Editor’s note: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insight on various topics in Marketplace column.
– Steve’s Marketplace –
Fernandina Beach officials are employing the more-is-better budgeting approach this year. More taxes. More spending. More government.
More is not necessarily better, especially whenever the economy slows – and we must do more with less. This will be problematic, like navigating an inner tube across the St. Marys River channel in gale-force winds.
“I would have to question if this is sustainable over the long-term,” says a former city official about the excessive spending. “These numbers are staggering.”
Try these numbers on for size: a proposed 1.5 mil increase in the tax rate, $1.7 million in additional tax revenues, a new beach management department, and 11 more full-time employees. Overall, that’s a lot more – in all areas – than last year.
“It’s just more and more and more,” says the former official.
It seems as though city officials are racing to keep up with the swelling tax revenues – and to spend them as quickly as they appear. Even though the extra revenues could be saved as reserves for a rainy day. By some measures, the city is underfunded in its major reserves (for use in an emergency, for instance).
If this had been done before, the city could have had money to repair the marina following the two hurricanes, rather than to wait for federal funds. “I guess they didn’t learn,” the official says.
In the meantime, the city is overlooking major infrastructure projects, and instead boosting staff and even creating a new department. The city has created 40 full-time positions over the last four years.
An amenity that works seamlessly and consistently is the beach, but city officials are dogmatically messing with this successful formula. They have over-regulated the beach access at Sadler Road, and are toying with the idea of charging for parking on or at the beaches. And they’ve torn down numerous wooden beach accesses.
In addition, they removed the plastic trash cans from the beach and bought fancy new ones for $2,500 each. However, the new trash cans are positioned at the beach parking areas, which is not as convenient for disposing of trash.
In addition, city officials determined that the majority of residents want to acquire more property for conservation. Instead of putting the issue before voters in a ballot, the city employed a survey of some residents to reach this conclusion.
And the most startling thing about the whopping tax increase (as proposed) is that the city is flush with revenues right now. The value of property in the city limits increased by 10 percent this year, generating $14.5 million in tax revenues.
These are big figures, especially considering the city was receiving about $8 million in tax revenues not that many years ago. So the new amount is almost double that previous figure. All the while, the city’s population has increased, but not by 70 percent like the tax receipts.
It’s obviously more, but apparently not enough.
Steve Nicklas is a financial advisor for a U.S. brokerage firm who lives and works on Amelia Island. He is also an award-winning columnist. His columns appear regularly in several newspapers in North Florida and South Georgia, and on his website: www.SteveNicklasMarketplace.com. He has also published a book, “All About Money,” consisting of his favorite columns over 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].