The sneaky methods the City of Fernandina Beach government has of shaking down its financially suffering tax payers are ingenious and know no boundaries.
In an article in the online Nassau County Florida Independent (NCFL Independent) Tuesday, February 23, Editor Mary Maguire discovered the city has yet another plan for squeezing cash out of its struggling residents – a “convenience fee” for paying a City of Fernandina Beach utility bill with a credit card. When she inquired about it City Manager Dale “Big Spender” Martin told her this past Monday that the city was working with its credit card vendor – Automated Merchant Systems – to “determine our best course of action.”
Ms. Maguire stumbled upon the potential fee earlier this month when she was paying her bill by credit card and was told by the utility billing office staff that the fee was coming and is expected to be 2.5 percent per transaction.
While many laid off locals are struggling to pay their utility bills “Big Spender” justified the potential new fee to Ms. Maguire by ignoring the plight of area residents and expressing sympathy for the credit card company saying: “The only revenue our credit card vendor receives are the service fees generated from each card transaction.” This guy’s a real sweetheart. Based on their track record Martin and the City’s unofficial mouthpiece, Commissioner Chip “Sue Their Pants Off” Ross, would have repeatedly secured Enron’s employees of the month award.
Workers at Amelia Island’s hotels, restaurants, bars, and convention and meeting venues have been the hardest hit during the COVID pandemic. Lockdowns and the lack of travel have caused many gathering places to close or drastically reduce their staff. Early last year some 3,000 local hospitality workers lost their jobs permanently or temporarily. Nationally the leisure-and-hospitality sector – Amelia Island’s bread-and-butter industry – shed nearly four million people, a quarter of its workforce and as of this past January 15.9% of them remain unemployed, more than any other industry says the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The tone-deaf City of Fernandina government is doing whatever it can to ensure the lives of its suffering residents are made even more financially miserable. Apparently certain Commissioners are oblivious as just the other day a friend of mine relayed a message to me saying: “When I was talking to Commissioner Chip Ross he said to relay to you (Dave Scott) that your comments about the city are “stale and irrelevant.” Mr. Ross is always welcome to respond here and explain to me where I ‘m going wrong? I never edit or censor comments unless they are profane so he has an open platform.
Not only has the city raised property taxes, but it added what it calls a “conservation land” tax that enables the city to take worthless swampland off the tax rolls benefiting nobody but the desperate landowners who received unexpected windfalls at tax payer expense. There was no referendum, it was forced upon residents by an indifferent City Commission, justified by Big Spender and prodded on by a handful of hysterical tree groupies, many who don’t even live here.
Currently the Commission is harassing local eateries penalizing them with astronomical fines for their outdoor live music performances that it says violate the city’s noise ordinance. The Boat House and Patio Place are the latest victims, being fined after drawing the ire of pompous gasbag Commissioner Ross and ham-fisted Mayor Mike Lednovich. These mindless twits sit in their chambers at city hall straining to hear musicians playing at nearby local eateries then sic the Commission’s police guardian out to silence the music and fine the restaurants. You couldn’t make this stuff up.
While Amelia Island’s hospitality industry is laying off employees, the bloated city government is hiring more bureaucrats to fine, harass and extort them.
The Building Department’s Stephen Beckman admitted his function has more shakedown money in its coffers than state statutes permit, although he calls the stash “reserves.” But instead of refunding it, he’s desperately looking for ways to spend it such as hiring two more employees to drive the new vehicles the city already purchased for them.
Meanwhile, “Big Spender” Martin, who has been mismanaging the city the past four years, just fired the management company of the city’s deficit-ridden golf course then rehired the manager who worked for them all those years, a Three-card Monte managerial shuffling maneuver that would impress even New York City’s sleight-of-hand card dealing conmen.
Big Spender Martin’s latest public letter to citizens focused on funding the deficits but make no mention of how to better manage operations to avoid them.
How bad is it? A wise local gentleman who knows more than most about such things hereabouts provided an eye-popping analysis that should get the attention of all Fernandina Beach property owners.
Since 2009 the City’s population has increased by 14.1% but property taxes on homeowners in the City have escalated much faster. Take a look:
-A home worth $100,000 up 56.2%
-A home worth $175,000 up 44.0%
-A home worth $200,000 up 42.6%
-A home worth $275,000 up 40.3%
-A home worth $300,000 up 39.8%
Here’s where your money went:
-To pay for an ever-expanding government
-To buy and enlarge more and more public “amenities”
-To buy endless consultants, plans, studies, and analyses
-To subsidize the Marina and Golf Course
-To service debt
So, when is enough, enough?
