The Fernandina Beach City Commission’s second regular May meeting was sparsely attended. Commissioners seemed more focused and more civil to the public and to each other than during the first May meeting. They grappled with a charter referendum to increase the term of commissioners to 4 years, and they decided to hire a city clerk, not a city clerk pro tem. (See separate articles).
Following several proclamations, a presentation and the monthly budget summary, the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) took up the sole item on the consent agenda: Resolution 2013-70, authorizing the submittal of an application to the U.S. Department of Justice for the COPS Hiring Program grant to partially fund the salary and fringe benefits of one full-time sworn officer position for 36 months. Under the terms of this grant, the Justice Department would fund 75% of a sworn detective position, provided the city put up a 25% cash match and a commitment to fund the position for an additional 12 months following the 36-month grant period.
Normally, grant submissions are approved without discussion. However, Commissioner Pat Gass asked a question, which she claimed originated in discussions with ordinary citizens. She asked, “What happens to this position if the City Police Department and the Sheriff’s Office merge?” City Manager Joe Gerrity reacted immediately stating, “I have had no conversations with anyone on this topic.”
Fernandina Beach Police Chief Jim Hurley informed commissioners that Department of Justice grants are flexible. However, he stressed, “There is not even a top secret plan for merging [the Fernandina Police Department and the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office].”
Commissioner Ed Boner thanked Chief Hurley for getting creative in finding outside funding for his department. Commissioner Arlene Filkoff also commended Tina Smith, a School Resource Officer at the Fernandina Middle School, emphasizing the importance of funding such positions for the community.
The grant application was approved unanimously.
The FBCC approved the following four resolutions with unanimous votes:
· 2013-71, awarding Bid #13-02 to Exceptional Roofing at a cost of $29,600 for installation of a TPO single-ply roof at Fire Station #2;
· 2013-72, awarding Bid #13-03 in the amount of $34,594 to Zabatt Power Systems for a dual fuel generator for the Police Department, which also serves as the city’s emergency management center;
· 2013-73, approving the sole source purchase of 1,028 water meters with related computer software for the Utilities Department from Sensus Metering Systems for a total cost of $91,286.40. City Manager Joe Gerrity said that the city has developed a maintenance plan for a phased swap out of existing water meters. He explained that the current life of a water meter is 12-15 years because of the local water conditions, but that the new ones will last 15-20 years. Commissioner Gass questioned why the city would not have gone out on bid, as opposed to sole source. Gerrity replied that the city has already invested significant revenue in meter readers and software from Sensus. Gass said that it seemed a bit dangerous to her to deal with only one company on such a costly matter. She expressed concerns that if this company should go out of business, the city would be out on a limb. Other commissioners seemed to feel that the concern was valid, but that the city had done its due diligence to insure that the proposed move was prudent.
· 2013-74, authorizing maintenance renewals for the Kronos payroll, timekeeper and human resources modules as well as the Kronos time clocks in the amount of $22,580. Vice Mayor Corbett asked if the city was tied into this system by contract. City Manager Gerrity and City Comptroller Patti Clifford said that while the city does not have a contract with Kronos, they have invested heavily in the system. The annual maintenance agreement is a way to keep the system functioning at the highest level. Gerrity asked for and received permission to insert proviso language that would allow him to approve future maintenance contracts for Kronos, provided that the increase in the annual premium would not exceed 3%.
In addition to passing Ordinance 2013-03 on first reading, which calls for a voter referendum to change the term of office for city commissioners from 3 to 4 years (see separate article), the FBCC passed Ordinance 2013-10 on first reading to amend the master fee schedule for the Utilities Department for the remainder of the fiscal year. This amendment, passed unanimously, lowers the cost for private fire hydrants from $117.50 to $37.00 per month.
On second and final reading, the FBCC unanimously approved Ordinance 2013-07, which amended a part of the City Code pertaining to the General Employees’ Pension Plan.
