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HomeNassau CountyFernandina BeachCity Manager's Budget Adds to Fernandina's Economic Pain; City's Fiscal Shenanigans Need...

City Manager’s Budget Adds to Fernandina’s Economic Pain; City’s Fiscal Shenanigans Need State Forensic Investigation

Club 14 Fitness

Opinion

By Dave Scott

7-29-22, Fernandina Beach

Fernandina Beach residents got hit harder financially than most others due to the lingering effect of the pandemic on the tourism industry and inflation’s impact on the numerous local retirees on fixed incomes.

The pandemic knocked area residents for a fiscal loop. Busted supply chain issues added to the misery with retailers and shoppers still in search of items ranging from baby formula and hand sanitizers to toilet paper and a variety of food items.

When inflation came roaring in, registering a more than 40-year high of 9.1 percent, it was a triple whammy. The cost of basic necessities including food, housing, gasoline, heating and cooling, and more increased rapidly and are still going up. It’s estimated that inflation costs the average American family $500 a month. That’s like paying for a new car and not getting it.

We’re suddenly seeing many of our neighbors cutting their own grass, holding off on car purchases, backing off on refinancing, putting home renovations on hold, and more. The U.S. economy contracted for the second straight quarter from April to June, hitting a widely accepted rule of thumb for a recession the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported Thursday. And it’s going to get worse.

Even Biden’s doddering 75-year-old Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen, who only makes public appearances to admit she was wrong the last time she made a public appearance, went public yesterday, July 28, and muttered incoherently about a recession. We’re in one, she thinks. Yellen and Biden must share the same speech writer.

However, Fernandina Beach’s City Manager Dale Martin thinks Fernandina residents are flush and immune to financial slumps. He says we’re chumps who need to pay more to keep the city coffers full so he can hire more folks and buy nifty new stuff. It’s city hall that’s suffering he says, not the residents.

Instead of expressing sympathy and offering solutions for the city’s economically reeling citizens Martin told them to bend over, they’re taking a 14 percent tax hike. In a Friday, July 22 News Leader opinion editorial sporting a photo of the grinning Martin, he did an impression of Bedford Falls’ Henry F. Potter, announcing tax increases to pay for the all the new stuff and additional hires in his 2023 budget proposal. Here’s the financial train wreck he proposed:  Link to the Full  FB Budget for 2022/2023

In his quarter page News Leader word jumble he never mentioned inflation, recession, the residents’ current economic misery, or any other hardships that many locals have endured the past two years and are continuing to suffer. He didn’t express a single word of sympathy for the financial plight of city residents…nothing!

Instead, this tone-deaf bozo had the unmitigated gall to whine that the city is the victim saying, “….higher expenditures are the result of national, state, and regional economic factors: the increased cost of labor, equipment and materials following the COVID-19 pandemic.” He’s seeking our compassion for his reckless spending plans while telling us we’re going to get hosed. He’s like a hospice visitor complaining to a dying patient about his stubbed toe.

“This year, the City Manager has irresponsibly recommended a flat millage rate that equates to a 14% increase in dollars year over year. The city has been hiring excess staff, spending wastefully and now seeks to ask for a massive increase in spending.”  – Jack Knocke, Common Sense Fernandina Beach

Dale “Big Spender” Martin

In addition to his lame excuses for raising our taxes Martin glosses over the fact that the city received $6.5 million from the federal government’s American Rescue Plan (RPA). He already has plans for those tax dollars, and they don’t include relief for local tax payers. Don’t even ask, that’s his private stash.

Even former City Comptroller Patti Clifford took issue with Martin in a note to the Commissioners saying: “The income from Property Taxes has gone up on average 10% for each of the past six years and the 2022/2023 tax increase in dollars is 14.025%. This is NOT sustainable! The City must learn to live within its means.”

Jack Knocke, head of the watchdog group Common Sense, took issue with Martin’s extravagant tax proposal in a note to the Commission and his Common Sense followers in part saying: “This year, the City Manager has irresponsibly recommended a flat millage rate that equates to a 14% increase in dollars year over year. The city has been hiring excess staff, spending wastefully and now seeks to ask for a massive increase in spending.” 

Martin’s proposed budget now goes to the City Commissioners, who work for the tax paying residents who voted them into office. Martin works for the Commissioners who hired him.

If the system worked like it is supposed to the Commissioners, who work for us – the voters –  would tell their employee – Martin – to take his proposed budget and shove it.

“Come back,”  they should say, “…..show us what items you are cutting and how many staffers you propose shedding. We also demand a hiring and purchasing freeze and want you to request that every department cut a minimum of 10 percent from its budget.”

“Oh, and while you’re at it Dale, tell the building and permitting departments that if they don’t stop harassing, intimidating and financially strong-arming residents we’re going to fire all of them and transfer those corrupt operations to the county, where they will be run efficiently and honestly. And then sort out the water and sewer department and its dishonest “impact/capacity” fee structure or we’re going to sell it to the highest private bidder where it would come under supervision of the Florida Public Service Commission and all of its fees would be overseen and regulated. Then we’ll take care of the golf course and its $750,000 white elephant Toptracer fiasco you created.”

Because Martin apparently never took a math class, he believes that city government can tax its way to any fantasy he can come up with. He views the city tax payers through the eyes of a child, an extremely backward child, who thinks he can always get more money from them.

Hopefully there are at least three commissioners who still have a connection to reality and will point out that a tax increase of any amount is out of the question.

The Commission should also demand that Martin explain to them how the city is NOT in violation of Florida law with its outrageous fee structures, shuffling of funds, and impact/capacity fee extortion tactics. Then it should sack the grinning spendthrift.

