A series of unfortunate events – Citizens for a Better Nassau County

FOpinions_-Smaller-Cropped-300x108Citizens for a Better Nassau
Former Nassau County Commissioner
James L. Higginbotham
Retired Businessman
Robert W. Spaeth
October 29, 2015 4:23 p.m.

There has been a series of unfortunate events that have happened lately, which
strongly impact the long-term financial well-being our county. Yet, it is unsettling
to realize that many of the county’s residents are unaware of them. This series of
events began with a comprehensive financial audit that was presented by Burton &
Associates to the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners in July 2015.

Citizens for a Better Nassau CropTo understand the importance of this audit, we need to review some events of the past and the financial vulnerabilities our county. The current financial state of
the county was principally caused by the economic downturn between 2008 and 2013, as we ended up with county property assessments – the value of all property in the county – decreasing by about $2 billion, which resulted in approximately $13 million less revenue from ad valorem taxes to fund government services.

This is compounded by the county’s heavy reliance on residential property taxes to
fund services because, while we have a lot of residential developments, we don’t have enough commercial, office and industrial development to balance the residential growth that we’ve experienced over the last several decades. Consider what consumes the majority of local government tax dollars: road building and maintenance, schools, and fire and rescue services, which are all primarily a function of residential growth. On average, a residential development consumes far more in government services than it returns in tax base, while other types of land uses are just the opposite, paying more into the tax base than they consume in services.

The “Save Our Homes” Amendment in the Florida constitution, which allows market forces to push down real estate values, but places an annual cap on increasing valuations at 3 percent or the Consumer Price Index – whichever is less (this year is 0.8 percent) – made the county’s financial problem worse. Since the economic downturn, the county has tried to get back on its feet financially, playing catch up until values and taxes reach their prior level.

This information is important, because we are still feeling the effects of it today, which is where the audit comes into play. The presentation of the audit at the county commission meeting showed that, if the county continues as is, they will continue deficit spending in the near term, severely reducing available reserves, limiting capital investments to fleet replacement only and allowing no further capital investments to go to capital maintenance. That means no road or other
infrastructure maintenance.

F-O-Smaller2-300x300The presentation also highlighted that the county has a large, growing deferred maintenance issue on road repair and paving, rolling stock and other infrastructure. It pointed out that the county should be spending, at a minimum, approximately $7.5 million per year in ongoing maintenance. However, in order for the county to make these expenditures, they would have to either reduce other expenses and/or increase revenues in order to be financially sustainable. These expenditures are not only necessary, as we cannot imagine we will not need to pave a road or have road maintenance done, as well as other necessary capital maintenance, but they are a much-needed investment in the future and well-being of the community.

The unfortunate part of this is that this glaring information seems to have been
ignored by some of our community leaders who don’t seem to think there is a fiscal
crisis staring us in the face. This fiscal crisis is real and, if we do not do
something to address it, the effects will be far reaching, impacting every county
resident and property owner. Our property taxes will increase and, eventually, the
value of our properties will decrease, along with our quality of life. It will
severely hinder the county’s ability to attract the private capital investment and
high-wage jobs we need to pay for our growing pains and revitalize the economic
sustainability of our county.

Unfortunately, the words ‘economic development’ are only said in hushed tones in
the county, but how else can we financially sustain the county for the long run?
Private capital investment and high-wage jobs benefit the entire county. They
diversify our tax base, help keep residential property taxes low, help the county
make key investments in our infrastructure and schools, and help maintain the
quality of life we enjoy here in Nassau County.

Retired Nassau County Commissioner Jimmy L. Higginbotham and Retired Businessman Robert W. Spaeth are co-chairs of the newly-launched ‘Citizens for a Better Nassau County.’ For more information, please visit CitizensforaBetterNassau.com.

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Ray Roberts
Ray Roberts (@guest_45191)
8 years ago

I seem to remember Mr. Higginbotham voted in favor of every single one of those residential developments despite citizens’ warnings about what he is now highlighting.

Why should anyone place any reliance on his opinion now?

Benjamin Lloyd
Benjamin Lloyd (@guest_45279)
8 years ago
Reply to  Ray Roberts

Good Point!

Steven Crounse
Steven Crounse (@guest_45198)
8 years ago

We’ve got major growth on the Horizon for Nassau County. That’s a fact. Look what’s happened out on SR200/A1A. in the last 5 Years. Is all growth Positive? No. We have an opportunity out at Crawford Diamond to Build some significant Manufacturing Jobs. An Automotive Plant perhaps. Store fronts on Sadler need to be filled. Empty building in the County need to be occupied. The reuse of that Facility in Yulee is a good example. Give tax breaks to make it attractive to Companies. I have Grave reservations on “Out of Town Money People”, telling us what we need, what’s good for us. and the dire consequence, if we don’t lesson to them. Just beware of this Bunch, “Remember there’s no free lunch”

Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_45207)
8 years ago

Life and times are moving on. Transparency can make this work for all.

