— Steve’s Marketplace —
Editor’s note: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insight on various topics in Marketplace.
Out of the blue, Fernandina Beach officials approached the county recently to solicit $500,000 for maintaining city recreation facilities. A cool half-million dollars. Unbudgeted, unexpected and unrepentant.
And how do you think county officials reacted? With shock, awe, dismay – or S.A.D. in acronym terms? The answer is “all the above.”
Fernandina Beach officials first sent a letter to the county, describing their desire and search for more tax revenues (as if they have not gotten enough in recent years.) They contend that county residents commonly use city recreation facilities. So they feel the county should pay for this free usage, to share the costs for upkeep. And the costs come to about $500,000 in their minds.
City officials followed up the letter with individualized, personalized, impassioned pleas. Even though the city is experiencing hardships and shortfalls from the pandemic, other municipalities are too. Therefore, this only added to the intrigue of the surprise request.
Most city officials have pretended little is wrong with their staggering budget, or the local economy. City officials are begrudgingly trying their hand at austerity by adopting a quasi-rollback tax rate in the new budget, however. But they really don’t like the taste of it. If only they could find more tax revenues – like from the county – they could go on their merry tax-and-spend way.
Take a proposed city park on Simmons Road. Another park, another recreation facility that will require upkeep after it is built. And it will be built in large part with funds hijacked from the city golf course’s budget. Funds that could have gone to retire debt, but will now be spent on a park that city residents don’t want or need.
Speaking of the city golf course, it is also searching for more tax revenues. The popular driving range is being converted into a scaled-down version of a “Top Golf”-type apparatus. An idea that is costing the city initially about $500,000 (there is that figure again). Apparently, they say the jazzed-up driving facility will pay for itself.
Looking deeper into the city’s budget, another $12 million is floating around out there from costs/miscues with rebuilding the city marina. In other words, the city’s debt could increase substantially unless FEMA covers some of this.
Like with negotiations with the county, city officials have sent letters and made pleas to FEMA for help. Yet FEMA’s response has resembled the county’s reaction. Even FEMA is strapped for cash with the recent outbreak of emergencies (hurricanes, wildfires, floods, etc.).
Meanwhile, city officials are back to the drawing board on the new budget. They really need more tax revenues to meet their lofty spending goals, ignoring the trials of the pandemic. Next, they’ll be knocking on the doors of businesses and residents for more taxes. You know, pay your “fair” share.
Instead, the city should do like everyone else is doing. Reduce staff and cut salaries, instead of increasing them. Pare back spending, and postpone frivolous new projects. Do more with less.
In other words, control excessive and inexcusable spending. Or else you’ll make taxpayers S.A.D., and blue.
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].