By Matthew Decker
On Tuesday, August 2nd, the Fernandina Beach City Commission heard a tentative Beach Harmonization Plan. The plan is for proposed park designs at North Beach, Main Beach, and Seaside parks. Parking was the top issue raised by the community for all the parks. Currently, no budget or funding plan has been offered by the city to pay for the proposal. The Tourist Development Council (TDC) solicited this proposal and according to the City Commission will likely be the group paying for it. Also in this meeting, the city approved the purchase of a new 170 ft. aerial ladder fire truck to supplement the current ladder truck that is currently out of service. At the close of the meeting, Mayor Lednovich, challenged the public to come up with ways to reduce the proposed FY2023 city budget.
Beach Harmonization Plan:
Preliminary draft plans for the Amelia Island Convention and Visitors Bureau – Beach Harmonization Program were presented to the City Commission by Katie Bockel of EDSA. EDSA is a landscape architectural firm out of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. The preliminary plan was presented in order to solicit final feedback prior to finalization of the Beach Harmonization Plan. It is a 10–15 year plan that establishes baseline infrastructure improvements and determines how the beach parks can be enhanced. The main changes include the addition of bathrooms, pavilions, benches, and waste receptacles, along with expansion of boardwalks. Several options were presented to the City Commission. Public comments have been gathered via online surveys and open houses. The presentation offered by EDSA can be found here.
EDSA acknowledged that one of the biggest challenges at the three beach parks is parking. The plan called for bringing the three parking lots up to code. This requires the addition of shade coverage and medians. The result is a loss in parking spaces. Commissioner Ross lamented over the parking situation; however, he did not want to “pave over paradise to put up a parking lot.” Commissioner Sturgis suggested the addition of golf cart parking to help ease the parking issues.
For North Beach the primary changes included, added restrooms, permeable surfaces for the parking lot, additional medians and shade coverage for the parking lot (city code), signage and wayfinding for the beach park, and an expansion of the boardwalk.
For Main Beach three options were presented. Option one renegotiated existing space and resulted in the fewest changes. Option two was the most drastic in terms of change. It expanded the boardwalk, added a formal amphitheater and a central playground. Option three connected the boardwalk North to South across the park, added play areas and an informal grass amphitheater. All three of these options resulted in a slight reduction of parking, as the parking lots had to be updated to city code (adding medians and shade cover).
For Seaside Beach the boardwalk would be expanded, more pavilions would be added, and parallel parking would be allowed off of Sadler Avenue.
EDSA specified that these options represent a proposed implementation plan and budget and final costs are addressed by a separate consultant. EDSA will provide a high-level cost estimate overview for the City Commission.
Commissioner Bean expressed concern over funding allocation to this project. Mrs. Bockel clarified that the scope of EDSA’s role is to provide a design, not a complete budget. A formal budget will be approved prior to implementation of the Beach Harmonization Plan.
Vice Mayor Kreger informed the public that the TDC, which will fund the Beach Harmonization Plan, consider Seaside Park the priority and currently have a $535,000 surplus out of a $1,978,000 budget. This money could be used for the Plan.
Commissioner Bean, Vice Mayor Kreger, and EDSA consultant, Mrs. Bockel, agreed that all signage and wayfinding at the three beach parks within city limits will include the city of Fernandina Beach on the sign itself.
Commissioner Ross stated that his, “major concern” is “about adding all this infrastructure, we’re putting in more boardwalks, more other things, and how do you take care of it going forward…. we add more and more infrastructure, and we don’t have a way to pay for it.”
Vice Mayor Kreger echoed Commissioner Ross’s worry about maintenance costs saying that, “There is no justifiable reason that in this whole process, when we get to the budget, that there isn’t an amount of money set aside, a percentage of that money for preventative maintenance.”
Mrs. Bockel claimed that not expanding the boardwalk in some cases or the adding of only one restroom versus two could help mitigate budgetary concerns. She assured the Commissioners that preventative maintenance would be factored into EDSA’s high-level cost estimate.
The Consent agenda included a change order totaling $59,474 to Western Specialty Contractors of America. They are currently restoring the 93-year-old Peck Center building on a $1,2000,000 bid. In addition, a mutual aid agreement was authorized. This will allow the sharing of law enforcement resources between the Nassau County School District Police Department and the City of Fernandina Beach Police Department. The final Consent Agenda item was that the Capital Improvement Fund required a budget amendment in the amount of $25,000 for the paving of North Wolff Street.
The Consent Agenda was passed unanimously, 5-0.
Ladder Fire Truck Purchase:
City Manager Dale Martin requested the purchase of a new 170 ft. aerial ladder truck for the city’s Fire Department. The new truck would cost $1.2 million and would be financed over nine years with a debt service of $170,000 per year. This proposal is not included in the FY 2023 budget as delivery (and first payment) of the truck will take 14-16 months.
Resident Greg Roland offered his support for the Fire Department’s purchase in a public comment. He lives in a three-story house where the third story is only accessible by a ladder truck.
Vice Mayor Kreger questioned the purchase of a second ladder truck, “I’m not going to support this…there is a new [county] ladder truck on the south end of the island.”
Commissioner Ross came to the defense of the purchase, “It think it’s an essential piece of equipment for public safety.” He expressed concern over the budget increase of 2.78% or $170,000 per year for nine years. He planned to address the budget concern in tomorrow’s budget workshop.
Commissioner Sturgis stated that, “Public safety is the City Commission’s number one priority.” He claimed the Fire Department has been talking about a new truck for six to eight years and that the current truck, “doesn’t function, is rusty, and needs to be replaced.”
Fire Chief Silcox offered his reasons for purchasing the new truck. He confirmed the city does own a ladder truck: “There is a [county] ladder truck on the South end of the island and just like any mechanical apparatus, any vehicle that is brand new can end up in the shop. The city has a ladder truck that is nearly 20 years old. It’s been out of service for a couple of months now. We are having trouble getting parts for that apparatus.” He further explained that if the county ladder truck is out of commission or tied up on another call, then there will be no available truck as the city’s 20 year old truck is unserviceable. Recently, the county ladder truck was used to put out a ship fire at the Port, highlighting the importance of the asset.
The City Commission voted 4-1 in favor of the ladder truck purchase, with Vice Mayor Kreger voting No.
Parking Fines Doubled:
As part of an updating of Chapter 78 of the Traffic and Vehicles Code, parking fines were doubled from $25 to $50 per offense. Commissioner Bean did point out that the fines have not been updated since the 1990s.
The City Commission unanimously voted to amend the Traffic and Vehicles Code.
Outsourcing of Cemetery Landscaping:
Two landscaping positions at the Fernandina Beach Cemetery were outsourced to a private firm, Natural Landscaping of Jax. The two city employees were transferred to the City Parks Department. Commissioners Bean, Sturgis, and Ross complemented the City on this move as it allowed two city employees to maintain their jobs, while reducing the city headcount.
Mayor Lednovich lamented over his reception of critical emails from the public. These emails expressed desire for the City Commission to create a budget in-line with the rollback rate, as opposed to the currently proposed 11.78% tax increase. He stated, “I would welcome any suggestions [from the public] to pass a budget at the rollback rate.”
Meeting Video: https://fernandinabeachfl.new.swagit.com/videos/178173
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