Fernandina Beach seeks $500K from Nassau County to assist in recreation facility upgrades, repairs

Submitted by Cindy Jackson
August 25, 2020

City of Fernandina Beach Manager Dale Martin

Making a special appearance at the August 24, 2020 meeting of the Board of County Commissioners was Fernandina Beach City Manager, Dale Martin. Mr. Martin was there to follow-up on a written request made back in June for $500,000 from the County to “help with upgrades and repairs to City recreational facilities, specifically the Atlantic Recreation Center, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Recreation Center, and Central Park.”

The rationale for the request, aside from budget constraints as a result of COVID-19 and other challenges, is due to the fact that, “City recreational facilities are being heavily used by non-city residents,” as stated in the June 30th correspondence.

Martin gave a very detailed presentation of the City’s current amenities and suggested that one funding mechanism might be a county-wide levy of 1/10 of a mil (which would generate $ 1 million per year) to be split between the city and county over the course of a 19-year period for capital facilities and capital facilities only. The “split” between city and county would change over the term of the levy. At the end of it all, the City would have received $13 million and the County $17 million. During the outline of this approach, Martin noted that such a levy would cost the owner of a home valued at $100,000 just $250 over the course of 19 years and $500 for the homeowner with property valued at $200,000.

In his closing remarks, Martin said, “We have a demonstrated need for capital facilities and you have a demonstrated desire for capital facilities,” and went on to say, “might be a way to start to work together . . . and to do away with city and non-city rates.”

Currently, certain recreational facilities charge one fee for City residents and another for County residents. For instance, at the Peck Gym, fees are thus:

Daily use: $3 City residents, $5 Non-City
1-month pass: $25 City residents, $31 Non-City
Four (4) months pass: $75 City residents, $94 Non-City
Twelve (12) months pass: $188 City residents, $235 Non-City

Chairman Danny Leeper said that he and the commissioners need some sort of justification for the $500,000 referring to data demonstrating recreational use facilities and who uses what. Martin responded that research and anecdotal evidence has shown that for the most part, there is a 50/50 split.

Fernandina Beach Vice Mayor Len Kreger

City Commissioner Kreger was next at the podium and the thrust of his comments was to underscore the need for a partnership noting that this is the appropriate time for cost-sharing when budgets are so critical.

City Commissioner Ross took a different approach and simply stated upfront that the current model for parks and recreation is simply not sustainable. Stated Ross, “the City has just 12,000 people. We have paid beach parking. City residents pay for the beach parking but just 25% of those who use beach parking are city residents.”

Ross continued and stated, “The pool, the soccer fields . . . all these things make our City and our County a great place.” Without assistance, Ross said the City may have to cut services. “And what we are going to look at is just maintaining them for city residents,” stated Ross. He jokingly said the City should perhaps just turn over Parks and Rec to the County. Parks and Recreation accounts for 18% of Fernandina Beach’s budget (over $4 million).

City Commissioner Phil Chapman also addressed the BOCC. He touted the tremendous facilities offered but did note that “City people do get offended when they see County people not kicking up their fair share. . . this is a great time . . . to make this county one of the best counties in Florida.”

Mike Lednovich, was the last City Commissioner to take to the podium. He referenced a budget meeting two years ago which concerned pickleball courts. The cost was $200,000 and Fernandina Beach footed that bill. However, in chatting with members of the Pickleball Club, Lednovich noted that 75% were non-city residents. “We have to pool our resources. We are in a budget crunch. We are talking about our budget right now. We are considering an adjusted rollback rate and our finances are really thin and that is why we are asking for your help at this time.”

County Commissioner Bell responded to the City’s comments by suggesting a more wholistic approach, noting that this year, the request is for $500,000 but there is no way of knowing what sort of request might be made in the future unless a more strategic and comprehensive approach is taken.

No decision was made and a comment from the County Manager’s office was not available at press time.

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Harrison Waller
Harrison Waller (@guest_58676)
3 years ago

Please correct the headline…..$500M?

Suanne Thamm
Suanne Thamm(@suanne-thamm)
3 years ago

Oops! Thanks for the heads up! Correction made.

Dave Lott
Dave Lott(@dave-l)
3 years ago
Reply to  Suanne Thamm

Technically, either is correct. M is the roman numeral for 1,000; whereas in metric measurement, K is from Kilo meaning times 1,000. But most do equate K with 1,000 and M for million.

Stay well Suanne.

Georgene Skahill
Georgene Skahill (@guest_58677)
3 years ago

Cancel the Simmons Road project..the City cannot maintain what it has now…this is an outrage to destroy an untouched, vital piece of land..

Amy Robillard
Amy Robillard (@guest_58678)
3 years ago

“…stated Ross. He jokingly said the City should perhaps just turn over Parks and Rec to the County. Parks and Recreation accounts for 18% of Fernandina Beach’s budget (over $4 million).” This is the best idea City Commissioner Ross has had, that I’ve heard yet. Hmmmm,

Betsie Huben
Betsie Huben(@betsie-huben)
3 years ago

Just going to put this out there one more time… $400,000 has been allocated for a new park at Simmons Road. As has been previously suggested, that money would go a long way to improving what we have. It could be utilized for the projects Mr. Martin is outlining here or put to good use making our city’s existing parks more ADA compliant and accessible to all. While it is not enough to solve all of the issues describe, it would go a long way in a tough year to get a lot done.

DAVID LOTT(@dave-l)
3 years ago
Reply to  Betsie Huben

Betsie, while I am opposed to the Simmons Road Park primarily due to its location and the need, your assumption that the money could be used for other projects is off the mark. The primary funding for the Simmons Road park project are impact fees – not general revenue dollars. Impact fees cannot be spent for maintenance or replacement of existing structures; but only for new facilities related to growth. Allowable projects in my opinion would be for new beach access walkways/ramps where none existed as well as projects in the riverfront park.

Lowell Hall
Lowell Hall (@guest_58687)
3 years ago

The population of Nassau county, Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach is rapidly growing and demands increased beach access now with room for more in the future. The north nine of the city golf course is the answer. The Citizens for Public Beaches & Shores has a plan.

Joe Blanchard
Joe Blanchard(@jlblan2)
3 years ago

There are many issues here that need to be addressed. The double taxation of city residents, we pay both the county and city tax. This is generally for duplicated services. There is room here for tax savings. If the county were to add a new tax, as suggested by the city, then the city residents would have to pay it also, since we pay county taxes. Two major recreational facilities, not mentioned by the city in their presentation to the county, are the City Marina and Golf Course. Both of which are heavily used by county residents and it would be very hard not to classify them as recreation facilities. Both city and county residents pay the same fees for their use. All of these issues should be on the table during discussions between the city and county.

Karen Thompson
Karen Thompson (@guest_58691)
3 years ago

It’s about time the City Commission stands up to the County. It seems the City gives and gives but receives nothing in return. The County has backed out of beach renourishment so that’s now paid only by Island residents. The County should put up or the City should close all recreation facilities to non-residents. I’m really sick of people bragging about not paying both City and County taxes yet relying on city pools, pickleball courts, etc for their own benefit without paying for these facilities. (I should say County residents pay a measly $1 more than city residents for pool passes.) Thanks to Dale Martin and the City Commissioners for tackling this lingering problem with the County. Good Luck!

Frank Quigley
Active Member
Frank Quigley(@frank-quigley)
3 years ago

It is high time for the City and County begin the negotiation of combined services.