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. 

Background

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.

FBCC Discussion

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.

0 0 votes
Article Rating

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

5 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

DAVID LOTT
DAVID LOTT (@guest_64501)
9 months ago

From my perspective the completion of the entire waterfront stabilization project is impossible to plan without first having an agreement from all the private property owners north of the parking lot A. It is sections of this area that are the lowest lying and where river intrusion first happens. It is extremely likely there will be state and federal grants to assist in such projects so it seems a bit unwise to have residents pay the full tab.
$17 million for downtown seems like a heavy pricetag for an area that seems to already be thriving. What all is included in that number. a parking garage, demolition of Brett’s…?
I don’t think any bond proposal is going to be successful without a definitive list of the projects that are going to be funded. My understanding is that some level of disclosure is required and it can’t just be a fund used for future projects not covered in the disclosure.

GERALD DECKER
GERALD DECKER (@guest_64502)
9 months ago

Mr. Lott is right on point–resiliency projects must be funded by grants-not using property tax. And without riverfront property owner and downtown business owner contribution (they benefit most) why place the burden on taxpayers who are not impacted by periodic minor flooding.

Likewise, the downtown modernization can easily be broken into smaller projects funded as part of the capitol budget–not by a massive $20M bond.

A general obligation bond must have defined projects-it cannot be a pool of money used for unspecified future works.

The projects proposed do not need a bond to make them real.

Better ways are available to fund desired improvements without creating a massive debt burden taxpayers must carry until 2052–by which time they may already have been replaced while taxpayers keep paying.

It almost appears the real goal is to issue a bond for the sake of it. I hope this entire approach will be rethought for the benefit of all.

Mark Tomes
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
9 months ago

The city commissioners underestimate the intelligence of the taxpayers they represent: people understand very well the need for waterfront stabilization, especially if it is combined with pedestrian-friendly, non-commercial, nature-orientated access along the river. On the other hand, prettying up downtown caters to the tourists and the specific businesses there, rather than the entire populace. We should be taking some of that tax revenue generated by the vibrant downtown and applying it to areas that benefit everyone. And as others replying to this article have noted, there are lots of potential grants that can help that process, especially the Florida Living Shorelines funds.

Robert Sherretta
Robert Sherretta (@guest_64516)
9 months ago

Everyone in the corporate and public sector space has realized that the last ten years provided a unique opportunity to borrow money at historically low interest rates. Now, unless this Board moves very quickly, that time will be passing and will likely not return for another decade at least…

Edward Mark Joseph Szynaka
Edward Mark Joseph Szynaka (@guest_64517)
9 months ago

When does this community get the civic leadership to invest in itself? For more than twenty years we have accomplished nothing but argument and debate. These projects have long ago been vetted as being in the interest of the greater community. Our elected leaders’ debate and vote to move forward only to reverse their votes after someone voices objections and threaten to vote them out. Where are the real leaders who are willing to do the right thing even if they lose the next election? FB is such a wonderful community that could be so much better. COURAGE.

5
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x