Weekly comments from Dale Martin – Alternative sources of revenue

By Dale Martin
City Manager
Fernandina Beach
April 1, 2022


City Manager Dale Martin

During the current series of Citizens Academy sessions, the participants are becoming more aware of the fiscal challenges of City operations. Several discussions have revolved around the need to develop alternative sources of revenue for the City. A few interesting ideas have been proposed.

A potential revenue source is related to the community’s passion for trees. The conservation of land and the preservation of trees is a spirited effort. To capitalize on the desire to maintain a strong tree canopy, perhaps trees should be taxed- lots of trees, lots of revenue. Perhaps a simple tax of $100 per tree (of a minimum appropriate size) on each privately-owned parcel. The revenue generated can, in turn, be restricted for further land conservation and preservation purposes.

If the use of such a “tax” is not permissible under state statute due to (increasing) restrictions on home rule, the tree tax could be re-branded as a “tree fee.” Unlike taxes, fees are considered voluntary. The tree fee could be made “voluntary” by offering property owners, from the date of adoption of the fee, a one-year grace period to remove any and all trees from their property without restriction or permits. That provision would enable property owners to reduce the fee to an acceptable level: if a property owner wished to not pay a fee, simply clear cut the property; if the property owner desired a wooded parcel, the property owner can leave the parcel unscathed and pay the fee accordingly.

If the fee were set at $100 for every tree, the fee would generate $100,000 for every 1,000 trees retained. With the number of trees within the City limits, the total revenue would likely approach $1,000,000. For consistency throughout the island, I have shared this concept with Nassau County officials, too.

In contrast to the strong desire for trees, it is becoming increasing evident that island residents are not happy with the increasing amounts of traffic, especially downtown, where the demand for convenient parking continues to grow. Another potential source of revenue (that has been implemented in several major cities) is a congestion fee (again, voluntary, not a tax).

A congestion fee for downtown would be charged on a per-vehicle basis. If a vehicle owner wishes to drive downtown, the vehicle driven would have to display a previously purchased placard on the passenger windshield. Without such a visible placard, the driver/vehicle would be subject to a significant fine within the congestion zone.

The defined congestion area could be limited to what is traditionally considered downtown (Front Street to 8th Street, Ash Street to Alachua Street, as well as the riverfront parking lots). Since the ultimate intent is to reduce or even eliminate vehicular traffic downtown (which would provide a further “green” benefit of eliminating emissions in a typically heavy pedestrian environment), the congestion fee would be substantial: $500 annually per vehicle and a $1,000 fine for operating a vehicle within the congestion zone without a placard. The fees and fines for out-of-state vehicles would be double. The congestion fee could address a myriad of challenges: too much traffic, limited parking, and additional revenue. If successful downtown, the designated congestion area could be expanded (imagine the implementation of a congestion fee around schools!).

A third source of potential revenue is still somewhat in the developmental stages. Facebook has become, to the pleasure of some and the chagrin of others, widely popular. It has been speculated that due to this popularity, that Facebook, in the process of being rebranded as “Meta,” will transition from an advertiser-based platform (revenues generated by “clicks” on advertisements for products and services) to a subscription-based platform.

Several media sources have speculated that when this subscription model is implemented, Facebook users will be required to link a credit or debit card or a bank account to their Facebook account. Facebook users will then be charged a nominal fee for each post to the social media platform (tripled if the posted information can be demonstrated as false or fake). In part associated with the Facebook corporate philosophy to influence governmental activity and pursue policy initiatives, local governments will be provided a portion of the revenue generated by charges related to Facebook postings. The social media subscription model is currently being reviewed by the Department of Commerce, but approval and implementation are expected by the beginning of the next calendar year. This program could be substantially lucrative to the City (and governments throughout the country).

Welcome to April. Have a great weekend.

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Dr. Vaughan
Dr. Vaughan (@guest_64394)
1 year ago

Taxing trees is the worst idea I’ve ever heard of… on every level.

Doug Mowery
Doug Mowery(@douglasm)
1 year ago
Reply to  Dr. Vaughan

It is April fools day! I wish the tree tax would not have been the first idea listed because the “congestion fee” would have had me for a bit as possibly legit!

Dan “Paul Bunyan” Westra
Dan “Paul Bunyan” Westra (@guest_64411)
1 year ago

Dear Dale,
While I have to give you credit for growing new funding approaches, you should leaf this one alone. Cutting fat rather than wood could help. Shedding excessive vehicles would save more than shedding needles. Speaking of which, you could chop cost for yard collection if the city arborist identified the yards disposing of leaves (more tree fallout) compared to pine needles that compost nicely into yards and flower beds, thereby not requiring city services. Speaking of the arborist, our citizens cannot be trusted to count trees (subject to size determination, probably by a consultant group costing $100’s of thousand dollars) so the arborist can self fund the position by charging a bush and tree examination fee to each homeowner to determine final count and decide if a tree that separates at ground level into two trunks count as one or two fee-eligible plants. The good news for the homeowner is this inspection fee would only occur about every five years or so because, another consultant determined, trees grow slowly (most of the time). And don’t leave out a knee high tree fee for new plantings!
I love the creativeness of our local leaders, but at the rate most programs progress, the January planning session will change the priority again, thus proving the old adage “the nuts don’t fall far from the tree”. Congratulations for a wonderful, thought provoking piece. How many trees, I mean folks, will fall for it?

Steve Vogel
Steve Vogel(@stevedec)
1 year ago

Y’all need to check the date.

DAVID LOTT(@dave-l)
1 year ago

Happy April Fool’s Day. Good think Dale didn’t mention paid parking.