A message from Citizens for a Better Nassau

Citizens for a Better Nassau
By Chairman Bill Gingrich
June 13, 2019 10:00 a.m.

Eleven years ago, noted Florida economist Hank Fishkind conducted a fiscal sustainability study of Nassau County that highlighted several significant deficiencies in the county’s budgeting and finance function. In light of last year’s massive property tax increase – increases Fishkind predicted absent responsible action by the county – and the upcoming budget workshops for the next fiscal year, it’s fair and prudent to now assess how our county commission has performed in planning for our inevitable future growth and addressing the Fishkind recommendations.

Perhaps the single-most important observation contained within Fishkind’s work was that the county’s entire budget was not sustainable due to the total lack of forecasting and budgeting for long-term capital needs. Today, our county commission continues to fail to plan for the future through the budgeting process. They put together annual spending schedules but have resisted calls for true long-term forecasting and budgeting. A budget should form the foundation for a plan for the future, in which priorities are established and plans to fund them are articulated. It’s not simply a schedule of expenditures for the current year. Is our commission truly using the budget process to plan for the county’s future? The recent “surprise” need to implement massive tax increases, in addition to substantial increases in the taxable value of property, in the county suggests they’re not.

To illustrate what I mean, consider the example of parents wanting to provide their children with the option of a college education after high school. Would it make sense to start planning for that the day they’re born or wait until they’re a senior in high school? The answer is obvious, and you get my drift. Imagine how the conversation would go if those parents were to approach their employers, hat in hand and unilaterally demand an immediate 25% increase in their pay to fund the education they failed to plan for.

How has this failure-to-plan-and-thus-planning-to-fail scenario manifested itself in Nassau County? Well, we’ve experienced a massive population increase over the last couple of decades (and this rate of growth is increasing), putting a strain on government services and infrastructure. Between 2000 and 2019, estimates of the county’s population have increased by almost 50%. While our county commission approved many thousands of new residential units, did they plan to pave or even maintain the roads necessary to support this new growth? This will be a shock to many residents that live in East Nassau, but we still have hundreds of miles of unpaved roads in this county and an increasing number of them are heavily travelled and costly to maintain. Did the commission plan to construct park and recreation facilities to support this growth? No. Did the commission regularly update impact fees to ensure that new growth pays for its impacts? The answer, again, is no.

Compounding their failure to plan and budget appropriately, our county commissioners have also been incredibly irresponsible stewards of the tax dollars they have by paying for long-lived capital assets in cash rather than bonding these capital expenditures over time at historically low interest rates. While it’s sound debt policy to not use debt financing to fund current operations, it’s the best practice in debt policy to do so for long-lived capital projects. At the height of the Great Recession, municipal bond rates were less than 3%. Even today, they’re extremely low. Wouldn’t it make more sense, in a rapidly-growing county like ours, that our future residents help pay for the capital projects they will benefit from rather than burdening current residents all at once to pay for long-lived capital assets? A couple of years ago, our commission virtually liquidated their remaining reserve funds to pay cash for the new Sheriff’s Complex and Emergency Operations Center to the tune of about $10 million. This was just before we got hit by two hurricanes and needed those reserves to cover true rainy-day expenses.

While no one can predict the future, this fact doesn’t absolve our county commission from their responsibility to plan for it. It’s their job. If they don’t want to, or aren’t up to the job, they should move aside and let others step in and clean up this mess before we get hit with yet another massive property tax increase.

Bill Gingrich is a retired GE executive and chairman of Citizens for a Better Nassau County.

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Klynt A. Farmer
Klynt A. Farmer (@guest_55198)
4 years ago

Impact fees should eliminate the impact. Period. Choose to be different and make the growth pay for itself. If you don’t like it, move south.

Douglas Adkins
Douglas Adkins (@guest_55201)
4 years ago

The impact of the massive Wildlight Project has placed a strain on county resources, the $5 million interest free loan to build the grand entrance road for this project took money from the school board that is needed to repair crumbling school buildings. The demand that county taxpayers pay for the parks that were promised and then taken away is just an example of poor planning on the developer’s part. Consider the fact that they will have to bring up the elevate by a considerable amount ( perhaps more than they expected) requiring loads of fill dirt to be hauled in to raise the elevation I am told by 18 feet or more. I cannot imagine what is being done to protect the gopher tortoises that inhabited that area and the impact of the run off stemming from the artificial rise in elevation. The biggest concern is what to do about the indigent health care needs of the growing numbers of people who are moving in and will form the support system for the people who purchase these expensive home. How will the poor and indigent be cared for and who is responsible for that impact. It will take lots of low income workers to sustain the Wildlight dream of low country living yet there is no plan to house or care for these new citizens in Nassau County. I can only imagine the next thing beyond the park conversation and the demand for new roads will be health care – we know that they asked for and did not get county support for use of industrial revenue bonds to pay for UF Health to open a medical office building. So what is the plan at Wildlight to address the health care needs of its workers and those who will be expected to mow the grass and care for the facilities?

Chris Dickinson
Chris Dickinson(@chris)
4 years ago

Thank you Citizens for a Better Nassau for highlighting the utter lack of responsible financial planning on the part of the County Commissioners. Other than writing letters to the commissioners demanding action and voting them out eventually if they continue their financial malfeasance, what can a resident do?