Island Issues

City Manager’s Budget Adds To Fernandina’s Economic Pain; City’s Fiscal Shenanigans Need State Forensic Investigation

City Manager’s Budget Adds To Fernandina’s Economic Pain; City’s Fiscal Shenanigans Need State Forensic Investigation

Fernandina Beach residents got hit harder financially than most others due to the lingering effect of the pandemic on the tourism industry and inflation’s impact on the numerous local retirees on fixed incomes.

The pandemic knocked area residents for a fiscal loop. Busted supply chain issues added to the misery with retailers and shoppers still in search of items ranging from baby formula and hand sanitizers to toilet paper and a variety of food items.

When inflation came roaring in, registering a more than 40-year high of 9.1 percent, it was a triple whammy. The cost of basic necessities including food, housing, gasoline, heating and cooling, and more increased rapidly and are still going up. It’s estimated that inflation costs the average American family $500 a month. That’s like paying for a new car and not getting it.

We’re suddenly seeing many of our neighbors cutting their own grass, holding off on car purchases, backing off on refinancing, putting home renovations on hold, and more. The U.S. economy contracted for the second straight quarter from April to June, hitting a widely accepted rule of thumb for a recession the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported Thursday. And it’s going to get worse.

Even Biden’s doddering 75-year-old Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen, who only makes public appearances to admit she was wrong the last time she made a public appearance, went public yesterday, July 28, and muttered incoherently about a recession. We’re in one, she thinks. Yellen and Biden must share the same speech writer.

However, Fernandina Beach’s City Manager Dale Martin thinks Fernandina residents are flush and immune to financial slumps. He says we’re chumps who need to pay more to keep the city coffers full so he can hire more folks and buy nifty new stuff. It’s city hall that’s suffering he says, not the residents.

Dale Martin aka Henry F. Potter

Instead of expressing sympathy and offering solutions for the city’s economically reeling citizens Martin told them to bend over, they’re taking a 14 percent tax hike. In a Friday, July 22 News Leader opinion editorial sporting a photo of the grinning Martin, he did an impression of Bedford Falls’ Henry F. Potter, announcing tax increases to pay for the all the new stuff and additional hires in his 2023 budget proposal. Here’s the financial train wreck he proposed:  Link to the Full  FB Budget for 2022/2023

In his quarter page News Leader word jumble he never mentioned inflation, recession, the residents’ current economic misery, or any other hardships that many locals have endured the past two years and are continuing to suffer. He didn’t express a single word of sympathy for the financial plight of city residents…nothing!

Instead, this tone-deaf bozo had the unmitigated gall to whine that the city is the victim saying, “….higher expenditures are the result of national, state, and regional economic factors: the increased cost of labor, equipment and materials following the COVID-19 pandemic.” He’s seeking our compassion for his reckless spending plans while telling us we’re going to get hosed. He’s like a hospice visitor complaining to a dying patient about his stubbed toe.

Dale “Big Spender” Martin

In addition to his lame excuses for raising our taxes Martin glosses over the fact that the city received $6.5 million from the federal government’s American Rescue Plan (RPA). He already has plans for those tax dollars, and they don’t include relief for local tax payers. Don’t even ask, that’s his private stash.

Even former City Comptroller Patti Clifford took issue with Martin in a note to the Commissioners saying: “The income from Property Taxes has gone up on average 10% for each of the past six years and the 2022/2023 tax increase in dollars is 14.025%. This is NOT sustainable! The City must learn to live within its means.”

Jack Knocke, head of the watchdog group Common Sense took issue with Martin’s extravagant tax proposal in a note to the Commission and his Common Sense followers in part saying: “This year, the City Manager has irresponsibly recommended a flat millage rate that equates to a 14% increase in dollars year over year. The city has been hiring excess staff, spending wastefully and now seeks to ask for a massive increase in spending.” 

Martin’s proposed budget now goes to the City Commissioners, who work for the tax paying residents who voted them into office. Martin works for the Commissioners who hired him.

If the system worked like it is supposed to the Commissioners, who work for us – the voters –  would tell their employee – Martin – to take his proposed budget and shove it.

“Come back,”  they should say, “…..show us what items you are cutting and how many staffers you propose shedding. We also demand a hiring and purchasing freeze and want you to request that every department cut a minimum of 10 percent from its budget.”