Bob Allison
Bob Allison (@guest_45209)
8 years ago

The challenge of bringing new manufacturing to Nassau County is complicated and difficult while increasing local tourism is straightforward and simple. Millions of tourist dollars pass Nassau County by every single day on I-95 because we fail to provide any facilities for those visiting Florida in their motorhomes and modern RVs. Spend just fifteen minutes at the State Road 200 exit and watch this money blow by. During the busy season like now you can count as many as 200 motorhomes passing us by every hour. These folks will all spend their vacation funds elsewhere for the simple reason there is no place to park overnight on the east side of Nassau County. I have tried to address this missing link in our County’s facilities supporting tourism at several locations but the “not in my backyard” chorus shuts this down. The math is simple…..200 motorhomes X 2.7 persons in each spending $40 per day to local businesses of all kinds equals $21,600 per day and more than $1500 per day in sales taxes not to mention the creation of more than 50 permanent new jobs. Viable solutions to our County’s current financial predicament exist but none can get off the ground in the absence of visionary local leadership.

Donna Paz Kaufman
Donna Paz Kaufman(@dpazpazbookbiz-com)
8 years ago

Seems in the mid-2000s we solved the budget issues and improved the bond rating. When some of these level-headed commissioners ran for re-election, the county’s citizens did not vote them in. Some are living in a world of unrealistic expectations … against minor property tax increases and an unwillingness to look at alternative ways to increase revenue. We don’t have an income tax here and businesses taxes are minimal. That leaves property taxes, fees, and new taxes. Seems all of the improvements we’ve seen are through Gil Langley’s group, Buddy Jacobs’ work in getting Washington funds, and the hard work of volunteers who do countless things for the City and County. Who on our commissions can we count on to address these long-term funding issues with honesty and transparency?

rosemary.vauzanges (@guest_45216)
8 years ago

Having attended the commissioners’meeting in the Police Station of those wishing to fill several vacant seats in the November election, I can make several observations:

Most of those running were repetitious. Candidates (with one exception,) rarely either really answered or focused objectively on most of the questions . 3 of the 4 were quite concerned about possible criticism and were defensive, and those experienced working in local government obviously wanted to be liked well enough to be elected.

It would be refreshing if candidates for public office actually focussed on the questions posed and, instead of rambling , managed to offer a few concrete suggestions about improvements that could be made to City government.But it was mainly a presentation of the same old, same old verbal shuffle blah blah and blah from 3 of them. The men did not articulate well, spoke softly, and could often not be heard, while the two women had much more energy and their voices were audible to the back rows.

Altogether, I was happy to have attended the meeting and will most certainly arrive early for any meetings in future so I can see and hear more clearly. If I were to offer any advice to people running for office I would suggest that less is more, answers should be succinct and to the point,and candidates should offer a few cogent ideas that they would like to implement to solve specific problems in Fernandina Beach.A
forum should be used to express facts and ideas and is not held to court popularity.

Mrs. D. Hunter
Mrs. D. Hunter (@guest_45232)
8 years ago

“Unfortunately, the words ‘economic development’ are only said in hushed tones in
the county”

You’re talking about on-islanders rather than county-wide, right?

If so, reason being, we on-islanders live in a fragile mill:port:tourist:historic district:small town mystique:centuries-old legacy maritime forest:beach resorts balance and have ever since Buddy Jacobs got the historic district platted, secured and funded at state and federal levels.

I’m an on-islander and, for one, don’t want to lose what we have, namely [from today’s News Leader]:

1. “Northeast Florida’s Amelia Island has placed among the top 10 U.S. islands in the 2015 Conde Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards. Amelia Island finished in the number 10 spot in a list comprised of destinations such as Maui, Kauai and Oahu and only one other Florida island – Longboat Key – in the 28th annual competition.”

2. “The Great Places Award celebrates communities that have a true sense of place, cultural and historic interest, and strong community involvement. Historic Downtown Fernandina Beach received the most votes out of the finalists.”

Sir, the hushed tones came about after DiBella scolded the community to stop “arguing” because it was affecting her ability to sell our community to economic developers. Come to find that what she termed toxic rancor was really just the positive flip side of vigorous community involvement — an undeniable asset in awarding Amelia Island for its “strong community involvement.”

Yes we attend meetings, yes we protest and air grievances, yes OHPA refuses to budge one inch in maintaining their right to run toxic flammable substances up and down the river, in and out of the sound, up and down the railroad tracks of our fragile community, yes the townhall meetings overflow with vigorous debate, and yes all this community involvement is positive. No one attending any of these meetings is speaking in “hushed tones.”

Anyone, any non-profit organization, any economic development entity which cannot sell our island to developers because the citizens have organized to demand clean air has missed this community’s greatest asset.

You’re to be congratulated on your broad media rollout as an “educational and advocacy group.” Looking forward to working with you…