Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
June 19, 2021
Delayed maintenance, state mandates, new opportunities, union negotiations, citizen requests.
A city always seems to have more needs for revenue. During the June 15, 2021 Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) Workshop, Commissioner Chip Ross tried to enlist other commissioners in identifying untapped revenue sources that could be factored into the FY 2021-22 Budget development for the City of Fernandina Beach.
Ross said that in the ten years he has lived in Fernandina Beach, he has observed that Commissions are “very good at spending money, but what they never talk about is how to raise the money.”
“I believe that the path that we are currently on is not sustainable,” Ross said. “We keep adding new things, but we keep revenue flat. … We are already running out of money because we are not funding infrastructure needs. If we keep funding flat — and I am not talking about raising taxes — we cannot keep up with inflation. We have contractual obligations to raise Police and Fire/EMS salaries 4-5 percent each year. Eighty percent of the City’s general fund goes to pay salaries, so that is a chunk of money. As our population grows, we are required to provide more services to more people.”
In response to concerns that property taxes (ad valorem) keep rising, Ross presented the following breakdown:
He noted that in 2020 the half-milll increase was adopted to fund conservation, and was eliminated after a year.
In a presentation entitled “Concentrate on longterm financial sustainability,” he identified needs to repair, replace or rehabilitate city assets:
• MLK Recreation Center
• Atlantic Recreation Center
• City Hall
• Peck Center
• Beach Walkovers
• Downtown Lights, sidewalks and trees
He also noted the need for a new fire station to serve the growing south end of the City and the airport.
He followed by listing a series of suggestions often raised by residents as ways to increase revenue — and explained why such suggestions could not be implemented:
- Raising sales tax, gas tax, and placing tolls on bridges. The City does not have legal authority to enact these measures.
- Selling surplus equipment. The City already does this.
- Increasing bed taxes and tapping into more Tourist Development money. These items are overseen by Nassau County.
- Getting more money from Nassau County. The City tries to do so regularly, with mixed results.
- Sell excess City-owned land. The City does not own a lot of developable land. Most parcels contain city buildings, lift stations, library, lighthouse, beach walkovers or other City operations.
Ross then cited new projects that have been supported by one or more City Commissioner as well as citizens:
- Assume responsibility for Jean Lafitte right-of-way walkway
- Solar gate at seaside park
- Community garden
- New beach walkovers where none existed
- Dog park
- Bathrooms at North Beach
- New bathrooms anywhere including at the golf course for Top Tracer
- Accept grants with need for matching funds
- Noise meters
- National Citizen Survey
- Alachua Street Crossing
- Increased funding for Humane Society
Vice Mayor Len Kreger raised the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) as the means for prioritizing and funding needs such as those Ross identified. Kreger went on to note funding needs for shore stabilization, which is not currently on the CIP. “At some point,” Kreger said, “we are going to have to look at bonding [to obtain the revenue to take care of the City’s capital needs].”
Mayor Mike Lednovich expressed surprise that the waterfront park was not on the list of needs.
Ross said that he would like Commissioners to bring up a source of funding for implementation and annual maintenance costs each time a new project is proposed.
Commissioner Bradley Bean disagreed that City revenue is remaining flat. “Even if we went to the rollback rate for the new budget, our tax revenue would increase $280,000.” He called for Commissioners to prioritize the projects on the list Ross presented. “That’s how you don’t raise taxes and have a balanced budget,” he said.
Commissioner David Sturges said that another story circulating in the public is that the City has been bloating its staff. He said, “Adding 4-6 employees over 6 years does not amount to ‘bloating City staff.’”
Ross then presented a list of possible sources of new revenue to meet the City’s needs:
- Increase fees on non-city residents for Parks and Recreation
- Raise storm water fees
- Increase FPU franchise fee from 6% to 10%
- General Obligation Bond [must be voter approved]
- Charge youth sports teams for use of City facilities
- Paid beach parking
- Paid parking for downtown
- Increase size of the CRA
- Bond requirements for tree replacements
Commissioners agreed to investigate increasing non-resident recreation and stormwater fees, a voter approved General Obligation Bond, charging youth sports teams for use of City facilities, paid downtown parking, and bond requirements for tree replacements.
There was not majority interest in pursuing increasing FPU franchise fees, paid beach parking, or increasing the size of the CRA.
With respect to property taxes, Ross presented three scenarios, each of which would affect the amount of money available to address City needs. He proposed that the FBCC maintain the current millage rate and use the difference between that rate and the rollback rate for infrastructure rehabilitation. If instead the FBCC adopts the rollback rate, there will be a million dollar shortfall in new revenue; adopting the adjusted rollback rate will cause a $400K revenue shortfall.
It should be noted that the Board of Nassau County Commissioners (BOCC) maintained the same tax rate in FY 2020-21 as it had in FY 2019-20 and did not adopt the rollback rate. County Manager Taco Pope announced at the recent Joint Local Planning Agency meeting that he will not propose the rollback rate, but will present the BOCC with a budget that recommends retaining the current millage rate for the new budget year.