Fernandina Beach City Commission – Submerged lands, refinancing utility bonds, right of way opening

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm,

Reporter-News Analyst

Fernandina Beach City Hall, Photo courtesy of John C. "Charlie" Hutchins www.jchutchins.com
Fernandina Beach City Hall, Photo courtesy of John C. “Charlie” Hutchins www.jchutchins.com

At its second regular monthly meeting on January 15, 2013, attended by about a dozen people, the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) handled a relatively light agenda quickly, approving with unanimous votes two consent agenda items, eight resolutions and one ordinance (second reading).  By consensus the FBCC agreed that City Manager Joe Gerrity should be allowed to award the actuarial services contract, provided that the contract comes in at $20,000 or less.  Services provided by this contract will assist the city in dealing with pension reform issues.  Only item 9.1 dealing with facility rental fee waivers for nonprofit agencies generated significant discussion or dissent among commissioners, passing on a 3-2 vote (see separate article).

The Public Speaks

Two members of the public brought matters of concern to the commissioners’ attention.  Mr. Lynn Williams expressed his observation that nothing is being considered in a serious way to raise city revenues.  He suggested that the FBCC convene a group of citizens to generate ten ideas that would save the city $2 million.  Later in the meeting Commissioner Pat Gass addressed this comment in her remarks stating that neither Williams nor other citizens needed to wait for the FBCC to form a committee to generate revenue enhancing or cost saving ideas.

Dr. Jennifer Harrison, representing an apparently growing number of people banding together as Concerned Citizens Against Assault Weapons, asked the FBCC if it would be possible for them to pass a law banning assault weapons and oversized magazine clips in our community.  She asked, “If not, why not?”  She stressed that she and other like-minded citizens were not opposing the Second Amendment or the use of guns for hunting.  Commissioners did not comment or respond.

Refinancing Utility Bonds

Mr. Ed Stull of FirstSouthwest, the city’s bond consultant, addressed the FBCC on the advisability of refinancing three major pieces of the Utility System’s debt.  Resolution 2013-7 authorized execution of a $35,000 contract with GAI Consultants, Inc., to begin working out the details to refinance existing bonds to take advantage of lower interest rates and avoid future balloon payments.  Two of the bonds are currently callable at 100%, and the third will be callable at 100% on September 1, 2013.  The total outstanding debt of all 3 bonds is $37.2 million, with the largest portion representing the purchase of the water system from Florida Public Utilities in 2003.  In response to questions from commissioners, Stull clarified that refinancing the bonds will not extend the maturity date; that it would be possible to pay off the debt earlier but that such action might raise the interest rate; and that local residents could be given priority in purchasing the new bonds.  In response to a question regarding the cost of refinancing, Stull indicated that all told, the expense would be about $540K to save potentially $5.9 million.  Commissioners approved setting up the refinance team with the understanding that a more detailed presentation would come back before the commission at a later date.

Utility Department items (Resolutions 2013-9, 10)

The FBCC approved the purchase and installation of a new camera system for the Wastewater TV van from RS Technical Services, Inc. in the amount of $81,139.80.  In response to a question from Commissioner Arlene Filkoff, Utility Department Director John Mandrick said that without a camera system, the city would not know that it had problems until a pipe cave-in or a sewer back-up occurred.  He cited problems with the existing camera system and the repair cycle.  Mandrick also explained that he needed to reprogram $12,000 to replace a metal roof at Water Plant #1.  The existing roof, which covers a garage area, has been eaten away by sulfur gases generated by the water treatment process.  Both items were approved unanimously.

S. 9th Street Right-of-Way (ROW) opening (Resolution 2013-11)

Property owner Steve Reese and his agent Bobby Ferreira requested that the FBCC authorize the opening of an unimproved city ROW along S. 9th Street between Kelp and Lime Streets.  Without such an authorization, Reese’s property is not publicly accessible.   Reese claims that he cannot develop or sell his property because of the access problem.  Community Development Department (CDD) Director Marshall McCrary informed the FBCC that granting authorization for opening the ROW did not involve any cost to the city.   Such cost would be borne by Reese or a future owner who opted to move forward to open the ROW.  Motion carried unanimously.