Oh, and while you’re at it Dale, tell the building and permitting departments that if they don’t stop harassing, intimidating and financially strong-arming residents we’re going to fire all of them and transfer those corrupt operations to the county, where they will be run efficiently and honestly. And then sort out the water and sewer department and its dishonest “impact/capacity” fee structure or we’re going to sell it to the highest private bidder where it would come under supervision of the Florida Public Service Commission and all of its fees would be overseen and regulated. Then we’ll take care of the golf course and its $750,000 white elephant Toptracer fiasco you created.”

Because Martin apparently never took a math class, he believes that city government can tax its way to any fantasy he can come up with. He views the city tax payers through the eyes of a child, an extremely backward child, who thinks he can always get more money from them.

Hopefully there are at least three commissioners who still have a connection to reality and will point out that a tax increase of any amount is out of the question.

The Commission should also demand that Martin explain to them how the city is NOT in violation of Florida law with its outrageous fee structures, shuffling of funds, and impact/capacity fee extortion tactics. Then it should sack the grinning spendthrift.

It only takes three votes to send this guy packing. Commissioners Len Kreger, Bradley Bean and David Sturges, are you listening?

The budget approval process for fiscal year 2023 takes place as follows:

08/03/22 and 08/04/22 – City Commission budget workshops

09/06/22 – Budget public hearing

09/20/22- Budget public hearing adoption

10/01/22- 2023 fiscal year begins

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How Corrupt & Stupid Are They? When I asked a city department head, who will remain anonymous for obvious reasons, if he/she would be willing to submit a budget reflecting a 10 percent reduction and a hiring freeze, he/she said: “Yes”.

So why isn’t City Manager Martin telling them to do that? Is the Commission going to stand up to their employee, Martin, and tell him his budget stinks and local citizens are fed up with increased taxes, outlandish fees, bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo, arrogant staff, and reckless spending?

A number of property owners and business people have relayed horror stories to me about the building and permitting department, capacity fees, and the lack of concern and common courtesy by city hall staff. Like the anonymous city official, they also want to remain anonymous due to the city’s well-deserved reputation for retaliation.

The city is notorious for its outrageous permitting, inspection, and building fee structure but nothing ever changes.

“Nice little town ya got here. It’d be too bad if something happened to it…”

Dale Martin is running the city like an organized crime don. His capos on the Commission sit back and nod approvingly while Martin directs them on how to fleece the populace. The only things missing are the big cigars and diamond pinky rings.

The mayoral position Commissioner Mike Lednovich currently holds is worthless. He has no more authority than any other Commissioner. His job is to run the Commission meeting, cut ribbons and pose for photos. Unless he has at least two Commission allies, he can’t do zilch.

How are the current exorbitant building and permitting fees still justified? Why are they more than five  times those of similar county fees? Building Department Director Steve Beckman is gone, the Chamber of Commerce protests are fading memories, but nothing has changed. Why does a permitting fee that costs an average of $6,700 in Jacksonville cost $201,000 in Fernandina Beach?

From what I understand any city income not authorized by the state to be exacted from citizens is illegal. That includes impact fees, now called “capacity” fees charged inconsistent with state law as well as building fees in excess of those authorized by law. City funds are shuffled from one entity to another and back again. Isn’t that using government entities to launder money? It’s like a Ponzi scheme.

I’ve heard rumors that State Attorney General Ashley Moody and Melissa Nelson, Florida’s Fourth Circuit State Attorney who handles the counties of Nassau, Clay, and Duval, may be close to taking a peek at the alleged financial shenanigans taking place in Fernandina Beach’s city hall. If so, I wish they would hurry.

Frequent city critic, lawyer, investor, and author Pat Keogh sums up the current city financial mess succinctly and offers an interesting analysis saying: “Every service offered by the city is also offered by the county on the other side of the street, literally, except for cemetery services,” he explains.

“As part of the city budget process department heads should be required to demonstrate that the county providers of comparable services cost more than comparable city services. If not, the county should be provided the opportunity to be the alternative source of supply for those services.

“City residents, who are also county residents, should have the opportunity to access parks and recreation management services. How about building services, planning services, code enforcement, police, and fire?”

Where is the outrage by those folks running for seats on the Commission? This is an opportunity to tell residents why they should vote for you.

Somebody – anybody – do something!

