Susan Hardee Steger
A Fernandina Beach City Commission Workshop held on January 8, at the Fernandina Beach Golf Course provided commissioners with an update from three department heads, and from a city resident Jim Blanchard, formerly involved with I T for Nassau County. There were three city residents in attendance, and Nassau County Commissioner Steve Kelley made a brief appearance.
Jeremiah Glisson, maintenance manager, provided an overview of the city fleet. The city has 95 cars and trucks included in a total of 216 pieces of rolling stock. Rolling stock includes everything with wheels (pumps, trailers, lawnmowers, tractors, etc.) Over the last 8 years, there has been a 17% reduction in rolling stock. This was achieved through an aggressive program to sell off or discard “junk” items, eliminating vehicles that showed limited use, and reassigning stock.
In 2005-2006, the city began a Vehicle Rotation Program. This program reduces expensive repair costs, reduces down time, and allows for purchases to be made at the optimum time. With dwindling city revenues, there is pressure to depart from the program and delay equipment purchases. Repair costs are rising.
The best time to replace a vehicle is “when its total costs, averaged over the vehicle’s lifetime, are at a minimum,” says Glisson. “A run to fail vehicle program does not work for front line vehicles and equipment.”
Vehicles and equipment are purchased by competitive bid and through aggressive contracts. Government discounts are as high as 40% off of the Manufactures Suggested Retail Price. City vehicles are sold through EBay and the sales yield excellent value because of the one owner status, aggressive maintenance program, and working the surplus wisely. Glisson stated, “Buy low and sell high equals a good business practice!”
Fuel costs for the city average a little over $3.00 per gallon, representing the largest expense for the city fleet. Fuel costs for this year are budgeted at $405,000. There is no sales tax for a governmental entity.
Glisson prepared the commission for next year’s purchase needs that include replacing a 2002 Pierce Pumper fire truck, and a 2005 street sweeper. New fire trucks can cost up to $375,000. The city is considering a refurbish option for the fire truck costing approximately $150,000. In addition the City is considering a smaller street sweeper that will cost around $150,000 and reducing the number of street sweeping days from 5 to 3.
Sanitation Department – Garbage and Recycling and Mulching
The Sanitation Department is an enterprise fund. This Department provides cleanup and trash removal for the downtown area, cleanup of right-of-ways and vacant properties, maintains the mulch site at the airport, provides recycling services, and administers functions related to garbage/recycling services.
Yard debris is disposed at the City mulch site, located at the airport. Mounds of debris from tropical storm Beryl were placed in this location. Through the sanitation fund, the maintenance department provides over 900 employee hours for hauling over 600 loads of mulch to Rayonier which pays for the mulch.
Advanced Disposal provides garbage service and recycling service to the city. In one year, the city will reevaluate the need for twice weekly pickup. In the event the city determines once a week is sufficient, rental properties along Fletcher may be required to have twice a week pick up. If the City moves toward a once a week pick up, the cost to citizens for garbage service decreases by 25%, and City revenue from the garbage franchise fee would decrease by 10%. The revenue from the franchise fee is used to support utility billing, the annual recycling event, and processing material at the mulch site. Some of the franchise fee collected is placed in the general fund.
Annual recycle tonage averaged less than 30 tons prior to distribution of the green recycling carts; now the average is over 70 tons.
Rex Lester, Street and Maintenance Director, indicated an often-overlooked responsibility of the city; tree maintenance. From Sadler Road North there are over 7000 trees in the right of way and parks that are maintained by the city. This figure does not include Sadler South. Presently there are over 633 trees in park areas and right of ways that should be removed because they are in poor condition.
There are over 3000 signs in the city that must be maintained.
In addition, traffic lights are the City’s responsibility to maintain. The State of Florida does pay the City to maintain the traffic lights. A recent conversion of incandescent bulbs to LED bulbs paid for by the state resulted in a $7500 annual reduction in utility costs.
Future cost reduction projects include converting concrete streetlights along Amelia Trace off of Sadler to wooden poles. According to Lester, “Years ago, for some unknown reason, someone put up an excess number of concrete light polls on the Amelia Trace roadway. The City is charged extra for concrete poles by Florida Public Utilities. By replacing the concrete poles with wooden the city will save $2000 yearly.
