By Gerald Decker
I have a suggestion for getting our many visitors to help Fernandina Beach voluntarily with the upkeep of our public assets. Tourists spend a lot of money here, but who pays for the facilities they use? That includes roads, sidewalks, beach walkovers, city parks and recreational facilities. We pay those bills.
I call the program I have in mind “My Fernandina.” Here is how it would work:
Restaurants, bars and retail shops within the city limits would agree to add a My Fernandina donation to customer bills—just as adding a suggested tip is done now—which customers can elect to pay or not as they prefer. This is a voluntary payment, not a tax.
As an incentive to participate, businesses may request a rebate that covers some or all of the expenses incurred by accepting My Fernandina donations.
The exact formula for calculating voluntary donations and rebates would be established by a city resolution creating the My Fernandina program based on recommendations from the city manager. Ideally, the level of participation and formula would generate revenue approximating the city’s share of state sales tax.
Money collected would be remitted to the city and placed in a special fund. The fund would be used to help offset maintenance costs for public facilities and services impacted directly by our tourist visitors,.
A program similar to this was tested by the Tourist Development Council, but failed largely because of the pandemic. My Fernandina should benefit from lessons learned in that pilot program. Done correctly, everyone will benefit, and together we will keep Fernandina Beach the charming small town that all can enjoy.
Implementation would require communication, planning and procedures:
— Communicating with businesses to create awareness and answer questions.
— Establishing procedures for enrolling participants and for administering the program.
— Creating training for business owners and staff on how to explain the program and how to handle collections. The benefit must outweigh the effort to gain acceptance.
— Planning and prioritizing worthy projects made possible by My Fernandina program funds.
The tourist council modeled its program on a very successful one used by St. Simons Island over the last decade—a program that has generated as much as $800K in a single year.
We can do even better and create value for all stakeholders. Our Fernandina is worth it.
The author is a retired technology executive who moved here with his wife15 years ago to run a small business. He is a Vietnam veteran and has served as past chair of the Marina Advisory Board.
Acceptance of ideas have many influences, one of which is timing. First the idea was put forth during a pandemic. Now the idea resurfaces during a recession with stagflation on the way. Not good timing.
I disagree with the statement that the TDC’s program failed due to the start of the COVID pandemic. The poor marketing and implementation of the program is what let to its failure and all of the negative publicity that resulted. Many patrons felt the already included “donation” was a hidden fee and others felt to ask that it be removed from their bill would only be embarrassing and lead to further delays in “checking out”.
Visitors (and residents) frequenting businesses are already paying for their use of facilities through sales taxes of which a portion comes to the city. The 2022-23 Budget forecasts receipt of almost $2.7 million in sales/use/fuel tax revenue. While it can be strongly argued that the costs are more, the logistics of such a plan would be cumbersome upon the businesses in having to modify their accounting systems to track these funds. The SSI program started out like a bed tax collection from overnight guests at the Cloister and the restaurant Barbara Jean’s added a “voluntary” $.25 donation to the bill. The program has since morphed into a 1% “donation” with the proceeds going to the SSI Land Trust for conservation land purchases. Certainly a “sexier” benefit than paying for the upkeep of city buildings and roads.
As long as it is optional and remains so – I think this is an idea whose time has come. Could the funds be used to purchase the Pocket Park on Centre? Tourists as well as locals have always enjoyed that space and might appreciate being able to help preserve that enjoyment.
not a bad idea but locals would still be paying ——–i did have ‘similar’ thought but i believe pennies should come from hotel tourist fees —–not criticizing but think enough is being spent to attract visitors
I understand where the writer is coming from, but I don’t think this is the way to implement it. Burdensome on the businesses, annoying to locals and tourists alike.