City Marina Gains Submerged Lands from State (Resolution 2013-12)

The city’s Fernandina Harbor Marina is located over submerged lands that were improved prior to 1951, making the city eligible for possession of what have been state lands under a Butler Act claim.  The state agreed with the city’s claim to these sovereign submerged lands, which was filed in 2010.  By approving this resolution, the city formally accepted the state’s disclaimer to these lands and assumed ownership.  City Attorney Tammi Bach informed the commission, in response to a question from Vice Mayor Charlie Corbett, that the acceptance of this disclaimer only partially resolves the larger issue of submerged land ownership.  She said that the city would travel to Tallahassee to discuss its claims to additional submerged lands recorded in 1857 records of the Florida Railroad Company.  Other local waterfront property owners are also affected by these discussions.

Alachua Avenue Beach Walkover Easement Agreement (Resolution 2013-13)

In making a city beach walkover handicapped accessible, city workers inadvertently intruded on private property.  This problem was discovered when property owners began designing plans to build on their undeveloped lot. While the property owners were not demanding the structure be removed, they were requesting an easement agreement with the city to protect them from injury and damage claims.  CDD Director McCrary reported that the original beach access was completely on city property, but that the problem arose with making the walkover handicapped accessible. He indicated that in the future the city would require as-built drawings to avoid similar issues.

City Manager Report

City Manager Gerrity indicated that the city’s Airport Advisory Committee (AAC) had requested to meet with the FBCC to clarify the AAC’s role.  Gerrity indicated that he would try to schedule such a meeting for the first week of February, at which time he also wanted to review a letter from Nassau County Economic Development (NCEDB) Director Steve Rieck detailing how NCEDB planned to spend the city’s contribution to the Nassau Tomorrow plan.  Gerrity also sought direction from the FBCC on his authority to apply for small grants without bringing such items to them first.  Consensus was that he should “just apply.”  He also brought to the FBCC a question from a non-resident seeking permission to qualify for city resident rates to use the city pools because he pays property taxes on businesses he owns within the city.  By consensus the FBCC agreed to change the policy to allow property tax payers to qualify for resident rates, regardless of where they live.

Commissioner Reports

  • Commissioner Filkoff volunteered to serve as the FBCC representative on the CRA Advisory Committee and there were no objections.
  • Commissioner Gass reported that she has been calling other government agencies in Nassau County to determine the feasibility of creating a “fuel bargaining group.”  To date she has determined that while the county pays $3.11 per gallon for gas, the city pays $3.58, and Mosquito Control pays even more.  City Manager Gerrity agreed to call County Manager Ted Selby to explore this matter further.  [Note that in a follow up email to FBCC members this morning, Gerrity reported the following:  “I just wanted to clarify the price that the City pays for gasoline.  In December, we paid $3.04/gallon for gasoline.  However, when the Garage sells fuel to the various departments, they add a 12% mark-up to help cover the cost of operating the Garage.  This results in a charge of $3.40/gallon to the departments.  I hope this clears up any questions about pricing differences.”
  •  Commissioner Gass expressed her expectation to have a discussion at the February 5th FBCC meeting about returning the balance of the Forward Fernandina (F2) loan.  Gerrity confirmed that the item would be on the agenda.
  • Commissioner Boner expressed his concern about the current status of the Peck Committee.  That item will return for further discussion.
  • Mayor Pelican indicated that she had received a thank you from the NCEDB, which also indicated that there were subcommittee slots available for interested city commissioners.  No one expressed interest.  She also raised the idea of bringing Humane Society rescue animals to future FBCC meetings as a means to encourage adoptions.  There was no reaction to this suggestion.

January 16, 2013 2:53 p.m.