As a property owner and Fernandina Beach tax payer do you have any idea how much debt the City Commission and City Manager have racked up in your name? Most folks don’t because they don’t have the “big picture.”
A wise local man, who knows more than most hereabouts and is concerned about the city’s future, has used U.S. Census Bureau numbers, local statistics and demographics to paint “the big picture”. It isn’t pretty. And it is BIG!
For many the cost of living here is becoming prohibitive. I personally know of people who have moved out of the city because they can no longer afford the taxes and I know others who would like to live here but can’t because of the taxes. Our current City Commission’s spendthrift ways are the result of them being slavish to a small constituency of “blow the bridge” no growth old-timers and out-of-town tree hugging activists rather than being realistic and sensitive to resident property owners who pay the bills.
The city’s vehemence against any new development exacerbates the pressures taxpayers and businesses face. Candidates who excoriate “hyper-development”
or advocate “lets redo the Comprehensive Plan to stop future development” fail to see the consequences or don’t care.
The city’s “let’s block development, buy up the land and build all this stuff” is a plan designed to accomplish one thing and one thing only – bankrupt the city.
Here’s the big picture of where we stand so far according to the statistics compiled by my astute correspondent:
To help frame the picture, following are the Capital Projects in the pipeline:
Marina $12M ; Golf Course $2.5M, River Park $9M; River Shoreline $19M; ARC Auditorium $5M; Peck Center $1.5M; MLK Expansion $1M; Airport Fire Station $4M; New Patrol Vehicles $1M; BB Columbarium $2M; Beach Access Areas $9M; City Hall $3M = Total $69 million.
With almost $70M of capital spending planned within the next five years, the obvious question is where is the money coming from?
The bulk will come from property owners including local businesses. That means taxes must increase. That means fees must increase.
The anti-business and anti-development approach taken by City Hall means that the tax base will certainly not grow enough to help generate the needed revenue, either through property tax or building fees or impact fees or license fees.
That means there is precious little “new money” to help. So, what does this do to the folks who live and work here? They are facing a long future of increased taxes and fees because no one else is going to help. They are on our their own and stuck with a $69 million bill.
“Now”, says the wise man, “let’s take a look are how that massive bill will be divided up and how it breaks down.”
“Since We The People are on the hook for all these projects, let’s look at who ‘We’ are.” According to the US Census here’s the demographics of Fernandina Beach:
- Households who own their residence—3,832
- Median Household Income ◦ Census Tract 501.2—$59,053 ◦ Census Tract 502.2—$70,521 ◦ Census Tract 502.3—$70,099
- Percent Below Poverty Line—12.5%
- Median Age—54.8
- Percent 65 and over—31.8%
- Median Property Value—$299,660
- Most Common Occupations by Size: 1-Health Care & Social Assistance,2- Accommodations & Food Service, 3- Education Services, 4-Retail Trade, 5-Manufacturing
- Health Care Coverage—84.6%: Employer Plan—31.9%, Medicaid—8.6% , Medicare—23.6%, Non-Group—17.5% , VA or Military—2.9%
The picture that emerges is of a small seaside community that has an unusually high number of residents working in the Accommodation & Food Services (the sector hardest hit by the pandemic), Administrative & Support Services, and Transportation & Warehousing. These are industries that pay low hourly wages and salaries as reflected in the Census data.
With almost one-third of the population over 65, many households are on a limited income – Social Security, retirement savings, pensions. This segment of taxpayers is particularly hard hit as taxes and service fees increase since larger portions of their income are lost to government mandates.
Similarly, with a large portion of the income-earning households working in hospitality, health care, administrative support, and retail trades, their incomes rise slowly and are also hard hit as government charges increase. The local business community has two large industries – manufacturing (paper mills) and hospitality (hotels), that contribute significantly to the tax base. The hospitality sector is already reeling as it is the one suffering the most due to the pandemic.
The largest segment of city businesses are locally owned and operated—restaurants, retail shops, repair shops, B&Bs, health care, construction, gas stations, to name a few. These businesses are also limited in their ability to absorb increased taxes and fees while remaining profitable. How can this population and these businesses shoulder the upcoming financial burden planned by city government? Will they, indeed, can they survive, given the strong anti-growth position held by many government personnel and a small group of outspoken residents?
It does not seem the city has a recipe for success, just the opposite. It has a recipe for bankruptcy.
Some accommodation must be reached—and soon. The immediate first step to finding that accommodation comes with the November election. City Commission candidates must establish their position on this tsunami of spending and show realistic approaches to controlling it.
