Citizens For a Better Nassau
By Stewart E Nazzaro
May 18, 2020
Leadership or gamesmanship during the crisis of our lifetime
“One feels incredulous that the NCBOCC would actually enter into a 120-day due diligence period on this one property for a questionable purpose given all the uncertainty swirling around our county at this time. We strongly believe the NCBOCC should reconsider this financial decision, take more seriously the crisis we are all enduring now and better prioritize expenditures to meet the greater public good, which, in this case, is athletic fields.”
The immediate need for courageous leadership at all levels of government is essential for our country and community to rebound from the coronavirus pandemic. “Business-as-usual” has become an elusive memory to many of us who have been affected during this challenging time. However, it appears that business-as-usual has an entirely different meaning to our Nassau County Board of County Commissioners (NCBOCC) who, on April 13, voted to proceed with a highly questionable $875,000 land purchase for an aspirational park in a remote part of West Nassau County using recreational impact fees for District 4.
The county has long admitted they have a huge park deficit, and citizens countywide are clamoring for ball fields and lighting for those fields to address this deficiency. Yet, the stated purpose of this park is boat access to the St. Mary’s River and trails. Why doesn’t the county use the park and recreation impact fees to build a regional park closer to Hilliard which has a greater need? And why did they only consider this particular 36-acre parcel that has such a high per-acre price?
While recreational impact fees would be used for the purchase of this park, it would benefit everyone to understand the NCBOCC’s logic to proceed with this 36-acre rural land purchase along the St. Mary’s River that has a staggering $24,305-per-acre price tag with the total coming in at $875,000 just for the land acquisition. This is in contrast to pre-coronavirus comparable market land values in the area, which are in the $7,000-$10,000 per-acre range. Where would the construction and maintenance dollars come from to construct the trails and whatever boat ramp and facilities the county has contemplated? These dollars would most likely end up coming from property taxes, which we’ve already seen skyrocket two years in a row.
If the county were to buy any recreational land, we believe they should do a thorough analysis of competing needs and locations, comparing the projects and even other possible needs and the best locations for each. Then, after this analysis, they should have a public review of the results where citizens can decide how these community investments are made, as they will be the ones utilizing them.
Not to mention, all of this has occurred in the face of a global pandemic, which has had a severe economic impact with unemployment rolls in Nassau County, and elsewhere, spiking. County income, along with many households, will almost assuredly experience a significant decline this year, and possibly for years to come. Vast uncertainty also continues to whip financial and real estate markets nationwide.
One feels incredulous that the NCBOCC would actually enter into a 120-day due diligence period on this one property for a questionable purpose given all the uncertainty swirling around our county at this time. We strongly believe the NCBOCC should reconsider this financial decision, take more seriously the crisis we are all enduring now and better prioritize expenditures to meet the greater public good, which, in this case, is athletic fields. They should also consider additional properties to ensure taxpayers only pay market rates for acreage acquired. A future District 4 park should be closer to Hilliard to make the park more easily accessible to a greater number of individuals.
The illusion that future impact fees will fully cover capital purchases, construction and maintenance of projects of this magnitude is laughable in light of current circumstances. All of us are being forced to do a careful rethink about how we go about our daily lives. It is in the public’s best interest for the NCBOCC to evaluate our county’s needs for what they might become in the future, not what they might have been in the past. After all, isn’t that what leadership is about – doing what needs to be done during uncertain times?
Stewart E Nazzaro, a private business consultant, is a member of Citizens for a Better Nassau County. He has lived on Amelia Island with his family for 18 years.