Editor’s note: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insight on various topics in Marketplace.
— Steve’s Marketplace —
Fernandina Beach city officials are regularly criticized for things they do, but this time they should be praised for something they didn’t do.
That is, they didn’t ask residents to saddle the city with $30 million in debt for unspecified and unnecessary projects. In an onset of frugality, commissioners called off a referendum over borrowing a pile of debt the size of the sawdust hill outside Rayonier’s mill.
Nevertheless, city officials are spending with abandon. Hiring more employees, giving pay raises, buying vehicles, embarking on frivolous projects. It’s apparently in the mindset of a former commissioner who believed city officials should spend every penny of tax revenues each year – or else citizens might think they’re being taxed too much.
Many city residents do think they’re being taxed too much, by the way. The $30 million boondoggle of an idea would have created a debt for 30 years. We don’t need it, or want it.
Worthwhile referendums have been presented to the public before, like with the scenic Egan’s Creek Greenway. The Greenway is an amenity that residents enjoy and that showcases nature. And, in fact, it was the final payment on the Greenway debt that apparently got city officials thinking – about venturing into the wilderness of further indebtedness.
The Greenway project was proposed and presented with the fanfare of a small Hollywood production. They made up T-shirts and made presentations to the people. Pioneered by former city commissioner Ronnie Sapp, the proposed project gained the wholehearted approval of residents. We are now better for it.
The ringleader of excessive spending and other antics is a current commissioner, and mayor, Mike Lednovich. In his central role, Lednovich has been brainstorming a variety of ideas, most of them faulty. Like banning smoking on the city’s beaches, or tearing down the central marina pier where Brett’s Waterway Café is located, or keeping an emergency Covid-19 order in place longer than almost anywhere in Florida.
But Lednovich comes by his political misgivings naturally. After all, he moved here from California, the epicenter of absurdity. And he has noble intentions in a “big brother” role, a belief that the almighty government knows what’s best for the impressionable and wayward citizenry. The government must protect us, from ourselves.
For instance, Lednovich’s rationale and urgency over the marina pier evolved from the tragic collapse of the high-rise condominium in South Florida. By his alarmist logic, if it happened there, it could happen here. It’s almost symbiotic.
And Lednovich’s plans have unintended consequences – such as the travails of enforcing a smoking ban on our beaches. Or what to put in place of the Brett’s pier (if it’s torn down). Otherwise, you’d leave a seismic void in the center of the marina.
And, worse yet, it would cost the city about $1 million to remove the pier and the building on it, according to estimates. How about this idea – let’s just reinforce the pier and leave Brett’s alone.
This past weekend, during the first Shrimp Festival in three years, people congregated along the pier by Brett’s to watch The Swingin’ Medallions band on the outdoor stage. It’s an ideal vantage point, and you can hear and observe in comfort.
Nothing collapsed. No one fell into the murky water. Many months after Lednovich took an emotional stand to tear down the pier. Onlookers obviously were remiss about the potential dangers they faced.
In other words, government should stay in its lane, and not venture into other lanes where it is not welcomed or needed. Like with dictating to people what to do, and not do. People prefer to be free to make their own choices.
Lednovich should have trepidation over borrowing $30 million with no plan for the proceeds, and not over the popular restaurant. In summary, govern within your means, spend within your means.
This is something city officials like Lednovich should do. And they’ll be applauded for it.
Steve Nicklas is a financial adviser with a regional brokerage firm who lives and works on Amelia Island. He is also an award-winning columnist. His columns also regularly appear in several weekly newspapers in North Florida, 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 on Amazon. He can be reached at 904-753-0236 or at [email protected].