By Chip Ross
Steve Nicklas writes an opinion column called “Steve’s Marketplace” for the Amelia Island Living eMagazine. The columns routinely spew a litany of complaints and recommendations concerning Fernandina Beach finances and government.
Mr. Nicklas lives on Amelia Island but not in the city of Fernandina Beach. He does not attend city commission meetings or workshops or meetings of the various city boards or advisory committees. In the last five years, I have never seen him at a public city budget meeting.
I assume he uses the city parks, beaches, roads, and parking lots. Yet he pays no taxes to the city of Fernandina Beach. He uses all these services for free, yet complains that they cost too much and that the city provides inadequate services. He bitterly complains about the city building department fees but lives outside the city limits.
In his most recent column, he advises the city to institute a hiring freeze to save money. Currently, the city is trying to hire ocean and pool lifeguards, park workers to maintain the parks, a police officer and a firefighter/EMT. No advice is offered on how to maintain these services without the workers who provide them.
He admonishes the city for funding a new fire station, a new ladder truck, the repair of the Peck Center, and opening the Alachua Street rail crossing. The current fire station is substandard, and the current ladder truck spends more time in the repair shop than in service. The state funded the repair of the historic Peck Center to prevent it from collapsing. The opening of Alachua Street has been proposed and promised for more than 20 years to improve traffic flow and walkability.
Nicklas advocates outsourcing “duplicative city services to the county” to save money. The city has five police officers on duty every night. The county has one sheriff’s deputy assigned to the entire island at night. Often that county deputy goes over the bridge to answer calls in Yulee. The city fire stations, both existing and new, are closer to Mr. Nicklas’ home than the county fire station. If Mr. Nicklas dials 911 at night, who do you think is going to respond?
He proposes a “fresh idea:” “Shrink the city’s government and its accompanying $120 million budget (it’s something astronomical like that,)” he says.
Mr. Nicklas is the “Managing Partner of Nicklas Wealth Management” and has written a book titled “All About Money.” Yet he is unable to quote the city budget amount accurately. The 2023 general fund budget was $26,066,932 – 48.9% of that money funds public safety (police, fire, EMS), 18.1% funds City Parks and Recreation (which includes caring for the beaches) and 7.3% for transportation (repair of streets and sidewalks and maintaining traffic signals and utilities for streetlights).
Despite the fact that Mr. Nicklas is able to use all those services for free, he advocates “shrinking” those services. He labels the city public safety services, parks, recreation programs and sidewalks and road maintenance a “legacy of excess.” He advocates cutting back and laying off the city workers who provide and maintain these services.
Recently Mr. Nicklas made a public records request asking seven questions about the city finances. The Florida Public Records laws require the city to respond with any document that is responsive to the request. There is no requirement to answer any questions about the financial records.
Within six working days, the city clerk’s office provided a copy of the latest Annual Comprehensive Financial Report and informed him specifically on which pages the information answering his questions was available.
If Mr. Nicklas had gone to the city website, instead of filing a public records request, he could have easily found all the documents that answered his questions in less than 30 minutes. Undeterred, Mr. Nicklas complained that it took “seven days to get a response,” the records provided were “confusing,” “long winded” and “produced by a company paid by the city.”
Mr. Nicklas advertises himself as a financial planner with “more than 28 years in the financial services industry.” Yet Mr. Nicklas finds the city audit, prepared by an independent major accounting firm, “long winded” and “confusing.”
Mr. Nicklas states, “Meanwhile the city is overrun with unnecessary assets, to the tune of $100 million in value. By the way, these don’t generate tax revenues.” No mention is made as to which assets are “unnecessary.”
The $100 million in assets include the parks, roads, beach accesses, sewer and water utilities and all the land and structures that support the city services. Mr. Nicklas is correct. These assets do not generate tax revenue. Part of the dilemma facing the city is that people like Mr. Nicklas complain about inadequate services, but pay nothing to fund them.
Finally, Mr. Nicklas opines, “Doing more with less is an enterprising approach.” Mr. Nicklas wants city workers to put in longer hours with fewer resources at the same or lower pay. This approach becomes problematic when the city cannot retain current workers or hire new workers to fill essential jobs at current pay levels.
If we want to pay lower taxes, then we need to figure out how to “cut more and do with less” instead of Mr. Nicklas’s message of “more with less.” Mr. Nicklas is silent on what services he is willing to curtail or eliminate, to decrease taxes.