“The accelerated tax burden slowed somewhat this year with the adoption of the ‘adjusted rollback rate,’” says the wise citizen.
“Hopefully, this slowing down will be repeated again for the next fiscal year if the ‘adjusted rollback’ or, better still, the actual ‘rollback’ rate is adopted by the City Commission,” he adds. “During this prolonged Pandemic Era that is the least the Commission can do to support its citizens.”
Over the last decade or so, the city has built up a complex of free services and public facilities that can’t be sustained without a significant increase in property taxes.
This year the City had to “raid” the Reserve Fund to keep things going. That isn’t sustainable. Either some services and facilities have to be adjusted, or tax payers end up paying more for the convenience of having them. There are no free rides.
Want to put a stop to this outrageous tax and spend spree? Then attend Commission meetings and call or email the Commissioners and let them know you’re fed up. Budget planning for next year is underway. It’s in your hands as they work for you and it’s your money.
Stop The Presses: One of the most blatant and outrageous puff pieces I’ve ever seen published by any news organization is the photo and caption that appeared in the online Fernandina Apologist (aka Observer) in its Wednesday, February 24 post. The photo shows two city employees on a construction site while the caption reads: “Shout out to the City Building Department- both in the office and on the field. Their combined efforts allowed them to complete nearly 180 inspections yesterday!” OK, then how about one with a photo of the Apologist’s two editors, Susan Steger and Sueann Thamm, reading: “Shout out to the city’s PR Agency. Their combined efforts allowed them to print at least one city government puff piece daily.” Do these two have no shame?
It Could Be Worse: This past weekend I sat next to a late-fifties fellow at South 14th Street’s Coastal Pizza bar who told me he and his wife had just moved here a few weeks ago from northern California, his birthplace, and where he had always lived until now. He said he was absolutely thrilled with the stark differences between his former California home and Florida pointing to the crowd of customers in the eatery as one example why. He explained that the hatred of California’s insufferable and sanctimonious Democrat Governor Gavin Newsome is intense and expressed confidence that the recall effort there will succeed. If you’re thinking this guy must be a fleeing conservative you’re wrong. He works remotely as a researcher at Stamford University and says he left his progressive views as far behind as his former home, seeing first-hand the damage they’re causing. As he packed his bags for Amelia Island he probably asked himself: “How is it that California with the highest taxes in the nation, is incapable of managing its forests, dealing with homelessness, educating its young, and addressing all the other problems for which I am taxed?” In other words, how did California, with the world’s sixth-largest economy, vast natural resources and incomparable beauty transform itself into the equivalent of a third world hellhole?
He’s De-lightful, He’s De-licious, He’s De-lovely, He’s DeSantis: Florida’s success in handling the pandemic has the puppet masters that pull Joe Biden’s strings seeing red. As northerners flee their blue Democrat-run locked down, high tax states with their shuttered schools, churches, and entertainment venues and head for Florida, the far left in NY, PA, NJ, DC, etc. are beside themselves with anger. Biden’s puppet masters are furious and have their squinty-eyed, shuffling, mumbling White House marionette threatening to restrict travel into and out of the Sunshine state. At the same time, they are encouraging and enabling tens of thousands of unvetted illegal aliens to pour across our southern borders at the US tax payer’s expense and peril. The fact that these illegal swarms haven’t been tested for COVID is the least of the problems. Many of them are convicted felons with records of child molestation, rape, murder, DUI, robbery, drug smuggling, etc. In other words, typical Democrats. Governor DeSantis said he would fight any attempts to restrict travel by Americans to and from Florida and told the Biden birdbrains to go pound sand. “Joe Biden is considering treating Florida like East Berlin and shutting down our border over coronavirus concerns, while allowing illegals to pour across the southern border,” said Governor DeSantis. “If only he paid this much attention to the southern border, our country wouldn’t be overrun by drugs, sex traffickers, and thugs.” Displaying the contrast between him and the insufferable Democrat governors Gavin Newsome (CA) and Andrew Cuomo (NY) Governor DeSantis responded to questions about the COVID vaccine recently saying: “I’m willing to take it, but I’m not the priority….Granted, I’m an elected official, but whoop-de-do.” We are indeed fortunate to have this man as Florida’s governor.
Just Wondering: If Blinken is in the State Department and Nod’s in the White House, where ‘s Winken?