Lester pointed out streetlights that were placed 50 feet from one another. Through the street light reduction program, the City has saved money by eliminating approximately 100 lights that were determined to be unnecessary.
The Street and Maintenance department is also responsible for street sweeping. Everyday, 25 – 30 miles of streets are swept, or 5,000 miles a year. (As previously mentioned, the city is considering reducing the frequency of street sweeping to save money.)
Last year, city staff spent 2400 employee hours maintaining Centre Street. Their responsibilities included stringing 30 trees with LED lights, placing and removing banners, maintaining tree and flower beds, signs, and litter removal.
The City spent $239,000 on street resurfacing during 2011-2012. A street resurfacing schedule is available on the city website. This year’s budget allows $250,000 for street resurfacing.
I. T. – Wi-Fi
Joe Blanchard, community volunteer, was asked to discuss WiFi in the City of Fernandina Beach. Blanchard has an extensive background in computer science and once worked for Nassau County.
Blanchard, mentioned other municipalities that have developed a city wide Wi-Fi. Many have discontinued the service due to the expense of maintaining the system. Wi-Fi technology is fast changing. This is something to think about in the future.
As previously reported in the Fernandina Observer by Suanne Z. Thamm, “Mr. Jahan Babadi of Sun-Tel USA approached the FBCC with a preliminary proposal suggesting a partnership to provide free Internet service to downtown public spaces, back up for essential city services and more affordable Internet via television to under served areas of the population and to those seeking a more affordable broadband service.”
Finance Director Patti Clifford, reviewed one time revenue sources used in the 2012-2013 budget. They include $100,000 from Florida Public Utility related to the streetlights, a $143,000 transfer from the CRA for repayment of a previous loan, and lowering by approximately one million dollars the General fund reserves from 25% to 20%.
“If General Fund revenue and expenses remain the same, for Fiscal Year 2013-2014, we are beginning the new Fiscal Year with a $1,243,000 deficit, says Clifford.
Clifford further indicated there is pressure from all sides with high and unpopular Electric Franchise Fees (6%), increased millage rates beyond the roll back rates, staff decreases causing services to suffer, benefits costs increasing including pensions, decreased Communication Services Tax Revenue (caused by reduction in telephone land lines), pressure from Florida legislatures to eliminate the Local Business Tax (a big revenue generator for the City), and the General Fund carrying the losses over the years(Life to Date) of the Golf Course and Marina. Significant staff decreases have taken place that continue to impact services. “We are getting to the point that staff cuts are not going to solve any problems for us,” says Gerrity.
Clifford identified potential revenue streams which include island wide Fire Tax District, Fire Fee, Independent Island wide public safety district, special assessment for beach renourishment, and paid beach parking.
Clifford walked the commission through the fee schedule for impact fees. Impact fees cannot be used for maintenance, or for people. Impact fees are being used for the expanding and repairing of the new downtown comfort stations. They were used in the past for the building of the Teen Center at the Atlantic Avenue Recreation Center.
The commission can pay for an analysis and proposal to recalibrate impact fees. Gerrity informed the commission the cost for the analysis is in the $50,000 or $60,000. There was no discussion to eliminate impact fees.
Joe Gerrity said he did not have much to tell about the airport. The airport is in very good shape with a positive cash balance. A new tenant Air Methods is on board. There is a possibility of leasing half of the Black Shadow hanger. Right now the biggest problem is the need for more T-Hangers and he is searching for funding.
Fees related to the seven year McGill Aviation lawsuit total 1.8 million. So far the liability insurance proceeds have covered $565,000. Over the years, the General Fund loaned a total of $900,000 to the airport to cover lawsuit expenses. With the sale of airport land to Florida Public Utilities, and the upcoming sale to First Coast Moving and Storage, much of the general fund loan is being paid down.
Gerrity said that the commission must determine if they wish to hire a full time airport manager or if they wish for City Manager Gerrity to continue to fill that role. Gerrity said he feels comfortable filling the role, and he doesn’t feel overly taxed at this time.
Editor’s Note: Presentations were also made by the Golf and Marina enterprise funds. The Fernandina Observer will post these reports at a later date.
January 11, 2013 3:16 p.m.