EDITOR’S NOTE: Contributing Columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insights on various topics in Marketplace column.
It could be another of those perfect lampoons, when an aghast Jon Stewart stares into the television camera.
Stewart, the popular comedian and satirist, will play a political sound bite that is contradictory or humorous. And then he’ll ridicule it, as an armchair funny man.
Some new material for Stewart has been inadvertently written in Nassau County — although this is the Nassau County in Florida, not in New York (Stewart is from New York and has orchestrated his fame there).
This script comes from John Crawford, Nassau County clerk, and is directed at county commissioners — but also applies to other taxing authorities.
Here goes (this is Crawford talking): “You all have heard my advise to ‘get out of debt, stay out of debt, and pay as you go’ … Please be advised, creating new debt in this present fiscal environment could be disastrous for present and future taxpayers of Nassau County. I view it, with little room for exceptions, as unacceptable in this present fiscal climate.
“In Nassau County, unemployment is hovering at nearly 11 percent and property valuations (the source of ad valorem tax revenues) have declined precipitously over the past several years. From my view as chief financial officer, debt avoidance is the highest priority.
“In order to meet the goal of debt avoidance, I recommend that no major building projects be added to the capital improvement plan or otherwise authorized unless related to a several public safety deficiency.”
Then Stewart will play a follow-up, contradictory video clip. This comes from Fernandina Beach city commissioners, who want to borrow nearly $10 million to undertake several pet projects that are hardly “urgent” or for the public good.
Hmmm…. would be Stewart’s response. And the audience would laugh.
Although Crawford has no jurisdiction over the city’s operations, the timing of his message amid the proposed projects of the city is humorous at least. But something about this is not funny.
In recent years, Fernandina Beach officials have regularly and blatantly increased the tax rate to compensate for declining property tax revenues. They probably are headed in that direction again.
The $10 million for the projects would likely come from a bond issue or a credit line from a bank. Even though rates are historically low, interest is due on the loan. And ultimately, 20 years or so from now, the money must be paid back. The city already has long-term bonds tied to the Egan’s Creek Greenway project as well as its utility operations.
Other local boards are heeding Crawford’s words. Nassau County school officials have reduced 39 teacher positions. County commissioners are mandating a 10 percent reduction in spending in each department — after several years of cuts already.
Neighboring cities and counties are scaling back, as is the state of Florida. While Fernandina Beach officials have passed on filling some open positions and pared services, they continue full throttle with a tax-and-spend mode.
Part of the intent of the projects (preserving the old post office building, opening Alachua Street at the river, tinkering with the waterfront) is to invigorate the economy. However, hasn’t this proven ineffective on a grander scale?
The $700 billion handed out in federal stimulus funds are proof that the government cannot and does not need to stimulate the economy. Government officials just need to get out of the way by reducing regulations, costs, taxes, etc. These are the kind of sound bites we would like to hear.
Steve Nicklas is a financial advisor with a major Wall Street firm who lives on Amelia Island. His financial columns also appear in the Fernandina Beach News-Leader plus other area newspapers. He can be reached at 904-753-0236 or send eMail to [email protected].