Island Issues

Fernandina Beach’s Good News Could Mean Bad Tax News With Greedy City Politicos Eyeballing Rising Home Valuations

Fernandina Beach’s Good News Could Mean Bad Tax News With Greedy City Politicos Eyeballing Rising Home Valuations

The good news for Amelia Island home owners is that this area is located in the second hottest real estate market in the country according to Zillow, an online real estate marketplace company. Number one is the Tampa area.

The bad news is that a couple of Fernandina Beach City Commissioners and City Manager Dale Martin are salivating over the upbeat financial news and can be expected to point to the skyrocketing housing evaluations as an excuse to pick home owners pockets before they have a chance to cash in even if they wanted to sell.

Dale “Big Spender” Martin

City hall politicos are greedily eyeballing a tax on unrealized gains that has long been a vision dancing in the demented minds of tax and spend D. C. Democrats who get delirious over what they view as a windfall for them, not you.

Last October the Biden administration vultures revealed an unrealized capital gains tax that would levy annual taxes on assets while they still have not been sold. The impacted assets would include stocks, bonds, real estate, and art. Some local politicos hereabouts have the same manic fantasies.

Long before the real estate boom “Big Spender” Martin surveyed the local housing market and said publicly that home owners hereabouts can afford to pay more in taxes. Really! He actually said that. That should have been the time for voters to think that this may not be the right guy for the job.

Now is the time to start the current tax fight. Commissioner Chip Ross and “Big Spender” Dale Martin think the sky is the limit with the increasing property valuations. The locals’ income has not kept up with valuations and now the highest inflation in 40 years is taking a significant bite.

Martin and Ross and the city’s department heads see the increased valuations as a way to continue to grow city government, adding more employees, vehicles, new facilities, etc. They’re drooling over a prospective windfall like covetous relations waiting for grandpa to kick the bucket and his will to be read.

Zillow reports that all of the nation’s 50 largest markets are expected to grow this year with Tampa and the Jacksonville area topping the list.

Following Tampa and Jacksonville are Raleigh, San Antonio, and Charlotte as the five hottest markets for 2022, “each buoyed by a combination of strong forecasted home value growth, strong economic fundamentals including high job growth, fast-moving inventory and plentiful likely buyers,” the report states.

Dr. Jerry Decker, a former member of the Marina Advisory Board and a learned local man and long-time local political observer, provided statistics showing how Fernandina Beach residents are benefiting from the real estate boom but can ill-afford a tax increase.

He points out that Fernandina has a large population of seniors—the area’s largest age group is between 65 and 74-years old. The median age is 57.

“Fernandina Beach is expensive—the cost of living is 21% higher than the national average, driven mostly by the cost of housing which is 59% higher,” notes Dr. Decker. “The median house price in Fernandina Beach is $439,000 versus the US median of $294,000.”

“Median household income is $64,000 and the poverty rate is 13%, slightly higher than the national average,” he points out.

Dr. Decker explains that Fernandina Beach tax payers do not have deep pockets, and the impact of ad-valorem taxes levied by the city, county, and school board already take a sizeable share of family income.

“The trend since 2009 has been an ever-increasing tax burden, justified by the need to increase services,” says Dr. Decker.

“Only in the last two fiscal years has the ‘adjusted roll-back’ property tax rate been adopted, driven by the COVID-19 Pandemic. Before that, the rate exceeded that level, resulting in significant growth of city staff and indebtedness to pay for various capital projects.”

He emphasized that there is a need to continue to control costs, as has begun in the last two budget cycles. “This year” he says, “strong forces will muster arguments to accelerate property tax income—but the taxpayer does not have deep pockets—remember the majority are retired or semi-retired with a limited income. They are not part of the full-time, full salary workforce. Taxes hurt.”

Dr. Decker said ways must be found to control city costs, perhaps by eliminating redundant city/county services, or the use of service vendors, or other cost-saving strategies.

“Controlling costs is the challenge going forward. Fernandina Beach is a small town of largely senior citizens—that is a fact of life,” he adds.

Dr. Decker is a level-headed wise man. The city should carefully pay him heed and citizens should follow his advice. Now, if we could only convince him to toss his hat into the ring and run for City Commission. He would be more than a formidable proponent of beleaguered Fernandina Beach tax payers and a calm knowledgeable voice of reason.

***

Speaking of Booming Communities: If, like me, you keep noticing more and more license plates hereabouts from Pennsylvania, New York, California, Massachusetts, and Michigan. Many of them aren’t tourists. They’re moving here.

Florida ranked the second-most popular destination for movers renting U-Haul trucks for one-way moves last year, according to data compiled by U-Haul’s annual Growth Index.

It also saw the largest net domestic migration gain from April 2020 to December 2021, the U.S. Census Bureau reported, the second-greatest growth numerically, and a positive net international migration.

By November 2021, Florida’s job growth was six times faster than the nation’s. Florida’s economy was growing because “we’ve worked hard to keep Florida open and protect the jobs of individual Floridians,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said. “Because we have protected their livelihoods, Floridians are confident in finding work and operating their own businesses. We will continue to focus on our state’s foundation of freedom to ensure that Florida remains a leader in economic growth and Floridians are able to succeed.”

By November, Florida had gained 1,162,700 private sector jobs since April 2020, representing “93.5% of jobs lost during the pandemic that have been recovered,” the state workforce agency reported.

Six months earlier, DeSantis had reopened the state while most were still on lockdown. He maintains that more people are moving to Florida because of its pro-growth and anti-lockdown policies, a position he’s consistently held.

