Weekly comments from Dale Martin – City’s first efforts to re-opening during COVID-19

Dale Martin
City Manager
Fernandina Beach
May 29, 2020

City Manager Dale Martin

As the transition from restricted operations continues, area residents are again reminded to follow the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) guidelines: frequently wash hands, avoid close contact, wear a mask when around others, cover coughs and sneezes, clean and disinfect, and monitor your health. While many people consider the guidelines to be inconvenient and bothersome, the guidelines are the best preventative measures. Please consider the impact of your actions on others around you.

City operations are gradually becoming more open and available to the general public. The beaches; golf course, tennis, pickleball, and petanque courts; and skatepark are fully available for use. Activities at the Atlantic Recreation Center pool and fitness center are starting to return. Child care operations (with adherence to health and sanitation requirements) are being opened, but organized activities at athletic fields are still not permissible.

The Utility Billing offices are open to serve utility customers. As the financial impact of the virus hit residents and businesses, the City suspended late fees and service disconnections for utility customers. Late fees will continue to be waived until October 1, but service disconnections due to non-payment will be re-implemented on July 1. According to City records, approximately 649 accounts (residential and commercial) are delinquent.

Please recognize that the City’s first effort is to work with delinquent customers to prepare a payment plan on a case-by-case basis, but it is the responsibility of a delinquent customer to coordinate a payment plan with City staff. Delinquent customers are provided sufficient notice of the status of their account well before any disconnection occurs.

Several opportunities are available for utility assistance. The City, in conjunction with the Nassau County Council on Aging, has an exemption for certain utility fees for low income senior citizens (although near maximum applicants). The City also has a small fund (Love Your Neighbor), funded through donations, for general utility assistance. Finally, Salvation Army, Barnabas, and Northeast FL Community Action Agency have a limited capability to help with financial hardship. Thank you to those who provide donations to these programs.

Effective Monday, June 1, City Hall and the Peck Center (which houses several City government offices and other community agencies) will re-open to the general public. Please remember that many of the services provided by the City (such as permits and applications) can be prepared electronically. Telephone assistance is also available with City staff.

The June 2 City Commission meeting will mark the return of the City Commissioners to City Hall for the meeting. The meetings in April and May were conducted “virtually,” and while it was, for the most part, effective in conducting City business, it will be better to resume, in a modified fashion, City Commission meetings at City Hall.

The most significant impact of returning to City Hall will be the physical separation required in the Commission Chambers. The posted occupancy of the Chambers is over one hundred people, but with the spacing required for social distancing, the capacity of the Chambers is overwhelmingly reduced. In addition to the six people on the dais (five City Commissioners and Ms. Best, the City Clerk), space on the floor is limited to twelve others (actually ten, since the City Attorney, Ms. Bach, and I are required to be at the meeting).

The twelve floor chairs have been positioned to ensure adequate distance from each other. The City Commission meeting is not “date night,” so even family members will not be permitted to re-position or add chairs. The audio from the meeting will be available to others outside of City Hall and the meeting will be fully available, as normal, online or on television.
Those interested in offering public comment at the meeting will, as is the normal case of City Commission meetings, be required to complete a Request to Speak form (forms will be available at City Hall). If not seated within the City Commission Chambers, prospective speakers will be invited into the Commission Chambers at the appropriate time for their public comments. At the completion of their comments, the speakers, if not previously seated in the Chambers, will have to leave the Chambers. The process will likely be disjointed as the Commissioners and staff work to accommodate those interested in public comment. Thank you for your patience as the new procedures are developed and refined.

Other City boards and commissions are working to return to operations, but most will continue to meet remotely while still permissible under the Governor’s Executive Orders. While it has been somewhat easy to continue normal City operations, the conduct of formal City business at public meetings has been a challenge, but the Commissioners and other volunteer board members have been accommodating to these operations. I look forward to welcoming everyone back to City Hall next week.

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