Get Out & Stay Out! Each week, once this column is sent to its subscribers, I post it on several local social media group sites because I believe it might contain items that would be of interest to area residents. One of those, called “Amelia Island Fernandina Beach Yulee Network”, has notified me several times that I have been booted off their site because: “Posts must be local, pass the ‘so what test’, and be worthy of group discussion.”
The most recent column to get tossed was the February 12 one headlined “Governor Ron DeSantis Has Florida Prospering & Growing While Keeping Local Governments From Screwing Things Up.” It described how Governor DeSantis is helping Fernandina Beach schools, area restaurants, and others weather the COVID pandemic; how a local conservative meeting group was banned from two local restaurants; and reported retired local school teacher Ron Sapp’s News Leader editorial promoting socialism. There is never any profanity or sexual content in the column and many items are regional and national with local impact. The anonymous administrator who runs this site decided none of this is worthy of group discussion and that it doesn’t pass his or her “so what?” test.
I don’t care if they boot me out. It’s their site and they have every right to reject whatever they want. Out of curiosity I browsed the site to see what fascinating items the administrator deems worthy of group discussion. Here’s a sampling: a photo of a bowl of tomato soup from a local eatery testifying how tasty it was; a St. Augustine’s Alligator Farm photo; a local gal asking for suggestions on where she should take her husband for his birthday; a guy asking how to fix a flat tire, another asking why the local Whataburger was closed; and a woman asking where she could get burnt end sandwiches. My favorite was a gal who wanted to know where she could go “to get my own balloons filled with helium besides Publix? Dollar Tree said they will only fill their own balloons.” I was tempted to suggest she contact a local plastic surgeon. As Enterprise Commander Captain James Kirk would say: “No intelligent life here. Beam me up Scotty.”
Is It Just Me Or do all those TV ads for drugs with unpronounceable names have a common thread? Based on the ads if the ailments the advertised medications are supposed to treat don’t kill you the drugs probably will as an inordinate amount of time is devoted to describing their gruesome side effects. However, if the drugs result in a cure the results are miraculous, resulting in you riding along the coast in a convertible with a group of attractive people; laughing it up in restaurants, parks, and plush residential settings; participating in various sports and social activities; and eventually picnicking in a beautifully manicured riverside setting with your well-scrubbed gay multiracial family.
Black History Month? Why? I’ve never understood the need for a Black History Month each February. Why not celebrate American History Month with a segment detailing the role of blacks as well as native Americans, Asians, Latinos, Jews, etc.?
However, if we’re going to continue to single out blacks for a special month let’s make it relevant. In addition to Harriett Tubman, Martin Luther King, Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglas, etc. why not herald the contributions of current black Americans such as Thomas Sowell, Dr. Ben Carson, Walter Williams, Candace Owens, Jason Riley, Bob Woodson, Larry Elder, Tim Scott, Condolezza Rice, and Clarence Thomas? Are they ignored because they are more highly regarded among whites than among their fellow blacks?
It seems to me that Black History Month would also be the perfect opportunity to address the problems endemic in the black community including the millions of black people who live on welfare or their involvement in the illegal drug trade. Address why 13% of the population commits more than 50% of the violent crimes; has abortions at a rate that would rival genocide if they were involuntary; and murder each other by the thousands and then claim victimhood when a few times a year cops (often black ones) kill young black thugs during the commission of a crime. Question why black-on-black crime is ignored in main stream media newsrooms. Is it because it doesn’t involve the narrative of racism, which they say is only systemic among whites?
Also, what is preventing black men from marrying black women and raising the 73 percent of babies being born to unwed mothers and being brought up in two-parent homes?
If there was such a thing in this country as “systemic racism” then it exists among blacks who hold white people, never themselves, responsible for the problems endemic in their community.
Black author, economist, and educator, Thomas Sowell, summed up the current state of racial conflict in America this way: “When people get used to preferential treatment, equal treatment seems like discrimination.”
On A Lighter Side: Clever memes seen this week include one that shows a Keystone Pipeline construction worker asking: “Can we keep the pipeline if we add Hunter Biden to the board?” The other showed Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, with the caption: “We need to remind those of you who will be out shooting in Chicago this weekend to wear a mask in order to keep yourself and others safe.”
Quote Of The Week: Shelby Metcalf, a basketball coach at Texas A&M, recounting what he told a player who received four F’s and one D: “Son, looks to me like you’re spending too much time on one subject.”
