The Quest for Smarter Growth – An opinion

Citizens for a Better Nassau
August 29, 2016 5:00 a.m.

FOpinions_Wordpress-300x151Citizens for a Better Nassau County was formed just over 11 months ago. Our sole purpose is to raise awareness of the financial challenges that our large and diverse county and each of us as taxpayers face, and to suggest a path to future prosperity that will create the softest landing for this county that we love. We believe that informed citizens make better, stronger and more prosperous communities.

Citizens for Better NassauAlong the way, a few have suggested we’re a political committee. This is false. Our 501(c)(4) structure prohibits us from advocating for any candidate or engaging in electioneering communications. Several people are also still trying to sell the false narrative that we’re little more than a mouthpiece for developers. This couldn’t be further from the truth. A quick scan of our coalition members and supporters on our website will show you that less than 10 percent of them are associated with the development community at all. As many will recall, this dialogue casting our organization as an unseemly cast of characters with evil intentions, started upon the inception of our group and has only grown stronger as we near Primary Election Day.

Amidst all of the scare tactics and false narratives, we made reference to a quote from John Steinbeck: “Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts…perhaps the fear of a loss of power.” We think that these last few weeks have been clear evidence of that. To us, there’s no need to resort to fear mongering. The facts are the facts and Nassau County can no longer afford to have our citizens misled.

According to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s July 2015 Summary of Employment, Demographics, and Commuting Patterns for Nassau County, Florida (often referred to as a Labor Shed Analysis), 59.5 percent of our workforce was employed outside the county. This same study was updated in May 2016 and now 65.7 percent of workers who reside in Nassau County are employed outside the county. Why should we care?This is simply more evidence of a jobs-to-housing imbalance that results in our county having tremendous growing pains, requiring investment in schools, roads, parks, and services, such as fire/rescue and law enforcement, without the tax base to mitigate for these growth pains.

F-O-Smaller2-300x300On average, residential development consumes $1.38 for every $1.00 it returns in taxes. As we’ve pointed out for quite some time, this simply isn’t sustainable. And while we’re fortunate that we have a robust and growing tourism economy, particularly on Amelia Island, few of these jobs are high-wage jobs. Simply put, residential development and tourism cannot pay the freight for the growing pains across our entire county of 725 square miles unless we’re all willing to accept dramatically higher property taxes and/or significant cuts in government services and deteriorating infrastructure.

What is the answer? Attracting private capital investment in non-residential land uses that cannot be homesteaded – office, commercial and industrial – and high-wage jobs will help balance the residential development that is here (and will continue to come) and will broaden and diversify our tax base to keep our residential taxes relatively low. We need to also continue to encourage long-range planning (100 years in land use planning is not a long time). Smart growth land use principles that include compact and multimodal, mixed-use communities are also part of the answer. These communities internalize many of their impacts and reduce up-front infrastructure costs, as well as the ongoing maintenance of that infrastructure.

Don’t buy the false narrative that economic development will reduce our quality of life here. It won’t. It is just the opposite. Our county is large and located at the Gateway to Florida on I-95. We have unique highway and rail infrastructure close to deepwater ports in Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia. The county has worked hard to develop a sound long-range comprehensive land use plan, based on what the citizens said they wanted in the Vision 2032 effort. The county commission has positioned us to grow far smarter in the future than we have in the past.

Citizens for a Better Nassau County is not about protecting developer’s interests. Our organization is about stewardship and jobs for current and future generations, better long-range land use planning and smarter growth. These are principles designed to protect our citizens and taxpayers and their quality of life. If you’d like to learn more about our organization and the challenges we’ve touched upon here, we invite you to visit While you’re there, if you agree with our approach to planning and future prosperity, we encourage you to sign on as a supporter.

This opinion piece was submitted by retired Nassau County Commissioner Jimmy L. Higginbotham and retired Businessman Robert W. Spaeth, co-chairs of Citizens for a Better Nassau County.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Michael Leary
Michael Leary (@guest_47830)
7 years ago

Citizens for a Better Nassau County doth protest too much, methinks.

Doug Newberry
Doug Newberry (@guest_47831)
7 years ago

This whole “scheme” might have more validity if it were not for a couple pesky facts.

1) “Citizens” is an AstroTurf movement pretending to be grass roots.

