By Susan Hardee Steger
July 12 2017 10:34 p.m.
“There is a great need and there are roads falling apart everywhere. There is so much need in Nassau County it is unbelievable, and it isn’t just roads.” Commissioner George Spicer
With the requirement for a super majority vote to approve an additional 5 cent gas tax to fund road projects, the Nassau County Board of Commissioners at its Monday night meeting voted down the “Gas Tax” ordinance on a 3 – 2 vote. Commissioners Kelly and Spicer opposed the move.
Prior to the vote, Budget Director Justin Stankiewicz told commissioners that the additional tax could generate 1.8 M per year dedicated to roads. An estimated 35% of the anticipated tax revenue would come from tourists and other non-county road users. Approximately 15% of the collected funds were to be distributed to county municipalities leaving the county with 1.5 M dedicated to new roads, road resurfacing and paving projects. Currently 31 out of 66 Florida counties utilize the higher gas tax to help fund transportation costs. The average estimated impact to county residents would be $42 a year.
There were few public comments but the majority supported the increase. Mike Bell, called the gas tax, “fairer than any alternative available.” According to Bell, “The county road infrastructure is “deteriorating rapidly.” Challenging commissioners to support the increase Bell said, “It is not intellectually honest to profess to care about road paving and resurfacing if you vote against the only tool to solve these problems.”
Chairman Leeper pressed for support on the issue telling fellow commissioners, “This [is] the right thing to do.“
“What will get you to the point to support the ordinance?,” asked Leeper.
“There is a great need and there are roads falling apart everywhere. There is so much need in Nassau County it is unbelievable, and it isn’t just roads.” Spicer then said he has been “bombarded” with calls from taxpayers on the west side voicing opposition to the gas tax. Because of the calls, he decided not to support the ordinance even though “he believes the tax is much needed in the county.”
Commissioner Steve Kelly said “it would bring him closer” to support the tax if projects were prioritized.
Commissioner Pat Edwards in support of the gas tax said, “If we don’t do it now, we will have more roads falling apart. The county is barely bringing in enough to keep the doors opened. Sooner or later the taxpayers will pay.”
After a recess, County Attorney Mike Mullin brought back an amendment to the ordinance that incorporated commissioners’ concerns. Additional items included road priorities based on a number of criteria including the ability to receive matching funds from state or federal government and an amendment that 60 % of gas tax funds would be allocated west of Interstate 95.
Kelly issued a warning to the public that a one mill rate increase is possible and that is on top of the gas tax should it pass.
Prior to the final vote, Leeper asked fellow commissioners “to reach into your hearts and minds and to do what is best for this county.”
Kelly and Spicer then rejected the gas tax and voted no.
A disappointed Leeper addressed the opposing commissioners. “I don’t want to hear anything about a road until you bring a solution [for funding] to us. “
King Engineering Associates recommended a budget of 6.5M every year for county roads. Past budgets have fallen far short of the 6.5M goal. It is expected this year’s budget will put road expenditures in the Capital Project Budget at 3.5 M. An email response from a Fernandina Observer question, Budget Director Stankiewicz said, “In addition [to the Capital Project Budget] we will spend $2 million on our Pavement Management Program. . . . . this $2 million is short of the consultant’s recommendation of $6.5 million.