It only takes three votes to send this guy packing. Commissioners Len Kreger, Bradley Bean and David Sturges, are you listening?

The budget approval process for fiscal year 2023 takes place as follows:

08/03/22 and 08/04/22 – City Commission budget workshops

09/06/22 – Budget public hearing

09/20/22- Budget public hearing adoption

10/01/22- 2023 fiscal year begins

***

How Corrupt & Stupid Are They? When I asked a city department head, who will remain anonymous for obvious reasons, if he/she would be willing to submit a budget reflecting a 10 percent reduction and a hiring freeze, he/she said: “Yes”.

So why isn’t City Manager Martin telling them to do that? Is the Commission going to stand up to their employee, Martin, and tell him his budget stinks and local citizens are fed up with increased taxes, outlandish fees, bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo, arrogant staff, and reckless spending?

A number of property owners and business people have relayed horror stories to me about the building and permitting department, capacity fees, and the lack of concern and common courtesy by city hall staff. Like the anonymous city official, they also want to remain anonymous due to the city’s well-deserved reputation for retaliation.

The city is notorious for its outrageous permitting, inspection, and building fee structure but nothing ever changes.

Dale Martin is running the city like an organized crime don. His capos on the Commission sit back and nod approvingly while Martin directs them on how to fleece the populace. The only things missing are the big cigars and diamond pinky rings.

“Nice little town ya got here. It’d be too bad if something happened to it…”

The mayoral position Commissioner Mike Lednovich currently holds is worthless. He has no more authority than any other Commissioner. His job is to run the Commission meeting, cut ribbons and pose for photos. Unless he has at least two Commission allies, he can’t do zilch.

How are the current exorbitant building and permitting fees still justified? Why are they more than five  times those of similar county fees? Building Department Director Steve Beckman is gone, the Chamber of Commerce protests are fading memories, but nothing has changed. Why does a permitting fee that costs an average of $6,700 in Jacksonville cost $201,000 in Fernandina Beach?

From what I understand any city income not authorized by the state to be exacted from citizens is illegal. That includes impact fees, now called “capacity” fees charged inconsistent with state law as well as building fees in excess of those authorized by law. City funds are shuffled from one entity to another and back again. Isn’t that using government entities to launder money? It’s like a Ponzi scheme.

I’ve heard rumors that State Attorney General Ashley Moody and Melissa Nelson, Florida’s Fourth Circuit State Attorney who handles the counties of Nassau, Clay, and Duval, may be close to taking a peek at the alleged financial shenanigans taking place in Fernandina Beach’s city hall. If so, I wish they would hurry.

Frequent city critic, lawyer, investor, and author Pat Keogh sums up the current city financial mess succinctly and offers an interesting analysis saying: “Every service offered by the city is also offered by the county on the other side of the street, literally, except for cemetery services,” he explains.

“As part of the city budget process department heads should be required to demonstrate that the county providers of comparable services cost more than comparable city services. If not, the county should be provided the opportunity to be the alternative source of supply for those services.

“City residents, who are also county residents, should have the opportunity to access parks and recreation management services. How about building services, planning services, code enforcement, police, and fire?”

Where is the outrage by those folks running for seats on the Commission? This is an opportunity to tell residents why they should vote for you.

Somebody – anybody – do something!

***

Things I Wish I’d Said: “The trouble with being poor is that it takes up all your time.” – Willem de Kooning

***

Fair & Thorough Reporting: If you want to read a balanced blow-by-blow report of the 15th District Republican primary debate between Emily Nunez and Dean Black sponsored by Deb Boelkes’ We The People organization this past Monday click here to read the Citizen Journal’s George Miller article: https://www.citizensjournal.net/report-on-fl-house-district-15-republican-primary-candidate-forum/.

The print bi-weekly News Leader totally ignored the story in its Wednesday edition while the pathetic Fernandina Observer ran an article about ants in the Greenway. (I didn’t make that up, honest.)

Instead of covering the political scene the News Leader featured a letter from its new Editor Tracy Dishman, telling readers all about her kids, and pets and how much she enjoys living here. Yawn! On the same page self-confessed socialist Ron “Get Off My Lawn You Little Bastards”  Sapp spewed his familiar liberal claptrap, this time criticizing Governor Ron DeSantis for what Sapp claims is the Governor’s “attempt to corrupt and ultimately destroy public education.”

Florida’s wildly popular governor’s latest move obviously had socialist Sapp gasping for breath. The State of Florida is suing a bar that hosted drag shows with children present after investigators found that the establishment was exposing minors to sexually explicit content, according to documents obtained by the Daily Caller News Foundation.

DeSantis discussed the complaint and spoke out against sexualized content targeting children during a Wednesday speech in Tampa on environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG). Preventing teachers from taking classrooms of kids to a strip bar is apparently what Sapp says is an attempt to ” corrupt and ultimately destroy public education.”

“Get off my lawn you little…..”

Sapp was an indoctrinator at Fernandina Beach High School and from what I hear from his former students and their parents he brought his leftwing blather into the classroom with him.

The Citizens Journal is quickly proving to be the most accurate and thorough newspaper in the area. If you haven’t subscribed do so. Oh, it’s free.

***

Overheard At PJD’s Beer & Wine Garden: “Why are the Post Office and Courthouse on Centre street such enjoyable places to conduct business and the offices in Fernandina Beach’s city hall such a mess?”

Republished with the author’s permission. Read The Dave Scott Blog– subscribe Free

Veteran reporter, publicist, blogger Dave Scott of Fernandina Beach

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal Florida.

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