Submitted by Cindy Jackson
August 25, 2020
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.
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.