According to my learned sage, sitting Commissioners must establish their position as well. He says proposals offered by the candidates and others basically come down to either borrowing from private lenders (banks) and/or issuing municipal bonds—both maturing over 20 or 30 years. Those options mean higher taxes to service the loans and pay the annual bond premiums. In either case, several millions of dollars each year. Financing, say, 60% of the $69M would cost approximately $2.4M a year using a 1.60% rate over 20 years, or $1.74M a year over 30 years. If paid using property taxes, that would be an additional 0.91mils or 0.66 mils, respectively. Now property valuations can go up, lessening the rate, but not the amount – the debt is constant.
“Can some 5,700 property owners and businesses carry this burden? “, he asks. This should be a critical concern for both city leaders and voters. If the city’s spending, exceeds its residents’ ability to pay for it everyone in the city will be directly and financially impacted negatively.
However, none of this has stopped the city’s spendthrift habits. Despite the $15 million FEMA marina fiasco the city is continuing to build out more new space around the marina at the cost of $30 million dollars. This is in addition to all of the other capital projects listed above. They talk about grants but grants typically only cover a portion. On top of everything else these drunken sailors now want to burden city taxpayers with millions more in debt leading to even higher taxes. Think about this when you vote.
Knocke’s Knock Nixed: Local resident and property owner Jack Knocke attempted to respond to the recent Fernandina Observer’s City Commission Candidate Forum’s biased opening remarks by Adam Kaufman, who moderated the assembly. Alleged neutral Moderator Kaufman’s remarks strongly reflected his opinion that the three commissioners who voted for a tax increase were justified in doing so.
Mr. Knocke, one of the founders of the area watchdog group Common Sense, disagrees with Kaufman, but his comments were rejected by the Observer, which unashamedly appears to now be a mouthpiece for Commissioner Chip Ross and City Manager Dale Martin in their attempts to raise taxes despite the pandemic wrecking financial havoc on the community.
The callous Ross-Martin duo don’t care about anything but increasing taxes and squeezing every nickel they can out of a financially suffering populace as long as they can build parks, buy more and more waterfront plans, purchase worthless land for “conservation, add more bureaucrats to a bloated city hall payroll, and blame FEMA for the city’s massive $15 million marina debt. The Observer gleefully cheers them onward.
Here are Mr. Knocke’s comments that Observer Editor Susan Steger rejected:
“Adam Kaufman is unfortunately presenting an opening opinion that suggests that three city commissioners were justified in ignoring fact-based presentations and dozens of speakers who supported the rollback rate. In an otherwise fact-based piece, you inserted opinion that was biased and deceptive. Those commissioners who voted for the tax increase (Ross, Chapman, Miller) ignored the will of their constituents.
Maybe you should seek a quote from Common Sense author Thomas Paine ‘Could the straggling thoughts of individuals be collected, they would frequently form materials for wise and able men to improve into useful matter.’
Don’t let Chip Ross’ comments fool you. Taxes for homestead owners may have gone down slightly this year, but thousands of taxpayers are paying much more this year and every future year (renters, businesses, part timers, and more) and when those homesteaders sell, taxes on the new folks will go up 50% to 1,000% depending on how long they were homesteaded. By law, what Chip Ross just passed is a tax increase – yet he refuses to acknowledge those who will be paying more.”
Sorry, It Ain’t So Joe: Joe Biden said something that I agree with. He said that President Trump should wait until there was an election and let the people decide who should nominate the new Supreme Court justice. The people made that decision in 2016 and Donald Trump is the President. So much for Biden’s argument.
Waffling Wendall: I very much wanted to leave my first meeting with Fernandina Beach City Commission candidate Wendall McGahee (25) eager to vote for him. It didn’t happen.
During our meeting at the T.S. Warden Funeral Home on Beach Street where Mr. McGahee is a funeral representative, I asked him to clarify his association with Black Lives Matter and his previous public comments on rioting, local racial inequities, and the city marina and received vague generalities and waffling.
The young Mr. McGahee is pleasant, soft spoken and personable, the kind of guy you’d like to watch a game with over a couple of beers.
Unfortunately, his answers to my questions included no specifics. When asked about his alleged association with Black Lives Matter he seemed annoyed.
“I would never back anything that would be harmful to our community,” he said when I explained that BLM was founded on Marxist-Leninist principals. He didn’t outright deny being associated with BLM adding: “I understand that BLM has been manipulated,” and added that he does not endorse Marxist-Leninist views.
Following the interview when I later asked about his campaign being funded through Act BLUE, I sent him the following email: “Wendall, you implied you were not affiliated with BLM yet your campaign is funded through Act BLUE, which is also used by the BLM Foundation (the money arm of BLM) to raise money. How do you explain that?”