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Things I Wish I’d Said: “The trouble with being poor is that it takes up all your time.” – Willem de Kooning

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Fair & Thorough Reporting: If you want to read a balanced blow-by-blow report of the 15th District Republican primary debate between Emily Nunez and Dean Black sponsored by Deb Boelkes’ We The People organization this past Monday click here to read the Citizen Journal’s George Miller article: https://www.citizensjournal.net/report-on-fl-house-district-15-republican-primary-candidate-forum/.

The print bi-weekly News Leader totally ignored the story in its Wednesday edition while the pathetic Fernandina Observer ran an article about ants in the Greenway. (I didn’t make that up, honest.)

Instead of covering the political scene the News Leader featured a letter from its new Editor Tracy Dishman, telling readers all about her kids, and pets and how much she enjoys living here. Yawn! On the same page self-confessed socialist Ron “Get Off My Lawn You Little Bastards”  Sapp spewed his familiar liberal claptrap, this time criticizing Governor Ron DeSantis for what Sapp claims is the Governor’s “attempt to corrupt and ultimately destroy public education.”

Florida’s wildly popular governor’s latest move obviously had socialist Sapp gasping for breath. The State of Florida is suing a bar that hosted drag shows with children present after investigators found that the establishment was exposing minors to sexually explicit content, according to documents obtained by the Daily Caller News Foundation.

DeSantis discussed the complaint and spoke out against sexualized content targeting children during a Wednesday speech in Tampa on environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG). Preventing teachers from taking classrooms of kids to a strip bar is apparently what Sapp says is an attempt to ” corrupt and ultimately destroy public education.”

“Get off my lawn you little…..”

Sapp was an indoctrinator at Fernandina Beach High School and from what I hear from his former students and their parents he brought his leftwing blather into the classroom with him.

The Citizens Journal is quickly proving to be the most accurate and thorough newspaper in the area. If you haven’t subscribed do so. Oh, it’s free.

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Overheard At PJD’s Beer & Wine Garden: “Why are the Post Office and Courthouse on Centre street such enjoyable places to conduct business and the offices in Fernandina Beach’s city hall such a mess?”

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11 Comments

Fred - 03. Aug, 2022 - Reply

If anyone thinks the feckless Chamber of Commerce is anything beyond a bunch of no teeth social butterflies, you would be wrong. The current and long time staff members are as uncaring as our City Commissioners.

walter whitlow - 02. Aug, 2022 - Reply

Do it for the Tourists, Come ON Man.

Newbie B-Rocks - 01. Aug, 2022 - Reply

After reading this column, I wish we had done our homework on how the government of this city of roughly 14,000 people works before buying property here. Former City Comptroller Patti Clifford’s overview of property tax rate increases in Fernandina Beach over the past several years is eye-popping: “The income from property taxes has gone up on average 10% for each of the past six years and the 2022-2023 tax increase in dollars is 14.025%. This is NOT sustainable!”
This trend is OUTRAGEOUS for a city of ANY size, much less one as small as FB! I feel safe in saying that a lot of us moved here in part to escape government overreach and irresponsibility in other jurisdictions. Then we hear things like how it took one couple currently building here 9 MONTHS to get permitted by the city. Also, a property owner can’t build a storage building on a lot he owns outright without spending $10K or so on plans for not only the small outbuilding, but also the home he will build within 2-3 years. Oh, and while a number of older homes along city streets are dilapidated at best, the city funds observers who drive around leaving notices to others whose lawns need mowing.
Meanwhile, our mayor (who is, of course, up for re-election) hires a New Jersey outfit called “National Research Center, Inc., to administer a random “The National Community Survey (NCS)” that makes college entrance exams look like child’s play. Seriously, the main survey includes only 12 questions—in 138 parts! The survey’s fifth page is “about you and your household,” including your total income for the current year; your monthly housing cost; and your age(s), race and gender. Only 3 choices for that last one, the last being “identify in another way” besides male or female (the other 2 choices). Wonder how much we the taxpayers spent to use this trademarked research product.
At a time when people (especially retirees on fixed incomes) are already squeezed by higher prices at the gas pump and the grocery store, by all means let’s keep increasing the size of government and raise property taxes another 14%. It’s probably too late for this election cycle, but perhaps some city commission candidate should take a page from the Jimmy McMilan (of New York) playbook and run on a platform of ‘The Property Taxes Are Too Damn High.”

GERALD DECKER - 29. Jul, 2022 - Reply

Commissioner Bean is right–that $3M “manna from heaven” won’t come next year and, together with some budget adjustments, makes it possible to reduce our already large taxpayer burden, just as the Nassau County Board of Commissioners has done, as we all deal with soaring prices–city leaders owe it to their constituents this post-pandemic year.

