STATE OF THE CITY – By Chip Ross
10 October 2023
Last week all the City Commissioners received an e-mail from the new City Manager – Ty Ross. It stated in part:
“As I prepare to begin my new role, I humbly request that each of you take a few moments to reflect on the “State of the City” and provide me with a brief assessment of your hopes and desires for the future. This request does not come from a desire to assign my bosses homework, but rather from my genuine desire to better understand each person’s perspective and expectation of the future of Fernandina Beach.” Ty Ross
My response: “Below is my fulfillment of your request to reflect on the “State of the City” and provide you with a brief assessment of my hopes and desires for the future.”
State of the City
The sun is still shining – but storms are on the horizon.
Residents and visitors feel safe in the City. Police, EMS and Fire services are prompt and professional.
The utilities are dependable – the toilets flush, drinking water is safe and available and electricity reliable. The roads are in reasonable repair.
There are more than six miles of clean beaches with more than fifty points of public access. The Navy and Army Corps provide the world’s best beach renourishment program. The dunes are increasing in size which provides increased storm protection.
Some of the downtown flood protection has been built. The City’s FEMA Community Flood rating continues to improve.
There is a significant amount of green space comprised of the Greenway, conservation lands, a State Park and multiple City parks.
The marina was rebuilt largely using FEMA funds. The airport is self-sustaining. The golf course is improving.
The downtown store fronts are occupied and thriving with a unique blend of history, culture, dining, entertainment, shopping and a 50-block historic district.
City staff is generally friendly, dedicated and productive. The City government works.
Residents and tourists are generally happy.
However, in no order of importance:
The small town, quaint feeling is beginning to fade.
The resident population is becoming less diverse, older and wealthier – and more demanding.
The population over the bridge is exploding. Day trippers use City beaches and parks without contributing financially to their upkeep.
The City generates greater than 32 million dollars in state sales tax revenue but only receives approximately 3 million dollars back from the state.
Representing less than 14% of the Nassau County population and approximately 1% of the land mass, the City residents pay 24% of the Nassau County ad valorem taxes.
Beach cottages and historic properties are being razed and replaced with McMansions and million-dollar town homes.
The tree canopy is declining and Wild Amelia, which is used to market tourism, is disappearing. Environmentally sensitive land is under siege to become million-dollar homes.
Traffic congestion increases with air quality diminishing.
The downtown continues to flood. The elusive waterfront park and waterfront development that has been promised by multiple City Commissions for more than two decades, is still a figment of the collective imagination.
Affordable housing for the work force is vanishing.
Neighborhoods are being gentrified.
The homeless population is growing.
Homeowner and flood insurance rates are skyrocketing.
City Hall, Atlantic Recreation Center and MLK Recreation Center are decrepit and need extensive renovation.
City elections are becoming partisan contests funded by non-residents. Thoughtful discussion is being replaced by partisan bickering.
City government staff often work in silos. It is often easier to say “no”, instead of working together to get to “yes”.
The current budget policy is not sustainable. The current City Commission has adopted a “roll back rate budget” with essentially no increase in revenue. But the Commission continues to add new services and ignore inflation and deteriorating required infrastructure and facilities.
Many complain about the dysfunctional City Commission, but no one has declared to run to change the course.
My hopes and desires are to improve the positives and mitigate or eliminate the negatives.