Commentary: It Isn’t Just $30,000 — It’s the Principle of the Thing

By Mike Phillips

The cost of the city commission’s 50% pay raise that’s under discussion is $30,000. It’s easy to say it’s “just” $30,000, a drop in the bucket of the Fernandina Beach budget that’s moving from draft to finality in the coming weeks.

Easy to say but hard to swallow.

In stripping the budget down to zero increase (also called a rollback budget), the commission majority pushing the idea is trying to make amends for this year’s budget, which raised tax rates 4%. And they are pointing out that some of the projects included in that budget aren’t getting done this budget year because of supply chain issues or manpower issues. We taxed the people too much, the mayor said the other day.

But the economic background of the 4% was inflation, a consumer price index rate of 6%, which was busy nibbling away 6% of every dollar the city had to work with. In case you haven’t noticed, the Federal Reserve has dented inflation but hasn’t ended it. So everybody’s dollar is shrinking, but the obvious needs to get things done in the city aren’t shrinking. In fact, those needs are piling up.

Take the work of the citizen’s committee on improving safety for pedestrians and bicyclists, which was appointed by acting city manager Charlie George. Everybody agrees: That appointment was a great idea, and the committee did a bang-up job. Its final report to the commission – made on Tuesday – was impressive. It eloquently made the case that better walking and biking safety will lead to less car traffic. The specific recommendations made good, common sense and weren’t going to be very expensive. But they aren’t, at this point, included in the budget.

Now, anybody who has closely watched any city commission put a budget together has to be impressed by how smoothly a commission can move money around. This commission obviously thinks it can move some money into walking and biking safety.

And here’s an idea to get the commissioners started:

Say no to the 50% pay raise. Slide that money over to public safety on the streets and don’t stop there. Ask a few hard questions about a few other projects. (It’s impressive how many city projects come in under budget. One suspects the fine art of budget padding might be involved, but that’s another story for another day.) Squeeze out a match for the $30,000 you’ve already saved and feel good about it.

Maybe that will put you on the road to doing something about the other $1.3 million in much-needed city improvements that this proposed budget is piling up in the waiting line.

But that, too, is another story for another day.

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Active Member
4 months ago

Definitely the principle. If I were born yesterday, I’d believe the commissioners are not seeking a 30% raise for themselves. Talk about hypocrisy.

Mark Tomes
Noble Member
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
4 months ago

Talking only in terms of percentages and not dollar amounts is misleading. Someone can make one dollar, and with a 100% increase, then make two dollars, which would still be a pittance. If the numbers in the article are correct, each city commissioner makes $12,000 per year. That would be bumped up to $18,000 with a 50% increase. That does not seem like very much, considering all the work that a city commissioner (who takes their job seriously) has to do. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong in light of the current budget or proposal, but I’m saying that even though 50% sounds like a lot, in dollar amounts, it really isn’t that much.