emerge from the Great Pandemic, to take action and bring property tax under control—find other sources of revenue to help carry the burden of being a Paradise.
Now more than ever, local government managers and politicians need to clearly understand the citizens they serve, their resources, their hopes, and their dreams for a fulfilling life on this beautiful barrier island. Keep Fernandina Beach a unique historic community for everyone—not just a privileged few. It can be done, it must be done.
Gerald “Jerry” Decker came to Fernandina Beach 15 years ago from Fairfax, VA. A Vietnam Veteran, Jerry enjoyed a prosperous career as a technology executive for several Fortune 500 companies and started his own business. He served as chairman of the City of Fernandina Beach Marina Advisory Board. According to Jerry, “I offer this opinion only as a concerned taxpayer, and do not represent any activist political group (Common Sense, Conserve Amelia, etc.)”