Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Charity begins at home – yours and mine – but not at city coffers, at least according to Fernandina Beach City Commissioner Pat Gass and Mayor Sarah Pelican. They made their position abundantly clear during the Fernandina Beach City Commission’s special meeting on the FY2013-14 budget.
As part of budget preparation, City Manager Joe Gerrity had asked each city commissioner to consider grant requests submitted to the city by social services and cultural not-for-profit organizations in the city. Using the traditional amount allocated to this budget element ($35,000) he asked commissioners to allocate such an amount among the requesting organizations according to their own ranking system. The intent was that the commission would collectively consider the distributions during the July 30th budget meeting and make a final determination. Only Commissioner Arlene Filkoff provided her rankings in advance of the meeting, but Commissioner Boner provided his priorities during the meeting. Vice Mayor Charlie Corbett neither attended the meeting nor provided his rankings in advance.
Non-Profits Pelican Corbett Filkoff Gass Boner
Council on Aging 0 0 $10,000 0 $15,600
Starting Point (NMH) 0 0 $ 5,000 0 $10,000
Micah’s Place 0 0 $ 5,000 0 $ 1,000
Barnabas Ctr 0 0 $ 8,000 0 $ 2,500
A.I. Museum 0 0 $ 7,000 0 $ 2,500
Mayor Pelican began discussions on this topic by questioning why certain organizations should receive funding from the city when they already receive funding from the county. Her position was that Fernandina Beach taxpayers were being asked to fund these organizations twice.
Commissioner Boner said that he based his allocations on whether city assistance would be helpful to the requesting organization in getting matching grants. In such cases he said that he believed that every city dollar was therefore worth more than face value in terms of revenue that it would bring to the organization.
Commissioner Filkoff said that many of the grant requests are designed to help those in the community from becoming more costly problems to the city down the road. By stepping in today to assist various social services, she believed that the city might avoid future health and safety issues. She also cited the Amelia Island Museum of History as a partner in keeping the Marina Welcome Center (MWC) staffed. Without the Museum’s willingness to partner, the city would need to find a way to keep the MWC open and staffed.
Commissioner Gass said that she does not want to give money to any non-profit agency, not because she does not believe they are worthy organizations, but because she believes that government should not put itself in the position of making charitable contributions on behalf of its citizens. She said, “Tax dollars are for roads and streets. We can take care of each other.” She said that she would prefer to see $25,000 given to local churches for distribution to the needy. *** See below.
Mayor Pelican returned to her theme of not being able to justify city assistance when the county has provided grants. She said, “The only one that does not get county money is the Museum. Government should not be in the business of bailing organizations out.”
Commissioner Ed Boner disagreed. He spoke about the role of cultural non-profits in enhancing quality of life for city residents. He said, “I think non-profits add back to the community. A dollar spent on them is worth more than a dollar in the long run.”
Commissioner Gass indicated that she was more inclined to help non-profits through in kind assistance, such as waiving fees and providing space at low or no cost. Mayor Pelican reminded people that her church, St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church, had started the Barnabas Center, and that taxpayers should not be paying twice to non-profits. Both Pelican and Gass agreed that non-profits should be privately supported, based upon the priorities of the individual community supporters.
City Attorney Bach clarified for commissioners that the city never waives fines resulting from Code Enforcement Board rulings. She said that the item for which $25,000 in funding is being recommended represents the assistance that the city provides via the Salvation Army to keep needy citizens connected to water and sewer when they fall behind in payments. Whereas in the past these requests came to the commission as individual applications, now they are handled once a year.
City Manager Gerrity entered the conversation by saying that Vice Mayor Corbett had not provided his rankings and suggested that the issue be deferred until Corbett’s return.
*** Update: Commissioner Gass responded to our offer to clarify her statement concerning $25,000 to the needy: “Commissioner Gass does not believe in giving tax dollars to churches. I [she] believe[s] in inquiring to see if the local churches are interested in helping the needy and using tax dollars on roads and streets.”
The Fernandina Observer has reviewed the video and stands by the disputed statement as written. To view You Tube video of Commissioner Gass’ statement click here.
Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.
August 1, 2013 1:00 a.m.