Just Eat: Go downtown or to the beach and watch folks waddle around and it’s easy to see why the United States is the fattest country in the world with an adult obesity rate exceeding 42 percent or so says the recently released book “Just Eat” by Barry Estabrook (Lorena Jones, 242 pages, $26). The book says that America’s fatties have created a $72 billion fad diet industry. The book also claims most of these fad diets aren’t effective and some are dangerous. Meanwhile the country’s heavyweights are contributing to disease and disability and higher health care costs. Maybe just pushing back from the table might help.
Row, Row, Row Your Boat Department: Tomorrow, Saturday, February 27, from noon to 5 pm the public is invited to a special event at American Legion Post 54, the corner of South 3rd Street and Gum, to meet the four local veterans (Billy Cimino, Army; Cameron Hansen, Air Force; Paul Lore, Marines, and Hupp Huppman, Navy) who will attempt to row a specially designed boat more than 3,000 miles from San Sebastian in La Gomera, Canary Islands, Spain to Nelson’s Dockyard, English Harbour, Antigua & Barbuda to raise money for disabled US veterans. They will be participating with more than 30 other teams in the annual Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge https://tidewayodyssey.com/ that takes place in late December this year.
Called “Foar From Home” https://www.foarfromhome.com/ the quartet will have their boat “Courageous” on display and explain their mission. Admission is $15 for adults and $10 for kids with barbeque supplied by the local award winning “Smoke In The Cockpit” crew manned by BBQ pros Tony Bonic and Chris Evans. Music will be provided by songstresses Michele Anders and Amy Vickery.
Those attending can also sign up for the Cross the Line Paddle for Veterans Kick-off, a nine-mile kayak regatta from St. Marys, GA to Fernandina Beach to be held on June 19th. Money raised from that event will go to Foar From Home, K9 for Warriors, and a scholarship fund.
A local couple – Bernadette and Sebastian Carroll – also have a significant interest in the event as their daughter, Victoria Carroll, has teamed up with rower Saf Greenwood, in an attempt to break the female pairs record of 50 days for the event. Both ladies, who reside in Ireland, are raising money for a variety of charities.
Victoria’s Amelia Island mom, Bernadette, is no stranger to rowing. She rowed for Great Britain, her grandfather Noel Casey was the Olympic coach for Great Britain and Juniors rowing coach for Ireland and her great-grandfather Jack Casey, a fellow rower, was one of the seven Casey brothers from Sneem, Ireland who were such accomplished rowers – and wrestlers – that they were once dubbed “the toughest family on earth.”
More can be learned about these two gals by going to https://www.irishpost.com/life-style/rower-from-legendary-irish-sporting-family-takes-on-gruelling-atlantic-race-200460
Drinking, Dining & Dancing: If you’re fortunate enough to be a member of American Legion Post 54 or have a friend who will invite you, then you won’t want to miss the Saturday, March 20 Atlantic City Boys concert sponsored by generous Legion benefactor Jeanne Wyatt. Ms. Wyatt, who is generously paying for the group as a gift to veterans, advises that the entertainers are not a dance band but a performance group that interacts with the audience. It’s also Legion steak night where members and their guests can enjoy a meal for a $12 contribution. To take a peek at the group go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VLizjxnqBu8
This PPP approach was tried in the 1960’s and ultimately failed,
with the Private Partner walking away–leaving the City to clean up the mess.
Don’t repeat history. Learn from past mistakes…….court the City, don’t make them the enemy.
Build on what is already underway.
Dave, I noticed this comment: “Currently the Commission is harassing local eateries penalizing them with astronomical fines for their outdoor live music performances that it says violate the city’s noise ordinance.”
IMO, those most offended are those buying up the high end condos and properties in the downtown area. I can just picture this happening in the home of one of our newest additions from NYC or California: Liam, last night were you watching Joe Pesci in “my cousin Vinny” again? Olivia dear, no why do you ask? I thought I heard a train whistle at some ungodly hour and this morning some of our pictures of our trip to Santorini were dislodged from the wall. Well Olivia I did hear something too. Perhaps we need to investigate our surrounding area. Maybe buying this place on line was not a good idea. Regardless, I hear the city commission is receptive to noise complaints. Perhaps they can pass an ordinance requiring the trains, if there are any, only go at noon, have muffled whistles and wheels or pay a huge fine.
Re: Ever-rising property taxes and city services fees, as a former resident of Virginia Beach, VA all I can figure is some of their gubamint people retired and moved to Fernandina where they taught like-minded city “leaders” how to squeeze blood out of a turnip, while convincing tax payers it’s for their own good. Ex: I just sold my house there that was unoccupied for 6 months – used no water, no sewer, generated no trash to pick up, yet paid the same as anyone else who occupies a home there. Let the good times roll !
