Editor’s note: The Observer has invited all seven City Commission candidates to submit an essay commenting on the state of the city, issues they’d like to tackle if elected or anything else they think needs to be said and discussed. We want them to have free rein to talk to the city. This is a counterpoint to the Oct. 14 candidate forum at city hall, which necessarily is more highly structured. We will publish the essays, if the candidates choose to write them, as soon as we receive them. This is the first.
By Chris Nickoloff
When I was a kid, we didn’t have a lot of money. I dreamt of a 10-speed bike. My parents told me if I wanted it, I would have to save and buy it on my own. So, I worked hard on my paper route and saved and saved. Finally, I had saved enough and bought my new shiny Schwinn Continental. Boy was I proud of it. I pampered it and kept it clean and shiny. I learned that taking care of things would extend their life. Ignore them and they fail. I learned that one is more apt to respect things they own, if paid out of their own pocket. Which brings me to some recent City Commission action.
There have been several lawsuits the city has lost. Including the law suit against the city for impact fees imposed on local businesses. How much did these cost the taxpayers to defend? Why not negotiate a compromise?
Where’s the action as a result of past studies ordered by the city commission? Why does the city commission appoint hard working advisory boards to only ignore their recommendations?
A few months ago, most of the commission were in consensus to move forward with a bond issue. A bond to pay for much needed infrastructure improvements that had been ignored for years. Guess what? That failed too. For several reasons, but it failed. Same problems, no solutions. Wash, rinse, repeat. If you have some free time, it’s on the City website (fbfl.us). Look at the April 5, and the April 19 meeting.
And now, since we missed the deadline to tie a bond referendum to the upcoming election, we must wait another two years. Oh wait, no we don’t. We can do one anytime. But it will cost us $25K to administer on our own. Another failed opportunity.
Let’s not forget Toptracer. Toptracer technology at our public golf course cost the City more than $500k. It was built in a building that had no running water and no kitchen. And still to this day, players must walk to the main Clubhouse to buy food or use the bathroom. Another hard fail.
In this year’s budget we now have a section for capital improvements. Nice work, but why did it take 20 years to figure out we need to invest in ourselves? It seems we have a history of building things, then neglecting them until they reach a point of near failure. One example is Atlantic Recreation Center which is slated for $695k+ in improvements this year, to mainly repair a wall that has shifted out at least 8 inches.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not critiquing the new Capital Improvement Budget. I’m concerned it took 20 years to realize its necessity. I am a strong proponent of taking care of your assets. Using taxpayer money wisely is budgeting accordingly for regular ongoing maintenance.
Then there is the Central Park playground equipment. Another debacle. Playground equipment was pulled because it was unsafe. This was avoidable as it had been in the budget three different years, only to be pulled out.
Finally, let’s come back to Brett’s. The City has not received a rent payment in at least a year. The contract negotiated in the 1990s, says that if Brett’s doesn’t pay the restaurant group (who pays the city), the restaurant group is not required to pay the city. Another example of business as usual. You just can’t make this stuff up.
So, come on. Please. We need to stop, take a breath, reassess, and fix this disjointed mess. Figure out what studies are still applicable, what’s needed, and what we can toss. We must sort this out and get back on track.
I suggest we start by taking care of our stuff. Our eroding assets. Or, is it time to get rid of some stuff? Either way, let’s figure this out. Now is the time we must change how we do business in Fernandina Beach. It’s time for strong leadership. I think it is time for that new bike in City Hall.