Fernandina Beach City Hall Downtown
Fernandina Beach City Hall Downtown

Editor’s note: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insight on various topics in Marketplace column.

–Steve’s Marketplace —

Fernandina Beach residents have been left to wonder if city officials are representing them – or resenting them in favor of outside interests. It’s a legitimate exercise in wonderment.

Time and again, city officials – both elected and unelected – make dodgy decisions threatening our idyllic lifestyle here. The decisions rarely favor or help taxpaying residents and businesses.

The latest is a bizarre proposal for a quasi-race park at the Amelia River Golf Course (which is on city-owned property). The area bordering the marsh would be converted into a fancy hotel, rumored for some time. However, incongruent amenities like a go-kart track and a two-mile test-driving course are also included in the plans. You must wonder (here we go again) if this would disrupt both the hotel guests and the golfers – if they even keep the golf course.

Red Outline Marks Amelia River Golf Club Property (Developer Is Interested in Building Hotel On Site)
Red Outline Marks Amelia River Golf Club Property (Developer Interested in Building Hotel On Site)

And let’s not forget about residents living near Amelia River. There are plenty of them, like in and around the tranquil Parkside North neighborhood.  And they are understandably concerned, to the point of being upset. “I don’t think anybody will be happy with it,” says one former city official.

The logical questions about the illogical proposal are whether the use matches the zoning, whether the lease on the city property will be extended, and whether city officials care about neighboring residents.

“These guys just see tax dollars,” says the former official about current officials. It’s probably the only explanation. The city is essentially selling out to special interests with moves like this.

Take the city’s push to charge for parking around the beaches and in downtown. In recent years, the city has been receiving an additional $1 million in property taxes – because of soaring valuations. This is above and beyond what the city received each of the prior years. And we still want to charge for parking?

Meanwhile, there is more to wonder about:

  • The city has focused on constructing an unorthodox airport terminal over repairing the damaged marina. City officials approved borrowing $2 million for the airport conundrum, which could have been used for rebuilding the marina. Yes, the airport and the marina are separate entities, but they all fall under the city. Plus, or more appropriately minus, $1 million in fuel sales a year are being lost at the city marina.
  • City officials have limited the nighttime parking hours for the beachfront lot on Sadler Road. Not sure why, except for persistent complaints from a few homeowners near there, who really want to eliminate beach parking. In this case, the parking privileges preceded the homeowners (unlike in other instances).
  • The city gave the final go-ahead for the Amelia Bluff neighborhood, after in-house errors had permitted the development on protected land. Hundreds of frustrated residents protested the project, but three commissioners ignored them in fear of another lawsuit.
  • City staff constantly harasses local businesses over trivial issues like signage or tiki torches or rooftop expansions (the operative word is “local,” as in already here and paying taxes). In contrast, new businesses are often allowed to do what existing businesses cannot do.
  • The mammoth so-called apartment complex at the corner of Lime Street and South 14 Street was permitted by city officials even though the property contained wetlands. And the sheer size of the project seems to blow past any density standards. Let’s see at what price the so-called “affordable housing” units are rented.
  • The city is now tearing out wooden dune walkovers (at beach accesses) because of repair costs. A logical replacement/reinforcement plan should have already been in place, instead of making sudden decisions all at once. By the way, these are attractive, popular and widely used by residents, and tourists, but what does that matter anymore. It only matters if they generate tax revenues.
  • Quietly, the city has added nearly 30 full-time employees in recent years. And employees are expensive. Maybe this is where the $1 million of additional tax revenues are going each year, as with typical government. And the city’s emergency reserves have been only minimally boosted during the economic boom.

In summary, the city’s priorities seem compromised. “The place is out of control,” says the former official. Many residents would probably agree.

Steve Nicklas Financial Advisor
Steve Nicklas, Financial Advisor

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Steve Nicklas, CRPC®, is a financial advisor with a U.S. brokerage firm who lives and works on Amelia Island. He is also an award-winning columnist. His columns regularly appear in weekly newspapers in North Florida and in South Georgia, and on his website at SteveNicklasMarketplace.com. He has published a book, “All About Money,” of his favorite columns from the past 20 years. The book is available at local stores and on Amazon. He can be reached at 904-753-0236 or at [email protected].

— Adult Ed Class —

The “Investing in Today’s Financial Markets” adult-education class will be offered in June 2019 at the Nassau County Council on Aging in Fernandina Beach.

The four-week class has been offered at Florida State College in Yulee since 2001, and at area businesses and non-profit agencies. Local financial advisor, Steve Nicklas, teaches the class.

The class covers all aspects of the financial markets, including stocks, bonds, mutual funds, ETFs, annuities, insurance, etc., along with financial/retirement planning. Sessions will be held on Monday evenings from 5-6:30 p.m. (June 3, 10, 17 and 24). For additional information or to register, visit the Council on Aging website or call 904-261-0701.