Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
May 26, 2021
The Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) traveled to Yulee to meet in joint session with the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) on May 25, 2021 as the Joint Local Planning Agency (JLPA). This was the first meeting of its kind since March 2019.
If one word could characterize the meeting, it would be cordiality. Members of both governing boards stressed their desire for collegiality and cooperation in confronting the many issues facing both the City and the County as a result of growth.
While the meeting agenda listed specific areas of concern that would be raised by the City, the County had provided only a general statement to indicate that County Manager Taco Pope would discuss items of concern to the County.
Pope led off the meeting with an impressive slide presentation covering many topics that had previously been shared with the BOCC, including an overview of population growth that revealed that Nassau County is the 6th fastest growing county in Florida, with a growth rate by 2030 that will be twice as high as the state overall. Current population is estimated at 89,258. By 2025 it is estimated that County population will be 108,000, meaning that Nassau County will no longer be considered as a small county for purposes of state regulation and funding.
Pope presented several slides with renderings and plans for new County parks and recreation facilities to accommodate the needs of a growing population. Most of the plans center on the physical area between I-95 and the Shave Bridge, although there are plans underway for a Westside Regional Park. None of the plans shown provided either funding or new facilities within the limits of the City of Fernandina Beach.
Other areas covered during Pope’s presentation included plans for land conservation; a 20-year pavement management plan for the County’s 346 miles of paved roads (including 14.2 miles in the City of Fernandina Beach); developing a 15-year financial plan and a 5-year Capital Improvement Plan.
With respect to developing a unified theme for branding Nassau County and the City beaches, Pope stressed that the intent is to preserve the unique character of individual locations. The plan proposes to begin with Seaside Park.
Pope ended his lengthy, detailed presentation with a discussion of the Nassau Florida Prosperity Plan: Prosper Nassau. This plan will involve investing funds from the American Rescue Plan into existing resources to advance the economic well being of the County and its residents.
In addressing items of City concern, Pope announced that at the previous evening’s BOCC meeting, the County had approved $49,000 for beach cleaning. He also reinforced the County’s commitment to continue working with the City on an interlocal agreement for a “Fernandina Beach Planning Area,” that would cover development and permitting issues for those county areas contiguous to the City and destined for incorporation into the city.
Pope said that the previous BOCC had agreed to maintain the FY2019-20 millage rate in the FY2020-21 Budget, to assist funding many of the projects relating to overdue maintenance and growth. He indicated that County staff would be proposing a Budget for FY2021-22 that would also maintain that millage rate. County Commissioner John Martin cautioned that the BOCC was not at the point that the were agreeing to any millage rate for the upcoming fiscal year.
Fernandina Beach Vice Mayor Kreger cited examples of cooperative efforts between the City and the County that promise to yield positive results, specifically the Amelia Island Beach Habitat Conservation Plan, supported by the Florida Wildlife & Conservation Commission (FWC). Kreger also noted that with respect to initiatives such as the Amelia Island Beachfront Branding Harmonization & Visitor Enhancement, the City needs to be involved early on as this relates to beaches in the City.
City Commissioner Bradley Bean suggested that in light of the heavy use of City recreation facilities and programs, the two governments should work together to determine the best and most equitable means for meeting the recreation needs of local citizens and tourists. Pope agreed that closer examination of program offerings could be beneficial. He also suggested that he and City Manager Dale Martin might pay a joint visit to the North Florida Transportation Planning Office to explore funding opportunities for the final leg of the Amelia Island Trail between SR 200 (8th Street) and the Amelia River front.
Fernandina Beach Mayor Mike Lednovich applauded the County on its long range planning to meet recreation needs. But he pointed out that until that construction can be completed, County residents continue to rely on City programs and facilities. In some cases, 65 percent of program participants are County residents. He renewed the City’s request for $500K to help with maintenance and capital needs of facilities. He said that without financial consideration from the County during the upcoming budget cycle, the City will have difficulty maintaining the infrastructure. Lednovich said that the only two sources of assistance were the County or increased user fees for non-City residents. The County declined to offer financial assistance; Pope suggested increasing user fees.
City Commissioner Chip Ross asked whether the County would agree to look at the possibility of modifying the MSTU for beach renourishment (“sand tax”) to allow some of the money in the fund to be used for beach infrastructure improvements such as beach accesses. County Commissioners appeared willing to consider this. County Attorney Mike Mullin agreed to look at the existing agreement to see whether such expenditures would be consistent with the legislation that created the MSTU.
The meeting concluded on a friendly note with mutually exchanged banter and expressions of collegiality, along with a willingness to continue meeting.