The combination of having too much money in city reserves and underestimating anticipated state contributions has resulted in an additional $1.5 million in revenue for the city of Fernandina Beach’s 2023-24 budget.
City commissioners last week approved the rollback property tax rate that cut $2.5 million in spending on capital projects like beach walkovers, street paving, building improvements and new downtown lighting. City commissioners at their budget workshop agreed the additional money will go towards some of those capital projects.
“Two weeks ago we talked about some general reserve funds and that we had gotten more funds than we anticipated,” said Interim City Manager Charlie George.
George said the city found it had $841,222 in excess of the required 20% in funds in emergency reserves. There was also another $625,000 more in state funds from municipal revenue sharing and sales tax. The total additional money for the city is $1,466,933.
“We have to wait for state revenue before we can put those in (the budget) so we have a guess at the time (of putting the budget together). But until they (state numbers) start coming in we don’t have a true number. They lag a little behind our budget prep,” George explained. “What I want to do is give you staff’s recommendations of where this money should be spent.”
City Commissioners approved city staff’s allocation of the extra money to be spent on the following:
$741,993 for downtown revitalization. “On top of $330,000 we have already budgeted. We would look at doing lighting, streetscape, landscape, street resurfacing, planters the whole thing,” George said.
— $250,000 for the municipal golf course irrigation system, which is now failing and needs replacement.
— $125,000 for bike/walking trails along the Beech Street area.
–$150,000 for street resurfacing to add to the $600,000 already budgeted.
–$100,000 more for sidewalks.
–$100,000 for tennis court repairs.
“I think this is a good use of these funds,” said Commissioner Chip Ross.
“I want to applaud staff for finding the extra funds for these projects to get done,” said Commissioner James Antun. “It’s going to make a big difference in the projects if we don’t have them done.”
Vice Mayor David Sturges said the new revenue represented an “awesome plan.” He asked George how he planned to implement the downtown revitalization project.
“Once this is all approved, we’ll get groups together to figure out what disruptions we’ll have, we’ll do surveys and concept designs. Right now the consensus looks like between Second and Fourth streets. That will be the keystone for what it would look like for other areas,” George said.
Mayor Bradley Bean said “with the addition of these funds, it is unbelievable what our city is able to fund without raising taxes.”
The issue of raising city commission salaries by a total of $30,000 combined (from $1,000 each per month to $1,500 per month) was brought up by Ross, who proposed setting aside the $30,000 and putting it in the city’s contingency fund.
“I have no problem raising the salaries of future city commissions,” Ross said.
Sturges pushed back on Ross and said, “This isn’t a raise, it’s a put-back of benefits for this position. I don’t want to strip this position for its value in the future. It would be a travesty to think this job could be done for that amount of money other than wealthy, affluent people that have plenty of time.”
The salary increase remained in the budget but the City Charter will require a new ordinance be approved by the city commission to bump up their pay.
Ross also asked how the city commission was going to fund capital projects under the city’s 5-year plan.
“I think we take a bite from the elephant one bite at a time,” Sturges told Ross. “Ultimately the answer is we do a few of these projects each year until they all get accomplished.”
Mayor Bean said commissioners needed to trust “our staff to make these decisions going forward.”
“There will be money in the budget going forward and there will be money in future budgets the year after that. Right now, we’re deciding this year’s budget.”
As a result of the approved allocation of the funds, the city commission cancelled its workshop scheduled for today.