— Steve’s Marketplace —
Editor’s note: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insight on various topics in Marketplace.
Fernandina Beach officials are using cheap talk to defend expensive projects – and city taxpayers will be left holding the bill. A big bill, that is.
The costs of these projects are startling, yet the timing is shocking. The pandemic has dealt the economy a harsh blow – especially to tourism, our premier industry. Layoffs/slowdowns in this sector have left many workers unemployed or underemployed.
So top city officials adopt convoluted talking points to conceal their big-spending intentions. You know, to confuse residents into thinking this is good for them. It is not all good; just weigh the costs and necessity of these projects:
— At least $12-to-$16 million for the marina/waterfront, with some estimates nearing $40 million for a grand package (i.e. waterfront park, sea wall, property purchases, etc.). Much of this money will be borrowed, significantly adding to the city’s debt.
— Some $500,000 for a Top Tracer gaming system at the city golf course driving range. The installation has been delayed on this pricey experiment.
— A new park along Simmons Road that few people want, costing about $400,000 (a city advisory committee recommended “rethinking” the project, by the way).
Some other projects have been completed but leave a clingy residue of debt. Like some $2 million borrowed for the new airport terminal, which resembles an abstract piece of art that people stare at and try to guess what it is.
A good part of the $12-to-$16 million to rebuild the city marina has already been spent. Some or most of this is supposed to be reimbursed by FEMA for the damage inflicted by Hurricane Matthew four years ago. But confusing questions linger about city manager Dale Martin’s handling of the FEMA process – and how much the city will be reimbursed.
City officials insist that FEMA owes them for repairing the marina, even though the city upgraded the structure during the repair. This is reportedly not usually allowed by FEMA, which permits repairing a damaged structure back to its original design. “It’s almost like a shell game,” says a former city official.
In looking back, city officials hurried to build the airport terminal, but omitted restoring damaged fuel lines at the city marina (at about the same time). Marina fuel sales amount to $1 million a year – and are still not happening.
However, it is a new day, with a new-look commission after the recent elections. So there is hope. Newcomers Bradley Bean and David Sturges are businessmen with capabilities to right the ship – and keep it from going in the wrong direction.
Bean is an engineer who comes from an impressive pedigree. His father, Aaron Bean, is one of the top senators in Florida. Sturges runs a respected contracting company in town; his family has been here for six generations.
Hopefully, the new commission will oppose more unjustified spending and property-tax increases, while supporting prudent management. With straight-forward, honest talk to the public.
On another tangent, city officials are still mandating the wearing of masks in public buildings. While the face coverings are intended to fight Covid-19, they will not mask the inferior performance of city officials. It might be a diversion, for now.
Steve Nicklas is a financial advisor with a major brokerage firm who lives and works on Amelia Island. He is also an award-winning columnist. He has published a book of his favorite columns, “All About Money,” which is available at local bookstores and on Amazon. His columns also appear in newspapers in North Florida and South Georgia, as well as on his website at www.SteveNicklasMarketplace.com. He can be reached at 904-753-0236 or at [email protected]