City Commissioner Ross sends message to Nassau County Commission “united we can succeed divided we will likely fail.”

By Cindy Jackson
February 20, 2020

City Commissioner Chip Ross

Fernandina Beach City Commissioner Chip Ross made an appearance at the February 19, 2020 meeting of the Board of County Commissioners to express his personal passion on the subject of land conversation and to further impress upon the BOCC his concerns relating to having two separate ballot initiatives (one for the City and one for the County) appearing on the November ballot. He was adamant in expressing that he was appearing as a County and City resident and not as a representative of the City Commission,

Said Ross, “this will result in asking the City residents to increase their tax bill to fund both the City and County initiatives.” Ross went on to say, “It is my belief that the two initiatives on the ballot will doom the passage of at least one and possibly both initiatives.”

In a letter sent from Fernandina Beach Mayor John Miller to the BOCC dated February 11, Miller wrote:

“Both the Nassau County School District and the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners have expressed interest in presenting referenda questions to Nassau County voters which will, like the City’s effort, seek permission to levy additional taxes [for land conservation efforts]. It is not difficult to imagine the likely negative impact of three ballot questions [a third question relates to the school board and funding for education funding] seeking higher taxes in the same election cycle.”

However, part and parcel of a proposed cooperative effort is the expectation on the part of the City of Fernandina Beach would be guaranteed a certain amount of the monies collected.

Taco Pope

Taco Pope, Assistant County Manager has other ideas. In his presentation, he was emphatic that allocations be determined based on science not political boundaries. He asked the commissioners to “direct staff to continue current efforts to create a land acquisition program that does not predetermine a set allocation of potential bond proceeds based on geographical or political boundaries but, in the alternative, allocates bond proceeds based on a transparent weighing system and selection criteria that addresses the merits of each individual candidate property to execute the intent of the BOCC as outlined in Resolution 2019-17.”

The commission did just that, voting 5-0 for staff to “stay the course.”

Pope’s presentation was quite convincing in large part due to a graphic that divided the County into quadrants and in each quadrant was documented the population, the taxable value of properties contained within and the total land mass.

Commissioner Ross stated the City would go forward with a separate ballot issue but his claim that “united we can succeed divided we will likely fail,” is not without merit.

Mark Hudson, Land Protection Director for the North Florida Land Trust was at the meeting and while he didn’t reference any specific campaigns, he did say “there is a reduction in people’s enthusiasm for tax initiatives when there are multiple things on the ballot.”

Reached by email, Pegeen Hanrahan, P.E. and Southeast Conservation Finance Director for The Trust for Public Land, confirmed, “[the] bond referenda and the school millage all require just 50% plus 1 to win.”

Editor’s Note: Born in Hagerstown, Maryland, Cindy received her BA in Political Science from Dickinson College. Upon graduation, Cindy began her career on Capitol Hill working as a legislative aide and director. She later became a part of the public relations and lobbying team of the American Iron and Steel Institute and served as director of the office of state legislative affairs for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). Cindy was involved in economic development with the state of Maryland, and served as executive director of Leadership Washington County. As a community volunteer, Cindy participates in numerous volunteer activities serving as a member of Sunrise Rotary, and as board member of Cummer Amelia Board of Directors.

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Dave Lott
Dave Lott(@dave-l)
4 years ago

Taco’s graphic clearly shows how West Nassau, and to a lesser degree East Nassau, has been benefiting all these years off of the cash cow known as Fernandina Beach and the rest of Amelia Island. Representing 27% of the population yet paying 60% of the property taxes. Chip is exactly right to request a proportional distribution of the conservation dollars. I suspect that all the referendums are going to fail, as they probably should.

Sheryl W Harrell
Sheryl W Harrell(@sherry-harrell)
4 years ago

While the City of Fernandina Beach has been the cash cow for the rest of the county, you must admit that it has also been awarded most all of the improvements to the county. The main library is located in Fernandina Beach and almost all of the genealogical books, files, etc are located there. The first time there is a direct hit from a hurricane, the entire library will be swamped by the storm surge, and there goes all of those resources. Look at the improvements made on the island to attract tourists and look at where all of that money comes from. The Western portion of the county has many miles of unpaved dirt roads simply because they are not a priority to the powers that be. The island is the only portion of Nassau County that has mosquito service, while the rest of the county does without. Sure, the millage rate is higher on the island, as it should be considering the finite amount of land compared to the mainland. Stop and think about the fact that what was once an open beach that allowed locals to drive on, park and fish, etc. Now, the rich folks on the South end have convinced the County that they now own this part of the beach and the rest of us aren’t allowed to drive on it, or park there. Be careful when comparing the two different areas of the county.