By Cindy Jackson
September 15, 2020
The agenda for the September 14, 2020 meeting of the Board of County Commissioners was just about four pages long and the meeting lasted almost two full hours.
Up first was the presentation of a resolution recognizing the members of Foar from Home for their efforts to raise awareness and to help prevent veterans’ suicide.
The Foar from Home team will be participating along with 30 other teams from around the world in the Talisker Whiskey Challenge which has them rowing across the Atlantic Ocean. The Fernandina Beach team are all veterans themselves, representing each branch of the armed services. They are Billy Cimino (Army), Cameron Hansen (Air Force), A.M. “Hupp” Huppman (Navy) and Paul Lore (Marines).
Their goal is to raise $500,000.
The event takes place in December 2021 when they will row from the Canary Islands to Antigua to raise awareness and donations toward Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Veteran Suicide. On average 22 veterans take their lives each day.
The resolution encourages all Nassau County residents to support the cause. For more information on this important cause and to monitor the team’s training progress, go to www.foarfromhome.com
Gil Langley, CEO of the Amelia Island Convention and Visitors Bureau followed Woleshin and gave the TDC’s (Tourism Development County’s) 3rd quarter report, noting that tourism is the largest private sector employer in Nassau County, responsible for 25% of the county’s jobs. Thus far this year, tourism and related businesses have brought in $15.7 million in sales tax which accounts for 31% of all sales tax revenues received. With respect to COVID-19, Langley said, “We have taken quite a hit.” Visitation is down 45% from last year and sales tax revenue is down 26%.
Also related to the TDC was the approval of two new board members – Lisa West, owner of The Addison and Will Wiest, Manager of the Ritz-Carlton. The Council consists of one County Commissioner, two elected municipal officials and six individuals involved in the tourist industry.
Approved by unanimous votes of 5-0, the Commissioners also approved requests from the TDC to provide $25,000 to the Fernandina Main Street Program to complete its Environmental Branding Project and $100,000 to the Amelia Island Museum of History for renovating and updating existing exhibit spaces.
The Main Street project, described as a “new wayfinding project in our downtown district” with a “visual appearance in keeping with our historic district” began in 2019 with a total cost of $230,000. Main Street funding covered phase one ($25,000) and the City used impact funds ($180,000) justified “by the growth in our tourism dollars” read the request.
The Museum of History noted on its request to the TDC that they were in the final stages of a capital campaign expected to generate $400,000 but needed additional financial assistance to update its exhibits that was last done twenty years ago. With over 5,000 artifacts for content, Museum ED Phyllis Davis noted in a letter to Mr. Langley dated January 15, of this year, “[we] are now ready to move forward with an exciting story that incorporates a more compelling narrative told through technology, creating a 21st-century experience that our visitors expect.” The museum hosts over 25,000 guests each year through exhibits and special events.
The Commissioners also voted 5-0 to move forward with its proposed annual budget of $267,041,193, a County-wide Millage rate of 7.427, a MSU (Municipal Service Millage Rate) of 2.3093, a Recreation and Water Conservation Millage Rate of 0.000, an Amelia Island Beach Renourishment Millage Rate of 0.0960 for an Aggregate Millage Rate of 9.1083.
OMB (Office of Management and Budget) Director Megan Diehl also explained why adjustments were made in the budget approved on July 27, 2020 with new positions in County staff the main cause.
Also on the agenda was consideration of the rules and regulations governing the beaches of Amelia Island. This process began in 2018 with 15 public hearings held and comments received by more than 1500 individuals and another 1000 emails having been sent in. So much of what controls beach activity is governed by the federal government as a function of the Endangered Species Act and sea turtles. Throughout the turtle nesting season, which runs from May 1 – October 31st, there can be no night driving, no camping and no bonfires.
County Attorney Michael Mullin read aloud even more emails and several individuals spoke at the podium and by calling in. According to Mullin, the current ordinance only runs to the end of October but he did outline a few options:
Commissioners can decide to continue abiding by the current ordinance until the end of the year, (as opposed to having it end at the end of the turtle nesting season on November 1) or wait until the new year (2021) when the three new commissioners will be officially seated and can decide the fate of what will govern our beaches.
The decision by a vote of 5-0 . . . to continue to September 28th.