By Bill Gingrich
Nassau County voters cast their election ballots in favor of who they wanted to see representing them in local offices all the way up to federal offices. This resulted in several new faces on our local governing bodies, including the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners, who welcomed two newly seated commissioners in November.
We’re hopeful – as are all the people that cast their ballots during the election – that our county commission will be ready to tackle the difficult issues that lie ahead including finally addressing our county’s fiscal sustainability issues. We’ve detailed it before, but Nassau County remains at a crossroads. We are blessed with abundant, unparalleled natural beauty and numerous locational advantages. Yet, as a community, we have difficulty in effectively planning needed changes and addressing the challenges of inevitable population growth.
In 2000, Nassau County’s population was approximately 58,000 residents. As of 2021, with the massive amount of growth we, along with the state of Florida, have seen, our county is now home to over 94,000 residents, making us the 37th most-populated county in the state. That means we’ve seen about a 62% increase in just 21 years, continuing to stretch county resources to threatening levels.
Roughly 70% of our working population also leaves the county daily to work elsewhere, resulting in an enormous loss of tax income from a lack of local, well-paying jobs that help to offset increased infrastructure and service costs.
While some progress has been made to bring our county into alignment with other fast-growing counties in Florida, much more needs to be done to combat the financial challenges we’re seeing.
As such, Citizens for a Better Nassau County outlined a vision set in place years ago to provide a roadmap for how we see Nassau County moving forward and tackling its challenges. Let me be clear, we didn’t craft this roadmap out of whole cloth. The issues we focus on have been studied by economists and government finance experts, hired by the county, to guide us to a more fiscally sustainable future. The roadmap includes:
Balanced, well-planned growth that pays for itself: We are seeing more walkable, mixed-use communities that internalize many of their impacts as a positive. We also saw the county increase impact fees roughly 200% after many years of failing to address that issue. This was difficult for builders to swallow but was long overdue. However, in order for future growth to truly pay for itself, long-lived capital projects (roads, fire stations, libraries, schools) must be carefully prioritized and should be debt financed over 30 years. Only this way will future residents of our growing county help pay for the assets they benefit from, and until this is done, current residents will be over-taxed and subsidizing future growth.
A concerted commitment to create a much broader and more diverse tax base: This will significantly decrease the county’s dependence on residential property taxes as the primary source of county income. Attracting private capital for high-wage jobs and non-residential developments benefits all taxpayers.
A dedicated and measurable effort to move toward environmental sustainability: While we want to attract businesses to locate here, we also want to attract productive residents who value the tangible benefits a holistic lifestyle offers and the corresponding high-wage jobs they bring.
The major issues facing Nassau County are not new. Experts in government finance and fiscal sustainability have, for many years, repeatedly warned our elected leaders the path we are on is unsustainable, and Citizens for a Better Nassau County has echoed the same concerns expressed by these experts.
However, with an election behind us and new members on the county commission, we are hopeful that more progress can be made toward putting our growing county on a fiscally sustainable path. Those interested about this issue and wanting to learn more about Citizens for a Better Nassau County can visit CitizensforaBetterNassau.com.
Bill Gingrich is a retired GE executive and chairman of Citizens for a Better Nassau County.