Suanne Z. Thamm, Reporter-News Analyst
Despite warnings of a serious financial shortfall and calls for ideas from citizens on ways to enhance city revenues, the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) voted 3-2 to expand opportunities for non-profit agencies located in the city to receive annual fee waivers for a one-day use of city facilities. This item had been placed on the agenda for the January 15, 2013 FBCC meeting by Commissioner Pat Gass who expressed concerns that Resolution 2012-190 adopted on December 4, 2012 restricted fee waivers to 15 non-profits identified by the Arts and Culture Nassau Committee. The fiscal impact of this resolution as originally passed included $6,000 of uncollected fees and $2,000 of expended payroll.
In introducing discussion on this item, Gass stressed that she supported local arts and cultural organizations and recognized their contributions to the community. However, she believed that those who support such efforts should contribute their personal financial support to the organizations as opposed to having the FBCC support them “with the people’s money.” She also added that there were many other non-profits in the city that were not devoted to arts and culture. She believed that if such a fee waiver would be allowed to stand, it needed to be broadened to allow every IRS-certified non-profit organization within the city the same opportunity.
Considerable discussion ensued. Commissioner Arlene Filkoff attempted to address concerns raised by Commissioner Ed Boner with respect to how the FBCC decided which non-profits to support with annual financial grants. She said that earlier commissions had prioritized grant requests by the direct support or benefits the requesting organizations provided to the city. The guiding philosophy in distributing a diminishing amount of grant money has been to view more favorably those requests that save the city money. She cited as example the Amelia Island Museum of History that staffs the Marina Welcome Center with volunteers every day of the week. She added that in an attempt to help other organizations that had requested grants but did not qualify under such criteria the FBCC offered the possibility of one-day’s fee waiver for rental of a city facility.
Theresa Duncan, representing the Arts and Culture Nassau Committee, stressed that activities of the organizations covered by Resolution 2012-190 had a strong, positive impact on the local economy, bringing in tourists to shop, eat and stay in Fernandina Beach. She added that of the 15 organizations covered by the resolution, only 6 had in fact taken advantage of the fee waiver. Sallie McDonald represented the Friends of the Library (FOL) and informed commissioners that the twice per year book sales FOL conducts at the Peck Center gym raise funds that are reprogrammed into the library to benefit the entire community.
Mayor Sarah Pelican reminded commissioners that she was the only vote in opposition to the original resolution, believing that it was more appropriate for each organization to appear individually before the FBCC with a fee waiver request rather than have a list of approved organizations for which fees were automatically waived.
Commissioners launched into another discussion over the appropriate approving authority for such requests, before finally deciding that it would be acceptable for the City Manager to approve such requests, provided that the organization requesting a fee waiver presented proof of its IRS-certified non-profit status and was located in the city.
After some initial confusion on wording a motion, Commissioner Pat Gass moved and Commissioner Ed Boner seconded amending Resolution 2012-190 to allow all non-profits certified by the City Attorney and City Manager to apply for facility rental one-day fee waivers. The motion passed on a 3-2 vote with Pelican voting no and Gass voting against her own motion. The FBCC did not set a limit to the number of approved waivers; nor did it establish a maximum cost for uncollected fees.
January 16, 2012 11:50 a.m.