In the crazy fees and charges category I nominate your water and sewer bill. In a recent News Leader article Mr. Martin acknowledged he is using the proceeds from your city-owned utility to subsidize the golf course and marina. If the utility was privately owned, as it once was, the charges would be regulated by the FL Public Service Commission and such practices would not be allowed. The city has made your utility bill just another tax. How about we call it what it is; the Shakedown City Flush Tax?
Trying to add a shed to my Fernandina Beach property…just found out that ALL buildings, sheds or otherwise, will now need a building permit. What a pain.
I forgot to say “huge thank you” for backing our super governor. He is on the ball and is making Floridians safe and speaking out for us. We all need to join him and you in speaking our minds without falling to the “political po-po”. To succeed, evil and wrong need nothing more than our laziness, temerity, and fear of taking a stand – not a knee.
Every at-bat with Scott is a home run.
Another great article. Thanks, and especially for the bit on Black History Month. Can’t the black historians research and come up with other blacks who have contributed to America’s history? Always the same few. Many current people of color are investing in America such as Dr. Ben Carson, Candace Owens, the many you mentioned, and I am not even looking for others. Recycled bits are not encouraging and just using the replay button is lazy when you have a chance to honor a hero or just a good strong person. I agree with Morgan Freeman and you, Dave in regards to “a history” month.
Your comments in the case of perpetual tax increases hits home with me. In three years, my mortgage has risen from $880. to $1072. or more than $2300. per year. This is a nice place and pretty, but not all that. I am beginning to search for a neighborhood or town more laid back. Are taxes in the rest of Nassau Co. as high ?
$880 to $1072 is $192. Must be a typo somewhere.
If this is your primary residence, you can apply to the County for a homestead exemption which gives you a discount on your (non-school) taxes and also limits increases to a maximum of 3% per year.
School taxes are the same everywhere and constitute 40% or more of most people’s total property tax bill. There’s no discount.
Nassau County taxes are pretty much the same everywhere. If you live in Fernandina or one of the other cities, your County taxes may decrease a little bit, but then those cities add their own property tax on top.
If you move off-island you will find houses selling for 10% – 20% less than comparable on-island houses and they should have comparably less tax assessments. Then there’s also the transaction costs of selling your old home and buying/mortgaging a new home to consider. In addition, some neighborhoods have substantial Home Owners’ Association dues to pay.
Went back to grade school and re-figured the math.
Falling under giving the benefit of the doubt category, I’m going with Mr. Scott isn’t as dumb as he writes. Trolling generates readers and responses. Guilty as charged. Hence, I’m more apt these days to give Dave some leeway and concede to his right to have fun.
Keep the heat on Chip & Dale……Chip is ever irksome…..especially pushing continued irrational fear of Covid! Uses The “dr.” to cause anxiety etc! Led obj high…must have had a bad day…so upset by music and happy to bond with Chippy!
The issue of “convenience fees” is a complex one and is often confused with a “surcharge”. Convenience fees are permitted by the card networks (i.e. Visa, Mastercard, etc.) for credit and debit cards if the payment channel is considered an “alternate”; that is not the standard channel (e.g. in person) used by customers. So what does the City consider its “standard payment channel”? The various networks have different rules as to how that convenience fee can be structured. The last time I checked, Visa mandates a convenience fee to be a flat amount, not a percentage of the transaction; whereas Mastercard allows either method as long as it is consistently applied to all card transactions.
Convenience fees are different from surcharges which technically are illegal under FL law. There have been successful legal challenges to the surcharge prohibition in FL, but the statute is still on the books.
Thanks for alerting us to the group Atlantic City Boys. Will be watching for an appearance in or near Atlanta. Or maybe on a cruise ship if we ever return to the water again.
BEST of the BEST ever. Thank you. Wish the whole country could see your post.
Don’t stop !!
I always enjoy your blog, but wanted to point a rare inconsistency in your logic this week. In one section, you disagree that Mary Maguire should have to pay a convenience fee to pay her utility bill. Then in another section you suggest that people should pay more for the convenience of using the city services. Credit card processing isn’t free – someone has to pay for it. Selfishly, I’d rather Mary pay her own processing free than me being forced by City Hall to subsidize it. But, if she’s fallen on hard times and needs to do a GoFundMe account to pay her credit card processing, I’m sure I might be willing to help her out. Other than that, though, excellent work! Be safe and thanks for keeping us informed!
Thanks for including Victoria and Saf in this week’s blog.
I was already enjoying the article and was pleasantly surprised to scroll down and see our daughter.