Costs are going up and jobs need to be done, so despite the anti-tax local political culture, the Fernandina Beach City Commission is continuing on a path toward a millage rate the state defines as a tax increase, but is the same rate commissioners approved for the current fiscal year.
“It’s not the world of politics (that defines it) as a tax increase,” Commissioner Bradley Bean said at the commission’s latest special city meeting. “It is defined by the state of Florida that it is a tax increase. That’s what we have here. The state of Florida defined — that’s the definition of what a tax increase is. Frankly, to be honest with you, yes, you point out that all of our tax are capped at just 3%.”
Bean is running against fellow commissioner David Sturges to be the city’s next Mayor.
“Under Florida state statutes, the proposed operating millage rate of 5.333 generates revenues that exceed revenues generated by the ‘rollback rate,’ which the rollback rate is 4.7709, and constitutes a tax increase,” City Manager Dale Martin said at an earlier City Commission meeting on the issue. “Under state statutes, that’s defined as an 11.78% tax increase.”
Commissioner Chip Ross noted the millage rate wasn’t really a nearly 12% tax increase because of “Save Our Homes” tax caps in state law, and how current commissioners and other Fernandina Beach homeowners will be paying lower rates because of that law.
Bean said passing a 5.333 millage rate will result in higher rents for people in poverty. Nassau County is already prohibitively expensive for renters, something exacerbating a labor crisis in county schools and the service industry.
“I will point out to you that we have all agreed that we need to grow and enhance our parks and recreational spaces, we have to keep our streets safe and clean, we have to protect our trees and the environment,” Ross said.
“Every one of us voted, agreed, that we need to increase the wages of our workers in our city, and that’s about a $2 million bill. I will insist to you, if we go to the rollback rate, which is ‘no tax increase,’ which is what you’re advocating, you have to come up with $1.85 million worth of budget cuts.”
If Bean or someone else would put $1.85 million in specific cuts on the line, Ross said he would consider the rollback rate. The majority of the commission continues to back the proposed rate, though, as it’s seen as necessary.
“This is the first year, maybe, in many years, that we have a legitimate capital improvement plan that came to the city, which included a lot of costs you could say were deferred, and we are funding those,” Vice Mayor Len Kreger said.
“That was my decision to move with the 5.333 millage rate, to move forward with that. We don’t need to be continually cutting and deferring maintenance. We’re already a little bit behind — we need to catch that up. When you bring in the issue of the pay raises, which were deserved and necessary just to keep staff, I think the current millage rate is where we need to be based on the budget submitted.”
Another vote on the millage is set for Sept. 20.