2) Everyone can plainly see which commissioners are being bought off to support this false narrative.

& 3) it is the same people who support the “citizens” and the commissioners who vote for their agenda who stand to gain PERSONALLY from this whole debacle.

We see who you are and we are not buying it.

Steven Crounse
Steven Crounse (@guest_47832)
7 years ago

This has always Bothered me, Every time these two Directors of “Citizens for a Better Nassau County, Inc.”With their official address of 1700 North Monroe St. Tallahassee Fl. in the Legal offices of Mr Samuel Elliot. Always end their (screeds), Communications with Jimmy Higginbotham, “Retired” Robert Spaeth, “Retired”what’s up with that.? I’m Retired from the U.S. Army, But then worked another 30 years. Just tell us Locals We’re Higginbotham and Spaeth, and we are Employed by this Group of Investors that are supporting this 501 (c) (4)
Is this County going through Growing Pains.? You Bet, and It’s only going to get worse. But the thing is,we need Nassau County folks, making those Decisions. Not Dark Money out of Tallahassee. We have Competent People in our Community, Don’t ever put your Future in someone else’s hands. Vote those Commissioners supporting this Group Down.

Betsie Huben
Betsie Huben(@betsie-huben)
7 years ago

As stated above – “A quick scan of our coalition members and supporters on our website will show you that less than 10 percent of them are associated with the development community at all”. Here is a suggestion – Publish your coalition membership list. That should answer all the questions quickly and without fuss.

Mrs. D. Hunter
Mrs. D. Hunter (@guest_47835)
7 years ago
Reply to  Betsie Huben
Robert Warner
Robert Warner (@guest_47838)
7 years ago
Reply to  Mrs. D. Hunter

Clicking on Mrs. D. Hunter’s link – and drilling down into the “of record” supporters, it is readily apparent that this is real, big time, and can either be a real success or monumental failure, depending upon who benefits, who bears actual financial liabilities involving taxes, bonding, and various issues of associated investment securities – and, especially, the environmental impacts, risks, and individual burdens of someone else’s (corporate or human) “vision” put into reality. All in all, time to go forward, carefully and with deliberation. Being open and transparent is now more important than ever.

Michael Spino
Michael Spino (@guest_47834)
7 years ago

“On average, residential development consumes $1.38 for every $1.00 it returns in taxes.” Can we get a source for this claim? Has anybody run the same analysis for Nassau county or are you just extrapolating from another study? Citing your sources would improve your credibility.

John Goshco
John Goshco (@guest_47836)
7 years ago
Reply to  Michael Spino

When you read your tax bill, you will note that state and local school taxes account for more than 40% of your tax bill. It should be obvious to most people that businesses do not place a tax burden on schools, while they do pay a school tax. Even though your personal home receives a homestead “discount” on taxes, commercial/industrial property is taxed at full appraised value. In some cases, inventory and/or plant equipment may also be taxed.

Nassau County recently commissioned a study to determine the costs/benefits of the proposed Lignotech project in Fernandina Beach. The report concludes that Nassau County would receive a large positive benefit, even when including the proposed financial incentives. The details of the report are illustrative of the many sources of revenue and costs of services that a typical manufacturing company provides.

A summary of the report can be read here:

Michael Spino
Michael Spino (@guest_47846)
7 years ago
Reply to  John Goshco

I’m still waiting on the “Citizens” to provide the source for their claims of $1.38 to the $1.00. It may be so but they have not provided any study from which they draw their conclusions. You can not extrapolate from a tax bill to support these numbers. We need evidence not speculation.

Doug Newberry
Doug Newberry (@guest_47837)
7 years ago

John Goshco, We have seen the report and quite frankly I was unimpressed. It was a fluff piece for the proposals that the developers and select county commissioners want to push through.

There is no chance that Lignotech project was not going to move forward with or without the tax giveaway. The fact that they pawned off the cost to taxpayers is disgraceful and what makes it worse is the textbook process they used.

PR firms from out of the area… cooked up studies, editorials in the paper to drive opinion and all paid for by the same cronys.

This whole episode is corrupt from the word go and everyone needs to know about it.

We see what is going on here.

david merrill
david merrill (@guest_47849)
7 years ago

Agreed Doug Newberry