Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm

Reporter – News Analyst

Fernandina Beach CityCommissioner Pat Gass
Fernandina Beach CityCommissioner Pat Gass

In what City Manager Joe Gerrity described as the most expedited discussion he had witnessed as a commissioner or city manager on this matter, the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) discussed and agreed to award $11,000 in grants in the upcoming budget year to non-profit agencies that benefit the city during the FBCC’s first FY2014/15 budget workshop on June 24, 2014.  Commissioner Pat Gass presented the FBCC with a plan to increase distribution of funds to non-profit agencies by providing a way for supportive water customers to donate to a fund established for this purpose.  It was the consensus of the commission to pursue her idea, with funds collected to be distributed for FY2015/16.

Fernandina Beach Budget Workshop - June 24, 2014
Fernandina Beach Budget Workshop – June 24, 2014

According to information provided by City Comptroller Patti Clifford, the city received a total of 9 grant requests for FY2014/15. Since the Amelia Island Museum of History funding has been moved to a different part of the budget and the Keep Nassau Beautiful request appears to be routinely funded, that left 7 requestors competing for $10,000, the amount allocated for this purpose during preliminary budget development.  The two requesting agencies that received no funding this year are the Boys and Girls Club and Episcopal Children’s Services.  Commissioner Charlie Corbett suggested that an additional one thousand dollars be added to the pot so that Family Support Services, advocated by Vice Mayor Sarah Pelican, could be supported.  All commissioners except Commissioner Pat Gass supported the following distribution:

Agency

Current year funding

Grant Request

Grant approved

Council on Aging $5,000 $15,000 $5,000
Nassau Mental Health – Starting Point $3,000 $3,000 $1,000
Micah’s Place $1,000 $1,000 $1,000
Barnabas Center $1,000 $3,000 $3,000
Family Support Services None $1,500 $1,000

 

Commissioner Gass began the discussion stating her position, which she has maintained consistently.  While Gass stressed that she supports non-profits and the work they do in the community, she does not believe that it is proper for the government to distribute ad valorem taxes to these groups without the permission of the taxpayers.  She said that she personally practices giving back ten percent to the community.  Recognizing that others feel differently, she proposed a way to collect more money potentially for needy non-profits with the consent of the citizens who support such a program.

Gass presented a slide show outlining the basics of her plan.  She stated that there are 7,427 water bills sent to users of the city’s water services.  She suggested asking those people to contribute to the support of non-profits by contributing as little as 5 cents per day.  She calculated that under such a plan, each water consumer would add $1.52 to a monthly bill ($18.25 annually) to help community non-profits.  If everyone participated, this plan would raise $132,542.75 to be distributed to fund grant requests at the end of each year.  With only half the water users participating, it would raise $67,771.38 annually—significantly more than the city has traditionally doled out to grant requestors.

Gass proposed implementing the program immediately and holding off on funding grant requests received for FY2014/15 until enough money had been received through voluntary contributions to fund them, thus saving tax dollars from the proposed budget.  Other commissioners demurred.

Gass suggested that first the city collect the money, then spend it.  She also suggested that some people might be more generous and decide to contribute even more than 5 cents per day.  She presented a range of possibilities from 6 cents to ten cents per day that could raise $81,325.65 to $135,542.75 annually, with only half the water customers participating.

DSCN2930She concluded that it would be up to commissioners to promote the idea in speaking to civic, church and community organizations.  She believed that this was an optimal way to support non-profits with private money raised from those who endorsed the idea, as opposed to using tax dollars of all the people, some of whom might not support the idea of public giving.

City Attorney Tammi Bach said that such an idea would be legal, if public participation remained voluntary.  Commissioner Corbett asked about administrative costs of such a program.  City Comptroller Patti Clifford said such costs would be minimal.  She added that if the FBCC authorized such a program, a new, restricted fund would be established.  She also reminded commissioners that the city does not currently necessarily use ad valorem funds to award non-profit grants because the city has several other revenue sources.

It was the consensus of the city to establish such a system to use next year.

Suanne ThammEditor’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.

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Karen Thompson
Karen Thompson (@guest_19985)
8 years ago

Here we go again!

Genece minshew
Genece minshew (@guest_19989)
8 years ago

Seriously? If I want to give 5 cents a week to a non-profit local organization, I will just save my nickels and make a tax deductible donation yearly. The city does not need to administer another boondoggle.
Maybe this could be used to fund for private citizen dredging projects. I surely don’t want my tax dollars spent on that! Can’t wait for November.

Stephanie Holt
Stephanie Holt (@guest_20000)
8 years ago

I am glad Tammi Bach pointed out that the city has multiple revenue sources outside of the ad valorem taxes. It really bothers me when the revenue of the city and county are treated as all direct tax payer dollars.
It is the furthest from the truth.

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