Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
City Hall Commission Chambers began to fill early for the August 6, 2013 Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC), as concerned friends and supporters of the Fernandina Beach library branch gathered to voice their concerns over an item placed on the agenda by Commissioner Pat Gass. This item proposed to pay Nassau County one dollar per year for operation of a public library within the city of Fernandina Beach for FY 2012/13 (current year) through FY 2032/33. The FBCC had previously, as part of its budget process last year, authorized the payment of $51,000 for the current fiscal year. Some confusion arose earlier this summer when Nassau County Manager Ted Selby informed the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners that the city was reconsidering this decision.
Before turning their attention to the consent agenda, Commissioner Pat Gass asked to be recognized. She spoke to the library matter, which had been noticed as agenda action item 7.5 (Resolution 2013-105).
In a sometimes quivering voice, Gass said, “A great deal of erroneous information has passed about the community these past few days, so much so that I ask that Item 7.5 be pulled from the agenda tonight. I make this request to have more time to share with the public that no other branch library pays $51,000 annually to the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners for the privilege of having a ‘free library.’ We are not asking for any special treatment. We just want Fernandina Beach taxpayers to be treated fairly.”
Vice Mayor Charlie Corbett, who seemed somewhat aggravated, spoke next. “I’d like to add just a few things on to what Ms. Gass said. I’m not sure if everyone is aware of this but Nassau County has a library budget of over $1M … That $51,000 isn’t what operates the Fernandina library. Also we just added [new] air conditioning at a cost of $10,000. The County pays $57,000 in rent for the Hilliard Branch of the county library. Fernandina Beach owns the [Fernandina branch library] building. and doesn’t charge the county anything. The equivalent amount for the Callahan Library would be $106,000.” Addressing those in the audience, he went on, “In case you’ve forgotten, the City of Fernandina Beach has already given their word that it will give $600,000 toward the new library project; $140,000 of that has already been spent on plans. For you all to think that the city has not given anything is quite frankly ludicrous. That’s all I got to say tonight.”
Mayor Sarah Pelican pulled the item from the agenda without further discussion. No public input was taken on this issue. No indication was given as to whether it would return either as an agenda item for another regular meeting or for the August 12 Budget Workshop.
August 7, 2013 11:37 a.m.
What this commission fails to understand is the importance of city support to our community and the institutions and charities that sustain us. They may not understand the importance of community at all. Their narrow tea party focus on taxes at all costs is damaging support for the basic fabric of our little town. The library, the museum, Barnabas and the Council on Aging deliver essential services that we all benefit from. Oh you say: I don’t use Meals on Wheels! But your neighbors do and those meals bind us together as a community. It makes our city a better place to live. Our commissioners need to stop worrying about whether every penny is allocated equitably and think about what is important to us all.
While I understand Commissioner Gass’ position about treating all fairly, being treated fairly doesn’t always mean being treated “equally”. The City made an agreement with the County years ago that in exchange for maintaining the library downtown the City would provide the facility and make this annual payment to contribute to the overall operating expenses. The library is a crucial element to the fabric of the downtown area and while the Commission has demonstrated this through the contribution for the library expansion, now is not the time to rescind an agreement and make the riff between the City and County even larger.