Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
April 6, 2022
Just when it appeared that the Fernandina Beach City Commissioners (FBCC) had come together on the need for a General Obligation Bond (GOB) referendum to address long standing City infrastructure needs, consensus seemed to evaporate at the April 5, 2022 FBCC Regular Meeting. As a result, a decision to move forward with the referendum or drop the matter was postponed to the next FBCC meeting on April 19, 2022.
At its January 26, 2022, Goal-Setting Workshop, the City Commission directed the City Manager to prepare a list of projects that require significant funding that would be appropriate for a bond referendum. Staff presented the list at the Commission’s March 1, 2022, Workshop, and has since consulted with bond counsel and reviewed deadlines for submission to the Supervisor of Elections for placing ballot items.
For months the FBCC had been discussing the financial bind created for the City by previous City Commissions that had failed to fund needed maintenance and improvements for the waterfront, downtown, and City facilities.
Projects identified for potential GOB funding by Commissioners and their estimated costs included:
- Waterfront Stabilization- $16M
- Downtown Revitalization – $17M
- City Hall Renovations – $3M
- Walking trails/Pedestrian accessibility – no estimate
Commissioners had decided not to seek GOB approval for all projects, but to limit the amount to $20M or less. Considering the pros and cons of each project, it seemed to be the consensus to move forward with a bond to cover downtown revitalization only, recognizing that downtown is an economic engine for the City. Commissioners believed that voters could easily understand and appreciate the need to improve Centre Street sidewalks, lighting and streetscaping. Whereas “waterfront stabilization,” while a priority, would not be as easily understood via ballot language. Added to that is the fact that much of the funding already used to stabilize the Amelia Riverfront has come from grants, a situation that will probably continue as the project progresses to the north.
Commissioners had also decided that any decision to move forward with the GOB referendum would require a unanimous vote enabling Commissioners to present a united show of support to voters.
Commissioners were asked to finalize their decision on projects to be covered by the GOB via Resolution 2022-66 at their April 5, 2022 meeting. And that was when consensus fell apart.
Vice Mayor Len Kreger began discussion by announcing that he would only support a GOB referendum if it were to fund the entire waterfront stabilization project. Commissioner Bradley Bean indicated that such a move was a non-starter for him, as he was committed to downtown revitalization. Both Mayor Mike Lednovich and Commissioner Chip Ross expressed confusion over Kreger’s change of position. Ross tried unsuccessfully to craft some sort of compromise, that would allow for partial funding of each project. But Kreger remained adamant that the entire bond should be used to complete the waterfront stabilization project to alleviate flooding issues.
When it became apparent that positions were not going to change, Ross moved to postpone the consideration of a GOB until the April 19, 2022 FBCC. He asked that Commissioners spend the intervening two weeks talking with friends and neighbors about the feasibility of the bond referendum as well as funding priorities.
Two citizens spoke against the bond on the grounds that it would raise taxes no matter which projects it would fund.