Citizens for a Better Nassau
December 4, 2019
Since our inception, Citizens for a Better Nassau County has focused on what is required to get our county’s financial house in order and to create a more fiscally sustainable county in the future. We’ve pointed out the relationship between the quality of our future growth, our fiscal health, and the need for a mixture of land uses to broaden and diversify our tax base. If we get the mix right, we can make our county less reliant on residential property taxes to fund our government while increasing our resiliency to future economic downturns. To its credit, the county is clearly emphasizing better land use planning and the importance of compact, mixed-use developments east of I-95. This type of development internalizes much of its impact while providing a much greater return to the tax base. Over the coming decades, that balance will be critical if we are to avoid further shocks of the kind we experienced with recent large tax increases.
Now a common tune from many residents is that government should simply put a moratorium on future development. While that may sound like a remedy, it’s important to realize that landowners already have vested property development rights, we’re clearly in the path of development and government simply cannot acquire all of the undeveloped land in the county. That would put an overwhelming burden on taxpayers to acquire and permanently remove those acres from the tax base, thus permanently burdening county taxpayers. Even more, our government is not equipped or funded to manage the land, if they were to acquire vast swaths, in any event.
Finally, the fact that we still have roughly 70 percent of our working population leaving the county every day to earn a living highlights the fact that we are not sustainable right now. Growth is coming whether we like it or not. What is within our control, however, is the ability to plan for and execute higher quality growth over the coming decades that will result in a much healthier tax base while protecting our quality of life.
It wasn’t too many years ago that Nassau County approved two 749-home planned unit developments in Yulee directly adjacent to each other for the same residential developer. You might ask why 749 units in each? Well, approval for 750 or greater number of homes would have triggered a much more rigorous review by what was then known as the Florida Department of Community Affairs under a state coordinated review process that would have resulted in greater mitigation requirements for the impacts the developments would have on eastern Nassau County. In fact, over the last 20-25 years, Nassau County has approved tens of thousands of residential units with very little thought about how to provide services and facilities to those new residents. Those units are now occupied, the basic functions of county government are widely deficient and predictably the bill for the failure to plan is now due.
Citizens for a Better Nassau County called for the updating of our impact fees on new development to ensure it pays its fair share. Thankfully, that has finally happened in 2019, but the long delay and the lack of long-range financial planning cost taxpayers dearly over the last two years to fund long-deferred capital projects. We also need to continue to demand that our local government rebuild emergency reserves while strictly adhering to a debt policy for long-lived capital assets. They must also opportunistically bond for these projects at historically low interest rates to leverage taxpayer resources and ensure that the future residents who will most benefit from those capital projects help pay for them.
And, perhaps the most important future pillar of responsible growth is exercising our right to vote for elected county commissioners who are committed to these principles.
Editor’s Note: Bill Gingrich is a retired GE executive and chairman of Citizens for a Better Nassau County. More information about this group may be found at citizensforabetternassau.com.