Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
March 17, 2022
During the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) workshop on March 15, 2022, Commissioner Chip Ross asked Commissioners if in light of all the City’s failing infrastructure issues, the FBCC wanted to continue providing financial assistance to NPOs, and if so, what criteria would they screen against in making their decision on which NPOs to fund at what level.
As part of the annual budget process each spring, the City of Fernandina Beach solicits requests for City grants from the local community of non-profit organizations (NPO). Each year there are more requests for financial assistance than there is funding to distribute.
Ross reminded Commissioners that last year they had authorized $100K in NPO grants, which he supported. He said, “My opinion has changed. I think we need to focus the budget on paying for City infrastructure. I would not support funding NPOs this year. But if we are going to do so, then I think funding should be restricted to those NPOs that provide basic needs for citizens — food, housing assistance, medical and dental services, and mental health services.”
Ross also suggested that staff develop a set of criteria against all NPO grant requests that would be measured.
Vice Mayor Len Kreger said that he was not willing to commit to not funding NPOs at this time. He did agree with Ross’ desire to limit grants to NPOs providing basic services.
Commissioner David Sturges agreed with Kreger that NPO funding should remain in the budget.
Commissioner Bradley Bean said that the City has traditionally provided funding to NPOs that provide services such as those suggested by Ross. He said, “I would be in favor of not touching that portion of the budget and do the same things that we did last year in terms of funding those organizations.”
The NPOs the City funded in the current fiscal year include: Barnabas Center ($30,000), Micah’s Place ($5,000), Nassau County Council on Aging ($50,000), and Starting Point Behavioral Healthcare ($15,000).
Ross clarified his position. “I think all those organizations do a fantastic job. They provide [needed] services in the community. My point is that the City has other responsibilities. I think those need to be funded first. If we can fund our roads and everything else, and there is money left over for [NPO grants], that’s great. If the money isn’t there, it’s a tough decision, but we are at a crossroads. Our infrastructure is falling apart…. We need to put our money into infrastructure, because it is deteriorating and deteriorating and deteriorating.”
Mayor Mike Lednovich cautioned Commissioners that they were getting into matters of budget, that would be addressed at future meetings.
“I’ve always been troubled by the way we fund NPOs, because we create winners and losers,” Lednovich said. “By telling all the NPOs to apply for City grants is raising their expectations, and there is no equity system in which to fund them. We end up funding the same [five] organizations, which are justified and should be funded. My position is, if we keep this item in the budget, let’s fund those [five] organizations and not open the door inviting all NPOs to apply for funding. We will further this debate when we tackle the budget.”