By Matthew Decker
7-24-22, Fernandina Beach
The City is proposing no increase to the millage rate, which translates into an 11.78% tax increase, resulting in a $2 million windfall, when increased property assessments are factored in. This will be covered at a Tuesday July 26 special meeting. Another $6.6 million is coming from the American Rescue Plan Act. Also, the city code will be amended to ban smoking in public parks and beaches as a public health nuisance.
For the Fernandina Beach City Commission Meeting– 19th July, 2022, reported below, all five City Commissioners were present.
June Budget Summary:
Comptroller Pauline Testagrose offered the Budget Summary for the month of June to the City Commissioners. General Fund revenues have reached ~90% of total year revenues and 75% of the fiscal year budget has been met. Most departments are below the mark with planned General Fund expenditures; however, a few departments are exceeding the budget due to maintenance contracts. From the Capital Improvements Fund encumbrances and/or funds were issued for Tyler ExecuTime payroll, a skid steer, street paving, police funding, and the Peck Center project. Golf club membership revenues are up $64,000 from the prior year. Utility Fund revenues exceed expenditures except for wastewater. Diesel fuel revenues are up 115% from last year at the marina.
FY 2023 Proposed Budget:
Following the Budget Summary, City Manager Dale Martin, shared the proposed budget for fiscal year 2023. Martin proposed maintaining the same millage rate as last year, 5.3330 mills. Next Tuesday, a Special Meeting will be held at 6PM to finalize the millage rate for FY 2023. This constitutes an 11.78% tax increase. The average rate increase will be less than $50. The following examples were given: for every $103,000 of homestead property value, a $16 tax increase will occur; for every $107,000 of non-homestead property value, a $37 tax increase will occur. A Consumer Price Index of 7% is being used for the calculations. Non-homestead homes are capped at 10% of added assessed value per year, whereas homesteads are capped at 3% of added assessed value per year. The tax increase for the upcoming fiscal year will result in a $2 million increase in property tax revenues to the city.
The proposed budget also provided hiring billets for three new firefighters to replace retiring personnel. City Manager Martin championed Chief Ty Silcox’s diversity-focused hiring practices and congratulated him on hiring female firefighters and other diverse individuals. Other changes include, transitioning two cemetery maintenance positions to contractors, eliminating several part-time positions, and absorbing and integrating code enforcement into other city departments.
Capital Projects highlighted by City Manager Martin included sidewalk and street repair, the Peck Center, the Atlantic Recreational Center, Central Park, Seaside Park, downtown, hardware and software tools, the access #40 walkover, firefighting breathing apparatuses, the library, City Hall, utility relocation, debt service, and the MLK Jr. Recreational Center. Vice Mayor Len Kreger expressed his concern that he had seen conflicting budget numbers for capital improvement projects. City Manager Martin assured him that numerical discrepancies would be corrected in the proposed budget.
The budget approval process for FY 2023 takes place on the following dates:
FY 2023 Budget Process:
07/26/22 – Special Meeting of the City Commission to officially propose a tentative millage rate
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
American Rescue Plan Act:
Fernandina Beach will be receiving $6.6 million from the American Rescue Plan Act. The Act allowed for claims of up to $10 million in lost revenue due to Covid-19 lockdowns. The City Commission elected to claim $6.6 million in lost revenues. The city plans to spend $1.5 million on the Amelia River Waterfront, $1.3 on government facilities, $1.2 million on stormwater infrastructure, $1 million for road construction, and $1 million for wastewater services. Taking the lumpsum claim of $6.6 million allows the city to spend the money on these general items at their discretion. The funds from the American Rescue Plan Act will be held in a Capital Reserve Fund.
Mayor Mike Lednovich, questioned City Manager Martin, “If I am layman taxpayer and you presented a city budget keeps the same millage rate, which is essentially a tax increase, and yet we are getting seven million dollars, two of which is already spent. So that’s five million that’s going into the general fund. So as a layman taxpayer why are we raising taxes?”
City Manager Martin clarified that the funds will be held in a Capital Reserve Fund and stated, “As indicated in the budget we have increased costs due to labor, materials, and equipment, and general direction from the City Commission that we have to address deferred maintenance on a variety of city infrastructure.”
The City Commission voted 5-0 in approval to claim $6.6 million from the American Rescue Plan Act.
Gate Fuel Service:
Gate Fuel Service was awarded the diesel fuel service at the Fernandina Beach Marina. Two bids were submitted, one from Gate Fuel Service and the other was from Petroleum Traders. Oasis Marinas recommended the bid from Gate despite being slightly more expensive than the Petroleum Trader’s bid. Gate Fuel Service previously has been able to supply fuel with less than 12 hours’ notice, whereas Petroleum Traders could only commit to delivery with 24 hours’ notice. In light of the high demand of diesel fuel, especially in the season, the City Commission voted 5-0 in favor of Oasis Marina’s selection of Gate Service.
Quasi-Judicial Hearing – Roadway Standards Variance Request:
City Attorney Tami Bach conducted a quasi-judicial hearing to determine if standards for a variance were met. Mr. Dan McCranie of McCranie and Associates had filed a variance request to city roadway standards for properties at 2344 South Fletcher Avenue. The undeveloped lots in question had been subdivided into four lots from two, by a prior owner. Mr. McCranie requested the extension of 1st Avenue 200 feet. This would provide parking and access to his lots without having to access via an easement at the Miramar Townhomes and Condos located adjacent to the property. Mr. McCranie had initially filed this variance in response to the Miramar Townhomes and Condo Association denying him access via the easement on their property.
