Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
What would happen if the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) held a state-mandated public hearing on the proposed budget and no one came? Including commissioners? The city skirted this scenario when its September 3, 2014 Special Meeting convened minus two commissioners, including the Mayor. In the audience were two members of the public, two reporters, and a handful of city staffers. Mayor Ed Boner arrived 8 minutes into the meeting, which lasted about 11 minutes. He retrieved the gavel from Vice Mayor Sarah Pelican, who had been required to begin the meeting without him. Commissioner Charlie Corbett never arrived.
The meeting was called to formally notify the citizens of the proposed millage rates for FY2014/15 and to present the proposed Budget for the new fiscal year, which begins October 1, 2014. Vice Mayor Pelican, as required by law, read the Truth in Millage Statement:
There was no public discussion over the proposed budget either, but Commissioner Johnny Miller raised questions over what he perceived as discrepancies between capital project priorities established by the Parks and Recreation Committee (PRC) and the priorities stated in the budget. Referring to those projects that would be funded by impact fees, he said that the PRC had taken as a given that expansion and improvements to the MLK Center restrooms would occur ($150,000). Setting that project aside, the PRC’s priorities were expanding and improving the Central Park restrooms ($155,000), purchasing a portable band shell that could be used at multiple city locations ($25,000), and lighting the city soccer fields. The City Budget, however, while including the Central Park restroom project, did not reflect those priorities. Instead it included $30,000 for a Greenway viewing platform and $125,000 for the Amelia Riverfront Park. He asked how the money had been programmed for the Waterfront Park without a recommendation from the Parks and Recreation Committee.
City Manager Joe Gerrity responded that it had been the consensus of the FBCC to move up the priority of the Waterfront Park. City Comptroller Patti Clifford added that the lighting for the soccer fields was programmed for future years due to the expense. Miller continued to support a priority for the portable band shell, arguing that it would save money in having to construct permanent band shells in multiple locations. No other commissioner joined the discussion.
Mayor Boner arrived with apologies.
The proposed budget, over 100 pages, is available online for review. The total of all city funds will surpass $100M for the first time with the 2015 budget.
The General Fund, which handles the day-to-day operation of what most people think of as “government”—protection, streets, parks and recreation, planning and permitting, finance, etc.—increased by a modest 3.1% to $16,342,205.