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Nicklas: On Local Overspending

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By Steve Nicklas, 7-12-23

This time of year, opportunistic politicians typically talk about cutting taxes and easing regulations and reducing spending. It’s lip service to appease the electorate. 

The opposite is happening in Fernandina Beach, however. Here, city officials are irresponsibly talking about frivolous spending on wish-list projects, along with raising exorbitant impact fees even more.  

With little mention about reducing taxes or reforming regulations or cultivating economic activity. Some popular businesses have even been targeted by city officials, like one longstanding restaurant. 

Elsewhere, neither the county government nor the school board are espousing frugal ways to save money for residents and businesses. It’s all about spending here, not saving. Fueling the fire is another year of escalating tax receipts.

In comparison with the city, the county and the school board both face spiraling growth. The main things growing in Fernandina Beach are the city budget, the staff, the fleet of vehicles, pet projects, etc. The numbers don’t lie. 

The latest proposal in Fernandina Beach is a gargantuan increase in capacity fees. These fees are earmarked for the future impact on the city’s water/wastewater systems. So they’re not for day-to-day expenses. 

However, it’s widely contended that city officials have commingled these types of funds with others. This would be a misuse and a violation of state laws. 

Even before the latest increase, the city’s fees, permitting costs, and building assessments are as much as five times what the county charges for services. And no city official can explain why.  

Here’s a revelation – let’s hand off some of these services to the county. The last time we checked, the city is still part of the county. Consolidating police, fire and emergency services also should be reviewed. 

The proposed increase in capacity fees for the city’s water/wastewater systems is more than 200 percent. When you look closer, you wonder why more capacity is necessary. 

Currently, the city’s water system is at 30 percent capacity; the wastewater system is at 50 percent. The city is pretty much built out, so new development will be limited in the future.  

The city is not done there, however. The search process for a new city manager will cost around $30,000 to $40,000, while the salary has been increased by $70,000 from before. Let’s see, that’s another $100,000 of new spending. 

The city manager search has been downright troublesome. The city received only 11 applicants for the position, with only a few qualified. In comparison, nearby Atlantic Beach attracted more than 100 applicants for its city manager position. To add insult, the interim city manager conducted the search for Atlantic Beach. 

If prior searches are any indication, the city will pursue three of the top applicants. One will reject the city’s offer, another will want more money, so the third applicant will be hired.  

And it’ll be another big-government, heavy-spending bureaucrat. Just like we had. 

Steve Nicklas is the managing partner of Nicklas Wealth Management in Fernandina Beach. He is also an award-winning columnist. His columns regularly appear in weekly newspapers in Northeast Florida and in Southeast Georgia, and on his website at www.SteveNicklasMarketplace.com. He has published a book, “All About Money,” of his favorite columns from the past 20 years. The book is available on Amazon. He has also done financial reports for area radio stations and for National Public Radio in Jacksonville. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 904-753-0236. 

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