Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
September 9, 2020
The City of Fernandina Beach held its first Public Hearing on the proposed millage rate for the 2020/21 Fiscal Year on September 8, 2020 in City Hall Chambers. Due to the limitations imposed by social distancing, there were only 13 seats available in Chambers for the audience. Six of the people in attendance chose to speak. The meeting lasted about 20 minutes.
As required by law, City Attorney Tammi Bach read the proposed rates. The Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) on July 28, 2020 adopted on a 3-2 vote the adjusted rollback rate of 5.4683 and the millage for voter approved debt (Greenway) of 0.1553. The adjusted rollback rate is 3.22 percent higher than the rollback rate of 5.2977.
Six speakers addressed the FBCC on the proposed millage rate and city budget. Five speakers, including City Commission Candidate for Group 2 David Sturges, spoke in favor of rejecting the adjusted rollback rate and adopting the rollback rate. Sturges was the only candidate in attendance at the meeting. One speaker asked for increased grant funding for projects to support needs of veterans.
Budget workshops were conducted during the summer, giving City Commissioners an opportunity to suggest specific cuts to the flat millage rate of 5.8553, initially proposed by City Manager Dale Martin following consultation with his department directors. The flat rate would have meant keeping the rate the same as that in the current year. (This was the action that the Board of County Commissioners approved for Nassau County millage for FY2020-21.) Passage of the flat rate would have required a super majority vote of the FBCC. However, when Vice Mayor Len Kreger and Commissioner Mike Lednovich declined to support this rate, the FBCC voted to adopt the adjusted rollback rate of 5.4683.
City Manager Dale Martin provided the FBCC with a revised budget, reflecting the cuts needed to bring the new budget into compliance with the lowered millage rate at the August 5, 2020 workshop .
During the first Public Hearing on September 9, 2020, Vice Mayor Len Kreger and Commissioner Mike Lednovich continued to press for additional cuts to bring the millage down to the rollback rate. Kreger and Lednovich, who are competing against each other in the City’s straw poll for mayor, brought up projects that they believed could be cut from the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). These ideas for the most part had not been surfaced during the FBCC workshops this summer.
Kreger said that he believed that the City needed to cut $462K to lower the millage rate to the rollback rate. In reviewing the CIP, Kreger identified $490K in projects that he proposed to cut “that would not have any significant negative impact:” $250K for placing utility lines underground on Front Street; $10K from Amelia Island Trails; 4 vehicles slated for replacement; $30K for sign making equipment. He also questioned City staffing needs.
Lednovich joined Kreger in reiterating support for the rollback rate. He said that he has been concerned about what he called non-essential spending at a time when the residents are experiencing economic hardships due to the pandemic. He expressed fear that the current situation will only worsen as more economic/financial problems develop on the national level that will have local repercussions. He agreed with Kreger about cutting the $250K for underground placement of utility lines along Front Street. He also suggested saving an additional $250K with cuts to the marina’s mooring field plans. “I beg anyone to argue that these are essential items to this City running properly,” he said. Lednovich also questioned budgeting $85K for a columbarium in Bosque Bello Cemetery, since estimates for the first phase more than tripled that amount.
“With those three items we can easily adopt the rollback rate, so that when federal funding expires, we have a better idea where we are,” Lednovich said.
No other Commissioners offered comments.
Following the public comments, which advocated adopting the rollback rate, Mayor John Miller adjourned the meeting. There was no vote.
The Second Public Hearing has been scheduled for September 22, 2020 at 5:05 p.m. in City Commission Chambers. Following this hearing, the FBCC will vote to adopt the millage and budget for FY2020/21, which begins October 1, 2020.
To view the proposed budget, click here.