Charlie Freeman - 29. Jul, 2022 - Reply

Hey, after living in Fernandina Beach we had to move out in February due to un believable prices. We now live in Genava FLA on the St Johns River where we can watch and hear rocket launches from cape Kennedy that’s only 35 miles away. I would rather be in Dina, but fixed incomes say we no longer can. KINGS Dale and Chip have seen to that.

George Miller - 29. Jul, 2022 - Reply

Blistering, sometimes unfair invective, but, unfortunately, an accurate assessment of the situation.

Darron Ayscue - 29. Jul, 2022 - Reply

My name is Darron Ayscue and I’m a candidate for the City of Fernandina Beach Commission, Seat 5 for this upcoming election on November 8th. The simple answer to fixing the budget process that is obviously flawed is to direct the city manager and city department heads to prepare their budget on a full roll back rate of the milage. With this as the standard it creates better spending habits by those charged with using tax payers money to fund all of our city services. By having the budget already set with no increases, this allows the commission and citizens to clearly identify immediate and long term needs of the community in terms of maintenance, upgrades and special projects and it helps identify the revenue sources available to fund them. The tentative milage set by the commissioners can then be better ascertained and then allow for citizen input on what direction needs to be taken. This process allows for the consideration of the current economic situation of our local economy to be factored into the final budget

With a better understanding of fiscal responsibility for all involved to include the commissioners, city manger, city staff and citizens we can begin to build a budget rather than hack a budget which is the current model. This process worked extremely well at Amelia Island Mosquito Control where I served previously and as chairman. The wholistic approach to working with the budget from revenues to capital projects to reserves to grants and beyond can only be truly maximized by starting at zero and working up from that point. The county has adopted the modified roll back as their standard and that is a solid approach. None of this means that there will never be a need to set a milage rate above the full roll back. Disasters happen, inflation happens, important projects that can generate revenue may need to happen but if we can identify and with the citizens permission, justify these increases above the full roll back we can all be better stewards of the tax payers money.

Charlie Monroe - 29. Jul, 2022 - Reply

Dave, please clarify…..did you lose track of your commas and zeroes, or is the following excerpt correct?….” Why does a permitting fee that costs an average of $6,700 in Jacksonville cost $201,000 in Fernandina Beach?”.

Michael Miller - 29. Jul, 2022 - Reply

Speaking of exorbitant growth of city expenses, a pet peeve of mine is the lifeguard expansion. Once only at Main Beach and by Sadler Rd., the operation continues to expand to several other entry points.

When I grew up, you learned to swim, were guarded by family and friends and you swam within your limits. If you were a strong swimmer, you ventured out even into rough surf. If you weren’t, you stayed out of the water or bathed in tidal pools. I, or my parents were responsible for my safety. When did it become the responsibility of city government, at our expense, to protect the incompetent or ill advised from drowning?

Now we see lifeguard towers, pick-up trucks, jet skis, and continually expanded territory. They have a flag warning system of yellow and red. No green! Even in calm conditions they Fly the yellow flag. That is called CYA. They try to keep people out of the water if it is rough. I do not remember surrendering sovereignty of my well being to collectivist government entities.

Speaking of government overreach, do you recall that early in the onset of the plague, the city council prohibited walking on the beach?? Last time I checked, it was God’s ocean and I was a free man.

I suspect my views will be judged as extreme by many. I am old school and was comfortable when there was freedom, self responsibility, limited government. The expansion of this operation is symptomatic of all the govt empire building. I would like to see the trend return to limited gov’t, but am not holding my breath.

Here is a solution for how to reign in expense at the beaches: Provide protection at Main Beach area and Sadler road. Post signs at the other beach entrances stating: “Lifeguard protection at XXX locations only. Swim here at your own risk.” Then let citizens decide what level of risk they wish to assume. Presto! Expenses cut massively.

This type of thinking applied to other areas of local gov’t will expand freedom while shrinking gov’t and reducing unnecessary and creeping expenses that weigh down our tax paying residents who may have other priorities for their spending.

CoCoNUT Harry - 29. Jul, 2022 - Reply

Great comments and a solution to ever-expanding gubamint overreach – people having the freedom to make a decision on their own without bureaucrats trying to control every minute of one’s life. Hip, hip, hooray !

Ken Timmerman - 29. Jul, 2022 - Reply

Amen!