Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
March 23, 2015 1:00 a.m.


All island homeowners, except for those who already contribute to the South Amelia Island Shore Stabilization Agency (SAISSA), may soon be part of a new taxing district to provide a sustainable fund for beach renourishment along Amelia Island’s Atlantic shore. Both the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) and the Fernandina Beach City Commissioners (FBCC) gave preliminary approval at their joint meeting held on March 19, 2015 to begin work on creating a Beach Protection Fund financed through a taxing district, which does not require voter approval. According to Shanea Jones, Nassau County’s Office of Management and Budget Director, the tax would amount to around $20 per year per homesteaded property.

The new taxing district—known as a Municipal Services Taxing Unit, or MSTU—would relieve county and city governments from having to fund beach renourishment out of their general funds. The money collected would continue to accumulate so that the local match for federal and state funding would be readily available for each new round of beach renourishment.

Budgeting for beach renourishment has been an ongoing headache for local government, especially during the recent economic slowdown. While most of the cost of beach renourishment is borne by the federal and state government, the local cost share is about 11 percent of the price: $1.5M. The original understanding between the local jurisdictions seemed to be that the county and the city would split this cost, but over the years tensions have grown between the two bodies over discharging those responsibilities. Caught in the middle has been the Tourist Development Council (TDC), which collects and administers bed tax revenues on behalf of Nassau County. The TDC sets aside a certain percent of its revenues to monitor and clean up beaches, but there have been increasing calls for that organization to foot an ever-increasing share of the county’s share of beach renourishment costs.

Olsen 3Erik Olsen of Olsen & Associates briefed both commissions on the history of beach erosion problems reaching back to the 1800’s with the building of the jetties. The first beach erosion study was conducted in 1946, followed by several additional studies. It was not until 2008 that beach reconstruction began in earnest with legislative and lobbying help along with support from the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Navy. Olsen called the City of Fernandina Beach “The Poster Child of Perseverance” for its steadfast efforts to protect its beaches.

Olsen 1Olsen said that the Amelia Island beach renourishment project is unique among federal funding projects. The federal government picks up 79 percent of the project cost and the state picks up half of the remaining 21 percent, leaving the smallest portion to be funded locally. The schedule for periodic renourishment has been put back over recent years, with a new cycle to begin in 2016. Since there is no money in the 2016 Federal Budget for any beach renourishment activities on the East Coast, Olsen said that he will work with local governments in an attempt to secure the needed funding from leftover 2015 funds that were either not claimed or returned unspent from other localities. Permits are already in place, and state matching money has been escrowed. But the local match must be in place by October 2015.

Olsen 2Nassau County District 1 Commissioner Danny Leeper recalled changes in the beach during his lifetime spent on the island. He said that he regards beach renourishment as an insurance policy, because it protects not only the beaches, but property west of the beaches from future erosion.

Mike Zaffaroni delivers Chamber of Commerce message of support for special taxing district to fund beach renourishment.
Mike Zaffaroni delivers Chamber of Commerce message of support for special taxing district to fund beach renourishment.

Mike Zaffaroni, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Amelia Island-Fernandina Beach-Yulee Chamber of Commerce, delivered an endorsement of the creation of a Beach Trust Fund, financed through a special taxing district, on behalf of his board. He said, “The Nassau County Shore Protection Plan is designed to protect our property values from the effects of outgoing erosion and flooding associated with a major storm. Therefore, for less than $2.00 per month for most residents, this taxing district will enable the county to collect upwards of $350,000 annually, allowing our community to fund these needed improvements going forward.”

Mac Morriss questions why all county residents would not pay the proposed beach tax.
Mac Morriss questions why all county residents would not pay the proposed beach tax.

Fernandina Beach resident Mac Morriss asked why the tax would not be county wide, except for those who are already paying for beach renourishment at the south end of Amelia Island. He said that the entire county benefits from the tourist draw to island beaches and that the mainland benefits greatly from the island’s buffering the effects of major storms.

County Manager Ted Selby replied that there must be a defined benefit to a property taxed for this purpose and that it would be difficult to make that case to properties in Hilliard or Callahan.

Fernandina Beach commissioners expressed unanimous support for pursuing the creation of the MSTU. Mayor Ed Boner emphasized that such a mechanism would guarantee sustainability.  The project will now be taken up by county staff to work out details.

Fernandina Beach Mayor Ed Boner (back to camera) faces Nassau County Commissioners (l-r):  Chair Pat Edwards, Junior Boatright, Danny Leeper, George Spicer and Steve Kelley.
Fernandina Beach Mayor Ed Boner (back to camera) faces Nassau County Commissioners (l-r): Chair Pat Edwards, Junior Boatright, Danny Leeper, George Spicer and Steve Kelley.