He responded saying: “I’m not quite sure why you are so adamant about trying to associate me with your negative take on Black Lives Matter. Per our conversation at yesterday’s meeting, I informed you that I have no affiliation with the organization in the sense that you have portrayed. You are an avid researcher; therefore, I am sure that by now you have looked it up and saw that in its simplest form, Act Blue is merely a fundraising software for whoever chooses to use it.”
The key phrases in his response are “…your negative take on Black Lives Matter:” and “…I have no affiliation with the organization in the sense that you have portrayed.” He didn’t outright deny an affiliation with BLM.
When I asked about local racial inequities he mentioned local gentrification forcing poor people out of their homes and the need for low cost housing but provided no solutions for either other than saying he would do everything he could to prevent taxes from being raised.
He praised Fernandina Beach Police Chief James Hurley and Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper but said there have been past incidents of racial discrimination in policing, citing a shooting of a black man in North Hampton six years ago and another shooting in 1996. He didn’t provide details other than saying the victims of the police shootings were black men, one a former Fernandina Beach High School classmate of his. I left him the questions and said: “If you have anything you want to add or explain please send your answers to me. He responded via email late Thursday evening saying: “It was my intention to have a statement to you by this evening, but due to my hectic schedule, I have not had the time; however, I will have it to you the beginning of next week or possibly the weekend. Hope you’re well.”
Commenting on his remarks at a recent candidate forum he said he would like an outside firm to take over day-to-day management of the marina and “relieve us of that financial burden.” When I asked him specifically what organizations those might be he said he’d have to “mull it over.”
If McGahee is indeed associated with BLM and gets elected it doesn’t bode well for our community. As one concerned citizen told me “McGahee’s election will turn FB/AI into a center for BLM activism, marches, and protests by extremist groups. Media will cover these events. You can kiss the tourism dollars goodbye. You can kiss the real estate dollars goodbye. People will leave, property values will drop. The economic wreckage will be worse than covid or any hurricane.”
As desperately as I wanted him to, Mr. McGahee didn’t earn my vote, far from it. I’ll now hold my nose and cast a ballot for Group 3 incumbent Chip Ross, a bloviating, egotistical, arrogant, chest-pumping, pretentious, know-it-all, who does know a lot but has an annoying way of conveying that knowledge.
In the other two races I’m voting for veteran local business owner David Sturges in Group 2 and the young and wise local engineer, Bradley Bean in Group 1. Both Sturges and Bean are solid choices, reasonable, financially prudent, lifelong residents, displaying a balance between environmental issues and local business concerns. We desperately need people like Bean and Sturges on the City Commission to put Chip (Ross) and Dale (Martin) in a box.
Both of Sturges’ opponents scare me. Alexandria Lajoux has made it clear that her constituents are trees. Her campaign promises are a jumble of platitudes intended to please everyone except those of us on the hook for the tax bills that she’ll continue to run up. She actually thinks the city’s finances are in good shape. The other one, Genece Minshew, has a history of activism for a variety of groups. She is a past president of Florida NOW (National Organization for Women) and has been endorsed by the Jacksonville chapter of NOW, which advocates for BLM. Any candidate that is mentioned in the same sentence as BLM has lost me.
Speaking Of Local Elections: Jacksonville journalist Billie Tucker Volpe founder of “Eye on Jacksonville” wrote recently about John Cascone who is running for judge here in Nassau County. Ms. Volpe says: ”We are disturbed by John Cascone who is running for Nassau County Judge in Group 1. He is campaigning as a conservative and claiming on his website to “upholding The Constitution and All Amendments without legislating from the bench.” Ms. Vople did some digging and a background check on Mr. Cascone.
“It appears Mr. Cascone is registered as non-partisan on the voter rolls,” she says. “Judges are supposed to be non-partisan so that’s a good thing. However, Mr. Cascone shared a post from Occupy Democrats in 2016 saying: Voting is like driving. If you want to go backward vote for an “R”. If you want to go forward vote for a “D”.
She said she was curious why someone running as a Constitutionalist would share a post from Occupy Democrats because their mission is different from what the Constitution provides. To view Ms. Volpe’s complete article got to https://eyeonjacksonville.com/does-the-dogma-live-loudly-within-a-nassau-county-judicial-candidate-you-decide/
A Sign Of The Times: Some friends of mine and I have noticed that as we drive along roads anywhere on Amelia Island we spotted campaign signs for Trump that appeared crumpled and their wire frames twisted. Their owners tell us that these are signs that have been ripped up, their frames bent, and tossed in the street or bushes. The sign owners straighten them out as best they can and plant them back in their yards.
This vandalism isn’t related only to yard signs, but larger ones that have been demolished, damaged and spray painted with “BLM”. I even saw a traffic sign the other day with “Biden” spray painted on it.
