Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
April 1, 2021
Fernandina Beach City Commissioners (FBCC) are exploring some novel ways to generate more revenue while at the same time cutting expenses for the 2021-22 Fiscal Year that begins October 1, 2021. “We must think out of the box, if we intend to meet City needs without raising taxes,” one unnamed Commissioner told the Fernandina Observer. He added, “At the same time I believe that some of the measures we are considering, especially in the area of increasing revenue, will inspire other communities to follow suit.”
While public safety continues to take the biggest bite out of the City’s general fund revenues, and Enterprise Funds are designed to be self supporting, many other City services take a hit when belt tightening measures are adopted. Since the Parks and Recreation Department accounts for close to 20 percent of the annual budget, the individual Commissioners in confidential one-on-one talks with the City Manager have come up with some novel ways to add revenue that will help maintain services, while decreasing costs to taxpayers.
Charging for on beach parking decals
The City will make available a limited number of on-beach parking decals for use at the beach parking area at Seaside Park. These will be distributed via silent auction to the highest bidders with a minimum bid of $300. Only vehicles with these decals will be allowed to drive/park on the beach at this location. All others will be turned away or towed away. There will be no charge at the present time for parking at beach parking lots not located on the beach.
Bingo at the Peck Center
With the large number of senior citizens in our area who are seeking entertainment and income options, the FBCC will add Bingo to its recreational offerings in the Peck Center Auditorium. Initial plans are to offer the game only on weekends, but expand if the demand justifies it.
Installing vending machines
The City will soon issue an RFP for the installation of vending machines at all city facilities, including parks and the Greenway. Along with this, the City is considering converting the counter currently staffed by the Building Department to a coffee bar.
Converting Centre Street to a pedestrian walkway after 5 pm and charging admission. Such action would allow food establishments to move tables and seating onto the street, generating more dowtown business and more tax revenue. Also vendors and event sponsors could apply for permits to set up temporary stages, bouncy houses and other entertainments.
Legalizing recreational marijuana sales
One idea that is moving forward involves setting up shop for the sale of recreational marijuana in the Atlantic Avenue Recreation Center. This move would have several benefits. It would add a new recreational element to existing offerings, bring in revenue to the City, and reduce drug related crime. The City has obtained a legal opinion from an attorney experienced in both home rule and marijuana laws to support the legaliity of this action as consistent with home rule authority.
BUDGET CUTTING PROPOSALS
According to an unnamed source privy to early City budget discussions, Fernandina Beach residents should tighten their seatbelts and try to avoid whiplash when their desire for low taxes collides with the reality of City needs this year. Below are some of the options under active consideration.
Changing residential trash pick up schedules. Regular trash pick up will change from twice weekly to once monthly and recycling will move from weekly to every two weeks. Rates will be lowered accordingly. Yard debris and large items will be charged by weight and picked up on demand. These changes would lower rates and address concerns that some residents do not use all the sanitation services.
Eliminating 50 percent of current beach accesses. The City will maintain accesses at North Beach, Main Beach and Seaside. However, half the remaining accesses will be closed to lower maintenance costs. A survey is being developed to determine the most likely accesses to be closed.
Converting 10-15 ball fields and practice fields to tree conservation areas. With the aging of the City’s population and the strong sentiment to plant trees, this measure will reduce costs by eliminating the need for fencing, lighting, and parking.
Consolidating the City’s two recreation centers into one. Although plans have not been formalized, the City has received an offer for the Atlantic Avenue Recreation Center from a developer who would replace it with affordable housing. Plans appear to involve major upgrades to the MLK Rec Center complex to handle the resulting increase in patronage.
Whatever options are adopted to formulate next year’s budget, rest assured that City Manager Dale Martin and the Fernandina Beach City Commission won’t be pulling them from this list. They have learned to read our articles with a grain of salt on April 1 each year.
Happy April Fools Day from the staff of the Fernandina Observer!
Real friends are those who, when you’ve made a fool of yourself, don’t feel that you’ve done a permanent job. ~Erwin T. Randall, quoted in The Reader’s Digest, 1955