Mr. Nicklas ends his most recent column by commenting on the hiring of a new city manager by stating, “How about hiring someone locally and saving that $100,000? It can be couched as an obligation to local residents.”
Since Mr. Nicklas has written multiple opinion pieces on how to competently run the city, why not consider hiring him? He lives locally, just not in the city.
If he did get the job, the City Charter would require him to live in the city. He would then help pay for the services he now uses for free. Wouldn’t that be lovely?
Mr. Ross is in his second term as a Fernandina Beach City Council member. He is a retired physician.
Invest your money, time, or good ideas with Nicklas at your own risk.
About time somebody took this bloviating blowhard to task. And he doesn’t even live in the city he complains endlessly about? Perfect!
Or, as Dave Scott likes to ask: “Where do you live?”
Speaking of bloviating blowhards, right!
Very informative article and right on point…maybe Mr. Nicklas should put his money where his mouth is and actually DO something instead of constantly criticizing and complaining…whining doesn’t do much.
It is to scream from the sidelines, rather than get out an execute the plays. Mr. Nicklas is the former and Mr. Ross is the latter.
Nicklas is in cahoots with Bean to hire an unqualified guy from Vermont, his neighbor, to be the next City Manager. The same guy is being pushed by the CDF. Maybe Nicklas is a member of that group? It would make sense.
On point. It is tiresome to hear non-city residents complain about city amenities, ie beach access and parking, needing more pickleball courts, etc., which city taxpayers subsidize. Non-city residents should be charged a fee to use our amenities and those fees should be applied to maintenance and improvements of those amenities. That should include, at minimum, beach parking (there, I said it!).
You wouldn’t believe the amount of unincorporated Nassau County residents that live on the island that complain to the city’s Parks and Rec Department about needing more pickleball courts. Talk about entitled.
Excellent, speaking truth to purposeful ignorance. Mr. Nicklaus should stick to CD’d and bonds.
Front end load mutual funds (typically 5% straight off the top to the guy selling it) are preferred by most advisors……..and retirement IRA money sheltered from capital gains? Those are fertile ground for churning (more fees) without generating a “red flag” to the unsuspecting client by getting hit with a surprise tax bill.
Obama era “fiduciary rules” were never implemented to the relief of brokers everywhere. Too bad, because those were good rules to protect folks in their retirement years from IRA abuse by many planners/brokers.
My blood pressure rises every time i read one of Steve Nicklas’ columns. I keep hoping the News Leader will come to their senses and fire him. He is smug and many of his opinions are asinine. Knocke, Scott, and Nicklas are the Three Stooges who are trying to take over Fernandina Beach and install an ultraconservative government.
I live in the city and have no problem paying taxes to the city but wish I didn’t have to pay county taxes since I really only get the library with those taxes. If I didn’t have to pay county I would gladly pay more to the city where I do get resources for my taxes.
Mr Nicklas’ column was one reason I dropped my subscription to the News-Leader. I don’t understand why they allow him to continue his repetitive raves.
Regarding Chip Ross’s commentary on Steve Nicklas, I can only say
Perhaps as a wealth management specialist – none of whom live on limited incomes – he might gift the city fund for some of the costs of the search for a new manager! Ignorance is bliss!
I went to one of his seminars. Please don’t waste your time. The paper would do us all a favor if they stop printing his articles
Or you can choose to just not read them!
Good article. Thanks for posting.
Nicklas is a detriment to our community
Instead of exclusively publishing controversial stories, why not inform your readers about the upcoming Shrimp Festival and other events? No, I do not live in the city limits, but my money is as green as anyone else’s.
AMEN!!! I was shocked to finally read a non-(Transsexual/Gay Pride/Drag Queen) article. But as Mr. Mansfield writes … the Observer seems fixated on controversial topics. A nice mix of both would be nice.
Do gay peopled and the mention of them offend you?
Good to see Chip Ross and Dave Scott on the same page about an issue. If you are NOT a City resident…..if you don’t pay City taxes…..then you have no vote at the polls and I really don’t want to hear your opinion! Thankfully, Dave flags a lot of commentators for their non-residency (and takes undeserved hits for it at times).
Thanks Chip for telling us what Nicklas would never reveal about his residency status…….another coattail rider on our taxes with a lot of opinions.
I don’t live in the City but my family does use and enjoy many of its services. No complaints and we would gladly pay my share through parking and use fees. For the meantime, I’ll just have to leave it at sending a big thanks to Dave Scott. It gives me great pleasure to enjoy the many benefits your tax dollars are providing to me and my family.