In response to a question from city commissioner Robin Lentz, County Attorney Mike Mullin and County Manager Ted Selby replied that TDC money could not be reprogrammed to repair beach accesses or signs. The TDC would continue to pay for beach monitoring and clean up, holding money in reserve in case of emergencies affecting the beaches.

The BOCC will take up the matter of funding beach renourishment for the current fiscal year at their April 13, 2015 Regular Meeting.

Erik Olsen made several observations on the importance of Florida beaches. They are the most visited beaches in the country, with 810 million daily visitors each year, three times the daily visitors that the National Park Service receives daily. He said that if Florida were a country, it would be the world’s leading tourist destination.

Suanne Thamm 4Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.

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Dave Lott
Dave Lott (@guest_31032)
7 years ago

Even more reason to put a toll gate at the Shave Bridge for non-island county residents to pay for the benefits of the beach. LOL Although seriously, I think a day visitor study to the beaches could clearly show benefit to residents of Hilliard and Callahan and the rest of the county residents. Difficult yes, but impossible no. The majority of the county commissioners know which side of their bread is buttered and they aren’t going to do anything to upset the west Nassau residents. Just as Hillaird and Callahan residents have been getting free fire/rescue services from the county for years while the rest of unicorporated country residents have been paying.
Probably the best solution and I understand why the TDC can’t help pay for the beach renourishment for the north end or else they would be asked to help contribute to the SAISSA as well. .

trey warren
trey warren (@guest_31034)
7 years ago

Since we will pay a special tax and the city will not have to pay it out of general funds…. Will our millage rate decrease?

Len Kreger
Len Kreger (@guest_31035)
7 years ago

It is difficult to not support this,

But had the City and County started accruing monies after the 2008 project this would not be necessary. The City did start recently accruing monies, but the County does not want to pay.

The TDC can provide up to 10% of funding for beach maintenance. They have participated funding monitoring and beach clean up, etc.

As far SASSA is concerned I hope that a complete review is completed to ensure that high end properties are being assessed (including reassessment to residential properties) at a rate similar to the remainder of the Island.

tony crawford
tony crawford (@guest_31046)
7 years ago

Dave brings out an interesting point about a toll. Modern toll installations are effective ways to collect revenues. They are used all over the country and with the conveniences of systems like easy pass, traffic for residence still moves along in an efficient manor.
The City Commission should also be thanked for getting a system in place to raise the needed money towards beach renouncement. They met with the county and created a fix to keep the beaches in good shape. Yes, it is going to cost about $20 a year per household, but that is a small price to pay to keep what we have in good shape. This will not only be valuable with respect to keeping our City an attractive tourist destination, but by keeping the beaches in pristine condition it will also allow property values island wide to increase.

Steve Crounse
Steve Crounse (@guest_31142)
7 years ago

A special tax district is a proper way to go, with a couple caveats. One, Each family who is contributing to this tax should get a sticker for their cars. which allows parking at our beaches. All other visitors to our beaches should be charged a nominal fee per day. Controlled by toll gates or High school or college kids home for the summer. I do prefer the idea of summer jobs for Kids. We’re not going to get all visitors to the beach, but will generate revenues, and create Summer jobs for our kids.

tony crawford
tony crawford (@guest_31194)
7 years ago

Steve, be very careful what you ask for with respect to stickers. We went down this slippery slope a few years ago. If non City residents don’t have a sticker to park in a beach access guess where they will park— all along First Ave and on every single street connection. Think of the need for many ( and I mean MANY ) no parking signs all along First and each connecting street. Great ambiance for the folks who live there, myself included. It means more police presence will be needed to enforce this. It will also mean a great inconvenience for those who live near the beach. It will mean setting up a system for tourists who come down here and stay at our hotels to buy passes to park, simple put Steve it would create one heck of a mess. Have you ever thought of just how many kids would be needed to control all our beach access from dawn till dusk? Nope, sorry but this has been beat to death and it just won’t work. Another thing to figure into the equation is to count the open spaces at the three county beaches Peter’s Point, Scott Road, and Burney Park–They are all free. Who would pay to park in the City when they can drive about 1/4 of a mile–park for free–get life guards–have bathrooms and showers–and have picnic tables ? You can go to anyone of these parks on any hot summer weekend and find an abundance of open ( free ) spaces. If you are interested please contact me and I can give you exact figures on this from the last time this dead horse was dug up and beat. I am not saying some form of paid parking isn’t needed, but there has to be good debate on how it can be done, how the ambiance of the Island won’t be destroyed by no parking signs every few hundred feet, and how the homeowners as well as the local business will be least effected.

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_31234)
7 years ago

Trade off – Fernandina Beach gets two of the present 4 County seats on the Port Authority Commission in exchange for assuming responsibility for beach replenishment.

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