Fernandina Beach, FL
August 2, 2019 12:00 p.m.
The City Commission will have a busy week next week. The coincidental timing of several issues brings many key topics before the City Commission.
Tuesday evening’s regularly scheduled City Commission meeting (the City Commission has regular meetings scheduled at 6:00 PM on the first and third Tuesday each month) will have presentations related to the beaches, to the Amelia River waterfront, to tree replenishment, and to the long-term fiscal stability of the City’s General Fund, the Golf Course, and the Marina. In other words, I’ll put on the coffee.
The beach presentation will be provided by representatives from the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). The City maintains an excellent relationship with the USACE, most notably in regard to beach renourishment. The USACE conducted a beach management plan which emphasizes the stability of the dune system. The study, if formally incorporated, will lay the foundation for federal funding to restore the dune system if, in the event of a significant hurricane, the dunes are compromised. The USACE report will also likely provide direction to the City as to how to construct and manage access to the beaches via “walkovers” or “walkthroughs.” The actual plan for beach access infrastructure (or lack thereof) is not slated to be discussed until later this year.
One of the City Commission goals set in January (of this year, although it could also be for every year since the first pirate set foot on Amelia Island) is to develop the waterfront. Dozens of plans reviewed by scores of Commissioners then skewered by hundreds of residents have thwarted achievement of that goal. I have been tasked to provide a concept to at least offer a common starting point for discussion of the issues that have confounded development- the railroad, Front Street, waterfront property, the shoreline (be it a seawall, bulkhead, and absence of anything). The City Commission will subsequently consider how to integrate (and fund) all the pieces.
Another goal of the City Commission was conservation. A significant step toward that goal is the support of the City Commission for the conservation millage proposed in next year’s budget. Another component of conservation, though, is the development of a plan to replenish trees lost to development. The City’s Urban Forester, Mr. Dave Holley, will offer a replenish concept to add trees and canopy to the City’s landscape.
Following last year’s municipal audit, the auditor recommended that the City develop a plan to address the growing internal debt associated with the City’s Marina and Golf Course. Due to the cost of capital improvements at each of those facilities, other City funds have provided the money needed for improvements. The auditors asked that the City prepare a plan to recover that debt from the Golf Course and Marina.
Ms. Pauline Testagrose, City Comptroller, recommended a consultant, Stantec Consulting Services, to prepare a ten-year fiscal analysis for the City’s General Fund, the Golf Course, and the Marina. Ms. Testagrose and I met with Stantec staff last week to review the preliminary report. Stantec staff will present the report to the City Commissioners next week.
In summary, the City’s General Fund (supported primarily through property taxes) remains healthy for the foreseeable future- with conditions. A key condition was maintaining the current millage rate for future years. It is well-documented that property values in Fernandina Beach continue to rise at significant rates. What is often overlooked, however, is that property tax revenues do not rise at the same rates: while the market value of property may increase by five, ten, even fifteen percent, the assessed value (upon which the taxable value is based following the application of appropriate exemptions) of property is constrained by the State Constitution to no more than three percent. The overall conclusion of the consultant is that the City has a solid financial future.
The Golf Course and Marina do not. Even with significant financial decisions such as hefty rate increases, foregoing capital expenditures for several years, or the infusion of even more General Fund dollars, the Golf Course and Marina will likely always require a subsidy, probably close to $500,000 for the Golf Course and over $750,000 for the Marina. It is imperative that we change how we do business at those two facilities: we simply cannot keep doing the same things and expect to achieve some level of economic success. The consultant will share those findings in greater detail.
We might as well spend the night at City Hall, because on the following day, the City Commission will conduct its first scheduled budget workshop related to the 2020 fiscal budget. Some challenges are evident, but the Commission and City staff have ample time to make the necessary decision to have the budget in place for the start of the next fiscal year (October 1).
Please stay interested (or even better, engaged) with this issues as they come before the City Commission.