State of the City: A First of Five Responses to Ty Ross

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.

Welcome aboard.

15 Comments
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Benny
Member
Benny(@benny)
8 months ago

As a new comer to “The population over the bridge” it appears there are two issues that Fernandina Beach faces. First is the dysfunctional government and agencies like the Port Authority that seem to be better at fighting and bickering then leading. There does not seem to be any long range planners. The second issue is the island population that looks down on all those that are not island people. I think the island should take whatever action is necessary to separate from Nassau county and become their own county. Thanks

MyFernandina
Trusted Member
MyFernandina(@myfernandina)
8 months ago

People bemoan the diminishing quality of life—well, I say life is pretty good here. We have lots of greenery, many parks, a beautiful beach, a robust Senior Center, not to mention pickle ball and tennis courts, petanque courts, a YMCA, Recreation Center with pool, over 40 restaurants, two world class resorts, the beach, a marina, golf course, tourism that supports our local economy, our roads are well-maintained, trash is collected, water flows, and we enjoy excellent fire and police services. For a small town—not bad at all. We are fortunate—many similarly sized towns can only dream of this wealth.
 

WendeBurdick
Active Member
WendeBurdick(@wendeburdick)
8 months ago
Reply to  MyFernandina

You are right, we do have lots of greenery, parks, and beaches/dunes. These valuable facets of our island continue to exist because some of our citizenry work very hard throughout each year, often working with city and county government, to ensure that they are both preserved and conserved. Commissioner Ross is correct that the challenges to maintaining the current quality of life in Fernandina Beach, and in Nassau County, are increasing ever more quickly. For our small town to continue to enjoy such good fortune, we need more citizens to become involved in voting for commissioners who will support these efforts and to join in the work that must be done to preserve our sense of place.

lucyp74
Noble Member
lucyp74(@lucyp74)
8 months ago
Reply to  WendeBurdick

EXACTLY ! The GENTRIFICATION of Nassau County has been well under way and is in full swing now. Those of us who have lived here our whole lives are VERY sad to see the super wealthy coming in and NOT doing their part to pay for infrastructure. Instead it HAS fallen on the shoulders of the taxpayers and to add insult to injury, they are removing the beautiful trees and failing to do more to ensure that there are more lands set aside for conservation in Nassau County. Our county has one of the lowest percentages of conservation in the state. We need to step it up! I stead of allowing all of these developers to receive « perks », the local governments should have made them pay their fair share. Unfortunately, we the people are now footing the bill and also dealing with the aftermath of their decisions.

dman
Noble Member
dman(@dman)
8 months ago
Reply to  lucyp74

so so sooooooooooo tired of I have lived here longer comments. I love it here; I even like Chip (much of the time) If it is so bad for you now you know what to do. (endlessly whine on Facebook like the rest of your ilk)

Paula M
Noble Member
Paula M(@paula-m)
8 months ago

Other than that Mrs. Lincoln…how did you like the play….

rocknrobin12@gmail.com
Noble Member
[email protected](@rocknrobin12gmail-com)
8 months ago

You are the only commissioner that still looks out for the people. Sturges is trying to grow his business by making the changes he’s submitting or voting for and Bean is trying to get his next step in politics. He is more concerned about himself than anyone.

Nigel
Active Member
Nigel(@nigel)
8 months ago

Welcome to Ty from OTB… Great request from you to the 5.
Make sure the rest have their replies published also, please.
Note to Chip: your reply was an excellent summation of the great aspects of life we all enjoy here in Nassau County and in your City.
I’d like to comment on some of your negatives; some of our friends are “older and wealthier” which is why we came here. I am not sure the City has a responsibility to provide low cost housing as Wildlight and others are doing just that. Of course the workers accepting that low cost housing OTB are a large part of the traffic problem and there are very limited solutions to that going forward. The Island population must double during daylight hours!
I am a frequent “day tripper” and I use City parks without contributing financially to their upkeep. I don’t have a solution to that problem either.
However, we must all recognize that the folks from OTB do spend money while in the city; my personal favorites include the many restaurants and Amelia Community Theater.
One final thought; please do all you can to limit the construction of high density townhomes. One way to do that would be to force council men with businesses in development and construction to recuse themselves in all matters involving development and construction. Longer term, don’t vote for developers and construction folks to sit on the town commission.
I’ll close with some more radical suggestions:
Flatten Brett’s and make a park.
Flatten Atlantic Seafood and make a park.
Use Eminent Domain to finish the seawall.
And the biggie; merge the City in to the County and have one government.
Thanks for reading my thoughts; more opinions available upon request!

Cmoss56
Noble Member
Cmoss56(@cmoss56)
8 months ago

Thank you for sharing your response to Mr. Ross with us

Can we encourage other Commissioners to do the same?

@ Commissioner Ross – are their responses available by a FOIA request?

Mark Tomes
Trusted Member
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
8 months ago

Chip Ross hits the nail on the head perfectly, both the positives and problems.

MyFernandina
Trusted Member
MyFernandina(@myfernandina)
8 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

This town has no problems that cannot be solved with a little common sense, reasonable planning and good fiscal control………….smile and enjoy that you are fortunate enought to live here.
The current commission is, I opine, doing a pretty good job–encourage them.

nmd8960
Member
nmd8960(@nmd8960)
8 months ago

I appreciate Mr. Ross’ comments – on the nose! Two issues that are intolerable are the corrupt city counselors that WON’T recuse themselves and the drug problem on Amelia. Haven’t seen it? Really? It’s right out there and not much police response! The failure to “roll back rate’ is a flagrant attempt to keep inept commissioners on the council! The Attorney General needs to investigate violations of the Sunshine Law and prosecute violators. The failure to manage the port responsibly is a disgrace! The failure to manage the amazing green canopy that protects our island from weather events is an invitation for disaster, in which most folks won’t have property insurance. The fiscal irresponsibility of the current commission is a disaster! Perhaps our governor could focus on insurance issues instead of banning books!

rocknrobin12@gmail.com
Noble Member
[email protected](@rocknrobin12gmail-com)
8 months ago
Reply to  nmd8960

I’m with ya!!

Frank Quigley
Active Member
Frank Quigley(@frank-quigley)
8 months ago

Commissioner Ross gives a balanced view, with appropriate breadth, regarding Fernandina Beach. Two thoughts: One, the growth genie is out of the bottle. Two, other than running the place well, the issues of maintaining the positive aspects of the area are the responsibility of our elected officials, not the City Manager. 

Having grown up in Orlando before Disney, I learned hyper-growth is relentless once it starts. It snowballs. Neither Fernandina Beach or Nassau County were prepared for the rapid acceleration of in-migration we’ve seen in recent years. Not just our governments, but everybody and everything. 

For those opposing development, doing so when plans are submitted and permits pulled is way too late in the game. Attacking newcomers who moved here because also love the place is mis-direction and projection defined. 

EdButera
EdButera(@edbutera)
8 months ago

The “the golf course is improving” is a chuckle. Why does the municipal course need three sets of nine holes? I’ll state what I hear from every person I know who plays golf there: Eliminate one and use the surplus to improve the other two.