The FBCC heard from Paul Singletary of Baptist Health and engineer Nick Gillette, seeking a waiver of the annexation agreement required under the municipal code for new construction on the campus of Baptist Medical Center Nassau. Gillette maintained that the city had not required such an agreement previously on this property and that since this property is located on county land, all permitting to date has been done through Nassau County. Singletary said that previous waivers had been granted to Baptist Hospital and that the new building will house doctors offices and a hospice-type facility that needs to tie in with existing hospital systems. Deputy City Manager Marshall McCrary said that the city has determined that Baptist does not meet criteria for the granting of a waiver, but that the code provides for an appeal to the FBCC, which Baptist was exercising by speaking before the FBCC.
Considerable discussion ensued during which commissioners stressed that by executing the agreement, the Baptist facility was not being annexed into the city. The agreement merely provides for future annexation should certain conditions be met regarding contiguity to the city’s boundaries.
City Manager Gerrity acknowledged that the city has been inconsistent in executing these agreements, but that failure to have such agreements on file is not good for the city. Commissioner Boner agreed, saying that the city must be consistent to be responsible to city taxpayers.
Commissioner Pat Gass, after learning that Baptist Medical Center pays a 25% premium for city water and sewer in addition to higher impact fees, said, “It seems like you should be begging us to come into the city.” Singletary said that he had never investigated the possibility. Gillette said that he would not want to consider such an action until the new building was constructed, since permitting has already been done through Nassau County. Boner said, “[Through annexation] the city would offer you a discount [on current services].” Since the Baptist Medical Center is a not-for-profit, ad valorem taxes would not be a factor, and they would receive a water-sewer fee reduction in the neighborhood of $15,000 annually.
McCrary stressed that Baptist currently has no application pending. If indeed the new construction is a separate building with different ownership (it will be owned by doctors, not Baptist Medical), the city will require the annexation agreement to be executed. The FBCC agreed and denied the request for a waiver via unanimous vote.
(See separate article for reporting on the other discussion item, the City Clerk pro tem appointment.)
Commissioner and Charter Officer Reports
City Manager Gerrity spent some time briefing the commission and the public on the accomplishments of the Utilities Department under the direction of John Mandrick. Gerrity said that when Mandrick took over the city’s utility systems they were rated at a D level, but that under his direction they have moved to an A-B rating. He said that other Florida cities have looked toward our systems as they have improved theirs. While acknowledging that “we have some internal softening to do in dealing with the public,” Mandrick is following a maintenance/improvement schedule set by the FBCC. He also indicated that there is misleading information in the community regarding the county’s suspension of impact fees. He said that while Nassau County has suspended road impact fees, their utility impact fees remain in place and are comparable at the south end of Amelia Island to those charged in the city.
Commissioner Arlene Filkoff commended the public/private cooperation that produced the island bike path. She attended the Law Enforcement Day ceremony sponsored by the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office and spoke highly of what appears to be a new era of cooperation and recognition between the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office and the Fernandina Beach Police Department. She asked Gerrity to set up a meeting for commissioners and city staff to discuss responsibilities and reporting relationships of city advisory committees.
Commissioner Pat Gass thanked Deputy Manager Marshall McCrary for his work on recent issues. She also announced that she has contributed to the July 4th fireworks fund as a business owner and as a commissioner. She encouraged others to do so as well. Contributions may be dropped off at the CBC National Bank of Fernandina Beach.
Commissioner Ed Boner asked to revisit the issue of trees in the comprehensive plan. He claims that the portion of the plan calling for “no net tree loss” is not practical and has forced one local citizen to move due to the cost of city-imposed fines.
Vice Mayor Charlie Corbett echoed Filkoff’s comments on the Law Enforcement Day ceremony sponsored by the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office. He also encouraged people to contribute to the July 4th fireworks by contacting a member of the Historic Fernandina Business Association.
Mayor Pelican invited the public to a meeting on June 3 at 6:00 p.m. at the American Beach Community Center to discuss extending the designation of A1A as a historic scenic highway north onto Amelia Island both to protect the road and support tourism. She also attended the opening of the Elm Street Little League season last Saturday and commended those responsible for the grass fields. She asked Gerrity when the first budget workshop would be held. He replied that he will be meeting with department heads, but he has not yet scheduled a commission workshop.
The meeting adjourned at 8:15 p.m.
Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.
May 23, 2013 1:00 a.m.