Fernandina Beach City Commissioners are cutting funding for sidewalks, beach walkovers and paving streets, but will consider raising their salaries by 50% according to a draft of the proposed 2023-24 city budget.
The city commission salary line item for 2022-23 is $60,000 ($12,000 annually per commissioner). That line item for the proposed 2023-24 budget is $90,000, a 50% hike in pay ($18,000 annually per commissioner).
The proposed 2023-24 budget could be discussed next Tuesday at a special city commission meeting to set the tentative millage rate to pay for operating expenses next year. Additional budget workshops are scheduled for Aug. 2 and Aug. 15.
Interim City Manager Charlie George said he put the increase in the proposed budget after a discussion last September about commissioner salaries. “I put it in, no one asked me to do it. I think city commissioners are underpaid,” George said. “When you look at the salaries of county commissioners and OHPA commissioners, our commissioners deserve more.”
Vice Mayor David Sturges vowed to raise city commissioner salaries during a Sept. 6, 2022 city commission budget workshop when city health insurance coverage for commissioners was taken away because commissioners are part-time employees and therefore not eligible under city compensation rules.
Sturges said commissioner salaries should be reviewed to offset the loss of health care and the amount of time required to serve as a commissioner. “Nobody wants to talk about stripping health insurance from our city commissioners,” Sturges said. “With that health insurance, roughly a $10,000 benefit, with the salary, we get paid $22,000 a year. I think it’s a travesty that we are stripping this position down to $12,000. It’s going to make it to where only wealthy, affluent people, who are retirees, will have the ability to hold this position with no problems.”
Commissioner Darron Ayscue said, “When asked during the campaign about commissioner’s salaries my response was I was not seeking office for monetary reasons. That core belief still holds true. Compensation is not a factor for me serving as commissioner.”
Commissioner Chip Ross said, “I was not aware of this until this morning. I discovered this going through the line item proposed budget. If the commission wants to vote for a salary increase it should be for future commissions, not this commission — especially when going to a budget with the rollback property tax rate.This $30,000 should be used for bike trails or sidewalks, not on city commissioners.”
Commissioners Bradley Bean and James Antun have not responded to invitations to comment.
At Tuesday’s city commission workshop, commissioners were made aware of $1.3 million in cuts to capital improvement projects including $690,000 for the Peck Center, $150,000 in street resurfacing, $60,000 for sidewalks/curbs, $40,000 for the skate park, $130,000 for MLK Rec Center and $270,000 for the lighthouse renovation.