Don’t Raise Property Taxes Says Local Watchdog Group

Holding the line on county/city spending during a difficult period filled with uncertainty makes sense.

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

— Steve’s Marketplace —

A noticeable presence of common sense filled Fernandina Beach City Hall, and even extended onto the sidewalk outside. 

You could see and feel the presence. It was embodied by members of Common Sense Fernandina Beach, a newly formed watchdog group. The group came to the city budget meeting Tuesday night with a simple message: Don’t raise property taxes. 

 Some 30 Common Sense members spoke their minds and/or waived colorful plastic noodles over any anti-tax comments. They urged city commissioners to hold the line on taxes by adopting the rollback rate in next year’s budget. 

The group accomplished most of what it came for. City commissioners agreed to set the new tax rate at the lower rollback level, almost. They agreed on the rollback rate as adjusted for inflation, however. (This is an obtuse calculation that is uncommonly used, by the way.) 

Either way, since inflation is forecast at less than one percent, the adopted tax rate should be close to the rollback number. The rollback rate will generate the same tax receipts as last year. 

If city commissioners do not settle on the exact rollback rate in their negotiations in upcoming weeks, it will be declared a tax increase. In other words, they will raise taxes as the city, state and nation grapple with the coronavirus pandemic. 

“I’m going to still advocate moving (the tax rate) down,” says Jack Knocke, one of the founders and organizers of Common Sense. “We only have had a brief chance to look at the budget.” 

There are plenty of places to cut, as identified by Common Sense members (like purchasing new vehicles, hiring new employees, embarking on new projects, etc.). And these are all non-essential services. 

The air of common sense did not reach Nassau County commissioners, however. On the same night, the county decided to tentatively raise its tax rate, despite the excess tax receipts anticipated through higher property values. Knocke communicated a similar frugal message to the county commissioners.

“With many in our county suffering financial hardship related to Covid-19 and its impact on jobs, businesses and economic activity, I respectfully request that you vote for a (rollback) millage rate and NOT a tax increase,” Knocke says. “It is critically important that you act in the best interests of our community that is hurting right now.” 

It is a heartfelt message that most officials cannot refute. They dance around the tax issue by throwing out arbitrary numbers and threatening cuts in essential services, when none is necessary. There is plenty of excess in local budgets. 

Holding the line on county/city spending during a difficult period filled with uncertainty makes sense. Common sense, that is. If we only adopt it. 

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Steve Nicklas Financial Advisor
Steve Nicklas

Steve Nicklas is a financial advisor for a major 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].