The City Planning Board denied all six necessary criteria for granting a variance. They found that further expansion of 1st Avenue would violate the Coastal Upland Protection Zone. Additionally, increased road traffic and the road surface material were other concerns of the City Planning Board. Despite denial of the variance, Ms. Taylor Hartman, a City Planner for Fernandina Beach, was able to assure Mr. McCranie that access to his lots via a 12-foot easement on the Miramar property was legal and within his rights. As Mr. McCranie only file d the variance to gain access to his property, he withdrew his variance request and will access the property via an easement. Withdrawing his variance request will allow him to refile as needed, if he had accepted the denial of the variance, he would have to wait a year to reapply.
Voluntary Annexation Agreement:
The City Commission voted unanimously, 5-0, to annex two properties into the city. Both properties had failing septic systems and will generate approximately $1,000 in combined property tax revenue to the city.
Additionally, a commercial property with a failing septic tank system was unanimously annexed into the city and will continue to be used commercially.
Variance Request – Accessory Building:
Mr. Kirchmeyer of Fernandina Beach requested a variance to city building code. He has an accessory dwelling of 1,000 square feet. City code only allows 625 square feet for an accessory dwelling. He requested the variance to rebuild the flood damaged building. His neighbors were concerned with blockage of their view. Through mediation of the city both parties were able to reach a satisfactory agreement, the building would be expanded to 1,100 square feet while retaining the original height. The City Commission voted to unanimously pass granting of the variance, 5-0.
Fire House Roofing – Blackwater Construction:
City Manager Martin requested $12,000 net change for different roofing materials on a fire station. Material shortages resulted in switching materials. The City Commission unanimously passed the request.
Land Development Code Amendment:
The land development code was amended to correct errors and omissions, change definition, and redefine water bodies as no longer being impervious surfaces. City Commissioner Ross recommended that in the future the Planning Board should submit changes in smaller packages instead of large revisions. Debate over the definition of water as a non-impervious surface and unintended consequences from this change were discussed. The City Commission voted to unanimously pass the amendment.
Pensions Code Amendment:
Changes to the General Employees’ Pension and the Police and Fire Pensions were made to prevent collection of pensions while reemployed by the city as a general employee. These changes were unanimously passed by the City Commission.
No Smoking in Public Parks and Beaches:
The city code will be amended to include smoking in public parks and beaches as a public health nuisance. The House Bill from the Florida State Legislature, that allows cities to regulate smoking in public beaches and parks as they see fit, originally provided exemptions for cigars and pipes; however, the passed version of the bill only provided exemptions for unfiltered cigars. The penalty proposed was a $75 fine or citation. The third and final reading of this code change will be held on August 16th at 6PM. Vice Mayor Kreger questioned how this ban will be enforced. City Attorney Bach, recognized his concern.
Public Comment was offered by a resident, Joyce. She claimed that, “Cigarette butts are the number one form of beach trash in the world.” Commissioner Sturgis also expressed concern over finding so many cigarette butts on city beaches.
Commissioner Bean expressed dismay over the proposed ban, “I can’t restrict a person’s right to enjoy the outdoors in the way they perceive; I’m going to vote no.”
Mayor Lednovich discussed New York State’s similar albeit statewide ban on cigarettes, stating, “If an entire state can do it, we can do it.”
He continued, “A person does not have a right to exhale toxic materials, that I can breathe in that will adversely impact my health. That right does not exist. The right to pollute the environment and our wildlife habitat does not exist. Neither does the right to negatively impact wildlife or sea life. Those rights don’t’ exist. We are not limiting anyone’s rights. They don’t have that right to begin with. That’s bunk. That’s what it is. That’s bunk. So, I will vote for this.”
All voted in favor of the proposed ban except for Commissioner Bean who voted no.
City Manager Report:
Vice Mayor Kreger resigned from the Nassau County Economic Development Board. Commissioner Bean will serve in his place for the remainder of his term. The City Commission voted unanimously to allow this.
Chief Foxworth of the city police department will take a six month leave of absence to conform to newly adopted city standards. In the interim, a previous chief, Chief Hurley will serve for up to six months. Upon the end of his six months of leave, Chief Foxworth will return to his role as chief.
City Manager Martin encouraged residents of Fernandina Beach to participate in the National Community Survey (this used to be called the National Citizen Survey). The survey will be open for two more weeks.
Quarterly Litigation Report:
City Attorney Bach confirmed that new cases occurred and that both an eviction case and the Ocean Highway and Port Authority pilot payment lawsuit are both progressing.
City Clerk Report:
For the 2022 General Election, the following will appear in group four on the ballot: James Antun, Mike Lednovich, Chelsey Lemire, and Christopher Nickoloff. For group five, Darron Ayscue, Staci McMonagle, and Genece Minshew, will appear on the ballot. The contest for Mayor will be between Commissioners Bradley Bean and David Sturgis.
Mayor and Commissioner Comments:
Vice Mayor Kreger pointed out that under new tariffs, the city can install led lights in the street lights. This amounts to slight savings. The city rents the street lighting system.
Commissioner Ross stated that Ridgewood Infrastructure and Savage Enterprises quired the port from Worldwide Terminal. After meeting with a representative from the companies, he is “cautiously optimistic”.
Mayor Lednovich reflected on and offered condolences on the passing of Stanley Bunch, affectionately known as the Christmas Tree Man.
He reminded the public that the Police Foundation is hosting a spaghetti dinner Monday August 1st, from 5-8PM, at the Amelia Tavern.
For the full video of the City Commission meeting: https://fernandinabeachfl.new.swagit.com/videos/177351
Matthew Decker is a Co-Founder of Citizens Journal Florida, having set up some of the technical and social media infrastructure. He also developed sourcing for some of its municipal government and business content. He is an Aerospace Engineer by trade. He has worked in NGO’s performing civic activities. He originally hails from Ventura, CA