Thank you Chip Ross for exposing Steve Nicklaus and his rantings. His columns and writings are so hypocritical. He wants you to think he believes in free speech but only if you agree with his ideology. He says yes to parental rights concerning books in school but not parental rights when it comes to what’s best for a LGBQT+ child. He says only a person born locally (ie. the current mayor) can actually represent the people yet we have a diverse population from all over the world.
Steve Nicklaus has been been just downright mean and nasty in his past columns. He once said Fernandina Beach has always been a welcoming place. You would never know it by reading his columns.
Don’t wanna listen to your negativity
Why don’t you go volunteer in the community
he does a great job of offering free services for the Council on aging And other places
Maybe it is time for the Unincorporated parts of the Island to pony up and be incorporated into the city of Fernandina Beach. They use the services, they voice their opinions…
This has been my position for quite some time. It’s good common sense and only fair for all island residents to be FB taxpayers to support the services all receive.
Why would they want to? They get all the perks of living in the city without having to pay. The city needs to make being a city resident more desirable.
You want to know why the parks are looking so bad? Let’s talk about the terrible hire of the Parks and Recreation Director last September. She came in with guns a blazing, she’s a condescending bully, she is wreaking havoc, and NO ONE is watching. She has fired employees who’ve been there for years, written people up for the most ridiculous reasons, and put people on administrative leave while she ‘investigates’ them. Who uses the term ‘investigate’ for their own employees? There were 12 Parks crew employees who were taking care of the mowing, weeding, blowing courts and sidewalks, fixing beach accesses, ball fields, etc. and now there are 6 left. All of them quit to go to other City departments or to other employers outside of the city. She had a full crew, who were already living in the area, and she’s claiming that she can’t fill positions due to the cost of living. She can’t fill the positions because no one with any sense would ever apply for these jobs. She had to hire someone to work on the weekends because she wanted her fulltime staff to work for straight pay on the weekends. She’s also giving comp time, instead of overtime pay, to some fulltime employees; comp time doesn’t pay the bills! Now she’s opened the facility 7 days a week, with very limited staff, who she is stretching to the point where they’re beyond unhappy (and likely the next ones to quit).
I agree with you there she’s a bully
the old administration was really great
As always Chip thanks for speaking your mind. You know I appreciate the hard work and dedication you have for finding and sharing information.
To that point I do have several issues about the comments and analysis.
First I am very much against personal attacks. I imagine Steve just like you want what’s best for our community and all that live in it. You just come about it differently.
I also appreciate when someone points out what they see as abusues and mismanagement that adversely effects their fellow citizens no matter where they live. Otherwise reason would be that we never talk or intervene about problems outside FB.
The fact that Steve lives in the county should not prevent him from speaking out on issues that are relevant to Fernandina Beach which is in the county as well. Otherwise citizens of Fernandina Beach would be muzzled from speaking about issues within the county. Most of us pay county taxes. I’m sure I pay more than most. Some people in this city pay little or close to no taxes. Their voices are just as important as mine even if I am responsible for a higher amount of money being put into the coffers of the city and the county. Fernandina Beach is in the county. I for one think we get a very short end of the stick when it comes to resources spent in the county but that’s another subject.
As for the budget. I appreciate the information you provided. Based on your calculation after paying for the needed services of police fire EMS roads beaches parks erc…there is an additional $6,500,000. Can you educate us on where that money is spent?
I also believe you have a straw man argument about public safety if it was outsourced to the county. You make it seem like if we eliminate our police force we’d only have one county officer here at night. We would obviously use the money we didn’t pay on our own police and contracted out with the county to provide the service. I’m not saying or advocating we do this but your argument assumes we would not outsouece this to the county and I know you know better. The argument isn’t whether we would have the service. The argument should be would we have the same or better service for less money. That’s an analysis that should be done. Imho
Bad things happen when good people look the other way because the abuse isn’t directed at them personally.
Again Chip thanks for the information and your commentary even if I disagree with some of your conclusions. Open debate without personal attacks is how we will move our community forward.
Every single candidate that was running for County Commission ran on consolidating police and fire services. Every singe one. Despite the fact that NONE of them live in the City. To change such services would require a charter amendment by referendum.
Every tax payer in the City also pays County taxes. The level of service that we get in the City from our Police and Fire far exceeds what would be gained from consolidation AND erodes the services provided by the City.
Under Hurley’s leadership, FBPD ran under a very different model than the NCSO leadership and the county needs are very different than those in the City.