None of the Biden signs we’ve seen show any evidence of damage. The Trump office at 5422 First Coast Highway boasts a 6-foot by 5-foot Trump sign out front of it that is seven feet off the ground but that didn’t stop vandals from tearing it down and even damaging the light fixture on top of the pole it was mounted on. “We thought, for sure, THAT one wouldn’t be touched,” said a peeved building owner Amanda Borghese. “But low & behold, someone got up on a ladder, pulled the bottom wood framing off, and then tried to get to the top framing, mashing the lamp casing back but apparently took off before they could get it down, possibly interrupted by a car passing by. We found the framing from the bottom of the sign, thrown on the ground! They even pulled out the nails.”
Does anyone else think it’s odd that that these vandals are only destroying Trump signs while Biden signs remain untouched? Huuuuum!
High School Hullabaloo: Two parents who have children at Fernandina Beach High School and a former teacher there told me an odd story this week about a controversy displaying colors at a Pirate’s football game. They said students were asked to selected colors to display at the game and they chose red, white, and blue. According to the parents and former teacher the choice was “rejected as being too controversial” and the kids were told to pick “neon” instead. The parents I spoke to weren’t happy. I called FBHS Principal Chris Weber to ask for details. He refused to comment saying only: “It was handled within the school and corrected, and I will not discuss any issues involving students or school business with you.” I admire Mr. Weber’s protective stance concerning students. However, I find it disconcerting that the patriotic colors of the United States were rejected as “controversial” if indeed they were and very odd if it took place at a school that takes great pride in displaying hundreds of American flags each anniversary of 9/11 and proudly flies the U.S. flag on its grounds. It appears something peculiar happened but I’m not sure exactly what.
Trump Rally: Next Saturday morning, October 10, locals will gather for one more Trump rally at the corner of Sadler and 8th Street. Folks are encouraged to meet in front of the Beach Diner by 9:30 a.m. for an hour and a half of flag and sign waving to show their support for the President’s re-election.
Speaking Of Trump: During last Tuesday’s Trump-Biden debate when asked to define what he meant by “reimagining policing,” Biden actually proposed social workers accompanying cops on their patrols. He didn’t say who the cops were supposed to call if the felon started beating up the academic milquetoast.
Drinking, Dining & Dancing: Last night, Thursday, October 1, I was fortunate to get a sneak preview of developer, investor and owner Spurgeon Richardson’s new downtown Boat House restaurant and bar the corner of Ash and South Second Street. The new facility boasts three bars, with seating for 15 at each. Indoor tables and booths will accommodate 90 as will the outdoor patio tables surrounding the restaurant. One of the outside bars faces city hall enabling local tax payers to cry in their beer as they watch the drunken sailors on the City Commission squander their tax money across the street. Richardson took steps to maintain any trees on the site and a massive oak tree sits next to the Ash Street facing patio providing shade for table patrons. Located on the site of a former boat repair facility the eatery has retained a sleek nautical look inside and out. A covered stage surrounded by flowering foliage sits at the corner at Ash and 2nd Street and the night Linda and I were there popular local singer Hupp Huppman entertained. Richardson reached out to childhood friend and well-known Atlanta restauranteur Chet Huntley to take over the day-to-day management responsibilities. Locally he was fortunate to snag Chef Jason Brumfiel from the Omni. Huntley, who has been in the restaurant business for more than 35 years, managed many of Atlanta’s high-end Buckhead Life Group’s restaurants as well as Emeril’s Atlanta operation. As a young man he even bartended at the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone Park. Brumfiel, an Indiana Native, was the Omni’s resort chef and was responsible for opening Omni restaurants in other parts of the country. He previously worked as a chef in New Orleans and the United Kingdom, where his wife was born. The restaurant will employ some 40 people. Taking a clue from the upscale 96-year-old Palm restaurant chain in New York, Beverly Hills, Las Vegas, etc. Richardson has commissioned a caricature artist to draw faces of well-known local residents that will be placed along the eatery’s walls. Large black and white framed photos from various time periods in Fernandina Beach’s history decorate the interior walls. The menu will feature a variety of steaks, poultry, and seafood with an emphasis on seafood. Chef Brumfiel says it’ll be locally caught when local seafood is available. Despite the fact we’re surrounded by water, he’s echoed the problem many other local chefs have experienced recently, it’s hard to find hereabouts for some reason. Huntley says there will offerings for every price point, from rib eyes to sandwiches. The restaurant will be closed on Monday’s and open from 3 pm to 9 pm Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday. It’s open from 3 pm to 10 pm Friday and Saturday. The official opening will be next week. Folks wanting reservations should call 904/321-1234.