Citizens for a Better Nassau
Bill Gingrich, Chair
July 30, 2018 1:30 p.m.
” . . . our commission seems paralyzed to take even one positive step in solving our fiscal problems, citing they’re protecting taxpayers, when they’re not. In fact, they’ve utterly failed to act on a single recommendation from the Fishkind fiscal sustainability study.”
Our board of county commissioners continues to wrestle with a difficult decision: how to close a huge budget gap, largely of their own making. They cite the two hurricanes as the dominant reason, but our budget storm has been raging for a very long time. Regrettably, I even recall certain elected officials decrying over the last couple of years that our county was in good financial shape because it received a clean audit, not understanding that audits don’t measure financial sustainability. Unfortunately, it’s times like this that remind us we have a leadership vacuum. The county commission once again failed to pass a millage increase for Fiscal Year 2018-19 and punted the decision, yet again, to July 30. This is not exactly a portrait in political courage, especially when one considers how long they’ve been warned this day would come.
Fishkind & Associates warned about fiscal sustainability issues in 2008 (citizensforabetternassau.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Fiscal-Sustainability-presentation_Fishkind_9-2-08.pdf) and Burton & Associates did the same in 2015. Citizens for a Better Nassau County has echoed these same warnings and cautioned these problems would come home to roost, even commissioning a study by Robert Charles Lesser & Co., which found the same fiscal issues the other independent consultants did.
Yet, our commission seems paralyzed to take even one positive step in solving our fiscal problems, citing they’re protecting taxpayers, when they’re not. In fact, they’ve utterly failed to act on a single recommendation from the Fishkind fiscal sustainability study.
Each time they kick the can down the road on these issues, they’re compounding the problem for our community and future generations. Maintaining the status quo means forfeiting our quality of life and letting our county depreciate even further with capital projects and maintenance continuing to be postponed. The result is, the capital deficit grows, and there is little or no money to help in the event of storms, and no money to apply for state grants that require matching funds (a large amount of these go to pave roads).
While county coffers are in rough shape, commissioners can take the following concrete and positive steps forward in setting our county on the right fiscal path:
1.) Reinstate the fuel user fee (gas tax), as it’s the fairest tax. We all use the roads, and they need to be maintained. Tourists and others driving through the county can also help us maintain our roads this way. This funding source will also provide us with matching dollars to pull down state grants to pave some of the many unpaved roads in Western Nassau County.
2.) “Right size” the impact fees on new development that have been inadequate for a long time. Keep in mind, the county commission even placed a moratorium on collecting impact fees for five years during the Great Recession. That one decision cost the county millions of dollars in unrealized impact fees. This can’t continue. Impact fees are the only equitable way of ensuring that future development pay its fair share. The county should ensure that impact fees, which are paid when building permits are issued, pay for their full impact countywide. Fishkind pointed out that impact fees didn’t even take into consideration new growth’s impacts on infrastructure and capital – they still don’t, and that’s unacceptable.
As Citizens for a Better Nassau County predicted and warned, our county’s poor fiscal planning has now come home to roost. A portion of this budget deficit should’ve been borne by the new growth through impact fees, but due to the moratorium on those fees for five years and the fact they’ve remained too low to ensure that new growth pays its fair share, that portion of the cost burden for closing the budget gap will now be shifted to existing taxpayers.
It’s abundantly clear that to address the backlog of capital projects and deferred maintenance, ad valorem millage rates need to be substantially increased as well for a period of time, but if the county can prioritize projects and manage their resources well while broadening the tax base through economic development, we can grow our way out of this hole over the next five to 10 years.
It’s time for leaders to lead or get out of the way. Our property values and quality of life are at stake. Citizens want solutions and deserve better, and voters are watching.
Retired Businessman Bill Gingrich is the chair of ‘Citizens for a Better Nassau County.’ For more information on ‘Citizens for a Better Nassau County,’ please visit CitizensforaBetterNassau.com.