I never complain about my City taxes as I see them at work every single day. I see very little in return for my County dollars.
The county won’t even pay for the street lights near the schools even though our county dollars pay them.
This City has subsidized parks and recreation for the the County FOREVER!! Now, with all the growth in the unincorporated parts of they County, they are building parks like crazy…everywhere but the Island and District 1. Why is that?
Our Mayor is about to spend $400K per year to keep soccer fields Why on earth is the county not looking for solutions to that problem. 30 % of the kids who play there are City Kids. 100% of them are County kids. Yet there’s nothing in their 10 year plan.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and information.
And no reason to be sorry. I agree with you as I said I believe property owning residences of Fernandina Beach which I am one get the short end of the stick when it comes to county resources versus what we pay for them.
Sometimes you get what you pay for. Often in government spending you just pay for things we don’t get proportional benefit for.
If you have a cost benefit analysis you spoke of on consolidating of the police and fire with the county I would love to see it.
Thanks in advance.
Last time I checked residents within the city limits are also residents of Nassau County and pay county taxes so why would they be prohibited from speaking on county issues?
Thank you for sticking up for Steve he’s a good person who wants the best for Fernandina
He is a seriously flawed person with disgusting beliefs.
Note the personal attacks by Steve Nicklas in today’s News-Leader. Pretty much routine in his columns.
One side of the street is City. The other County. Nicklas does not live in the City.
I live on Dunewood Place, in the city limits. Steve lives across the street from me…not in the city. The boundary runs down the center of the street.
Condolences on your living situation. Almost as bad as if you had to look across the street and see that fool David Scott every day. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to have someone as ugly as that for a neighbor.
Good article Mr Ross
Thanks for telling it like it is, Chip. I find Mr. Nicklas’s analyses very superficial and basically parroting old and disproven Republican talking points, especially about supply side (i.e., free market, voodoo, neoliberal, neoconservative, Reagan-, etc.) economics. Also, his sycophantic love for DeSantis is misguided and adolescent. The News-Leader is diminished in intellectual discourse every time they publish one of Mr. Nicklas’s articles.
Agree Mark; Nicklas needs to stick to financial, market based info rather enter into city/county discourse. I’ve lived here 22 years have yet to read a article of value.
Thank you, Commissioner Ross! We’ve been on opposite sides of the fence on many issues, but you are spot on with this. If the citizens of the city of Fernandina Beach took more of an interest in what’s going in in their city, with their tax dollars, there would be mayhem in the streets! The complete waste of our dollars is blinding, and it is allowed to continue. There is always talk about fewer staff so that we could save funds there but if many of the employees of our city were at their desks/jobs for the hours they are paid and doing their jobs for the money they are paid, we wouldn’t be in such a bind! The thousands and thousands of dollars that are paid out to employees doing as they please, some even double dipping, and not doing what they were hired for is mind boggling. Please people, wake up and see where your tax dollars are going! We are paying through the nose for those who are not doing their jobs!
It has been said that many small steps make the mile.
I read with interest some comments as to Police and Fire protection. $1million to replace a “fire” truck?. xxx$$$ million to replace an “outdated” firehouse”? It’s a garage to house firetrucks than needed a woman’s bathroom because we now have women firefighters Folks. Hummmm just seems the existing firehouse at the end of First Ave was a llitle too far from Crane Island for the insurance adjusters…..Sending fire trucks with an ambulance is just plain p.o.r.k. Getting a year end report of “calls responded to” just is pure BS. A residential “difficulty breathing” ambulance request does not need a fleet response. Infact major cities across the US have instituted sending a CAR with paramedics before rolling out $1 million dollar fire trucks for even FIRE calls. Sending multiple ton fire trucks flying down these roads to save 1.25 minute response times is not only wasteful, it’d downright dangerous.
So let’s save $1 million plus and send an ambulance when there’s a call for an ambulance, tone down the 50 mph in 25 mph zones and apply some common sense. You just might find some of that budget shortfall money on the way. Oh and yes, I’m ok and even applaud the City of FB paramedics who could almost make more money at McDonalds then they do with the City. What continues to Gaul me is this “take it or leave it” attitude with the “budget”. Our right rear pockets have their limits.
These leftists don’t approve of your opinion Nicholas, even though they are as righteous as rain and contain more common sense than all of their opinions combined. I hate wasting my time on these knuckleheads. It’s always their way or nothing. Piss on em.
Well said. The News Leader is skewed so far to the right, I ended my subscription.