***

City Hall Questions: The City of Fernandina Beach and the Ocean Highway and Port Authority (OHPA) jointly agreed earlier this month to work together to move the federal navigational channel of the Amelia River with the city assenting to assume any financial obligations for problems that might be created by the move.

The agreement prompted former Marina Advisory Board member Dr. Jerry Decker, to send a note to the Fernandina Beach City Commission and the City Manager asking them the following questions:

  • With the “move channel” interlocal agreement done, what’s next?
  • Who asks U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to realign the channel? When?
  • How long does the realignment process take?
  • When will the “north marina” be built? Any timelines/costs?

To date I haven’t seen a response from the city to Dr. Decker’s questions.

***

Wait! What? TV news clips show mobs in Democrat controlled hellholes like L.A., San Francisco, Portland, New York, Chicago, etc. looting stores and beating up people on the street. Even on those rare instances when they’re arrested, they are being allowed back on the streets because of no-bail policies initiated by left-wingers.

In reporting these and other crimes — even on Fox News — the one thing never mentioned is that these mobs are made up exclusively of young black males, despite the video clips showing that to be the case.

Somehow, even when it comes to describing fugitives, if you go beyond mentioning their height, weight, age and distinguishing marks, it’s racist.

***

Things I Wish I’d Said: “The Biden presidency is like being tied to a chair and watching a toddler play with a loaded pistol.” – Anonymous.

***

Mike Cochran

In Memoriam: I lost a long-time and beloved friend this past Tuesday with the passing of former Associated Press reporter Mike Cochran.

I first met Mike at the Fort Worth, Texas Press Club in 1973 and we immediately hit it off while consuming vast quantities of beer. We continued our friendship and beer swilling for the next 49 years from Dallas to the Dominican Republic and many places in between.

We shared many fun times together and fortunately Mike had the good sense not to write about some of our more colorful escapades. In addition to his rousing writing style, the most fascinating qualities about Mike were his likeability, humor, and mesmerizing story telling skills. I heard plenty of Mike’s stories during our many car trips around West Texas. It was also almost impossible to go anywhere in Texas without someone blurting out: “Hey Mike, great to see you!” followed by a backslap or enthusiastic handshake.

Mike investigated and ran with a variety of story leads I provided him on some of IBM’s customer applications ranging from a study on scoliosis to tracking a wayward comet, AP articles that garnered national and international attention.

He invited me on occasion to accompany him when he was covering Southwestern Conference football games in Texas. I was given a chair next to him in the press box where my newspaper training came in handy as I provided bits and pieces of sidebar stories to justify my prime seating arrangement. Parties at his house included a who’s who of Texas characters ranging from opera singers and bull riders to politicians and professional poker players.

Another Amelia Island resident, Rick Scott, who at one time worked as an AP reporter in Dallas, also knew Mike. Rick and I worked at IBM together in Austin, TX and often compared our “Mike Cochran” stories.

We will both miss Mike. He was one of the most cherished and colorful people I could ever have hoped to call a friend.

The following Associated Press article tells Mike’s story much better than I could:

DALLAS (AP) –  Mike Cochran, who during a nearly 40-year career with The Associated Press told the stories of Texas’ larger-than-life characters with his rich and detailed writing, and who ended up serving as a pallbearer for Lee Harvey Oswald while covering the presidential assassin’s funeral, has died. He was 85.

Cochran died late Tuesday night after a long battle with cancer, said longtime friend and former AP executive John O. Lumpkin.

“He made journalism a calling and, more often than not, fun,” said Lumpkin, the AP’s former vice president for newspaper markets and a former Dallas chief of bureau.

Lumpkin said Cochran was “no one-trick pony,” noting he covered everything from sports to politics to natural disasters. “One of a kind, for sure. A legend, no question,” Lumpkin said.

Mike Cochran, second from left pallbearer, was one of the reporters that acted as pallbearers at Lee Harvey Oswald’s funeral. (AP file photo, Nov. 25 1963)

As part of the AP’s coverage of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas in 1963, Cochran wrote a first-person account of how he came to be a pallbearer for Oswald. With no mourners present aside from a few of Oswald’s family members, the task of carrying his coffin fell to the reporters covering the funeral.

“I was among the first they asked, my reply not just ‘No!’ but ’Hell no!” he wrote in the 2013 story. “Then Preston McGraw of United Press International stepped forward and volunteered, and with my top competition for scoops accepting the duty, I realized my error and joined McGraw and other reporters.”

Cochran, who had covered Kennedy’s visit to Fort Worth just before Kennedy was killed in Dallas, wrote that his reporting on the assassination continued for years as he interviewed Oswald’s widow and mother, investigated conspiracy theories and wrote anniversary stories.

On one anniversary, he recalled approaching Oswald’s widow, Marina, at her house. She told him she was “no longer news,” but he mentioned his role as a pallbearer, and she invited him in. Several hours later, they were “still talking and smoking,” he wrote.

“He was so likable, and he had that quality that a good reporter has, where he was not intimidating at all,” said Barry Bedlan, AP’s director of text and new markets products. “In fact, he brought down your guard, he brought down everyone’s guard with his own kind of sense of humor and his warm presence that he could get anyone to tell him about anything,”

Over the years, his subjects included Cullen Davis, an oil tycoon acquitted at trial after being accused in a shooting at his mansion that killed his 12-year-old stepdaughter and his estranged wife’s boyfriend.

Cochran, known for his descriptive writing, began his 1996 story marking the 20th anniversary of the killings at the Davis mansion with this line: “The murderous ‘man in black’ appeared at the remote Cullen Davis mansion that steamy summer night wearing a woman’s black wig and carrying a .38 revolver.”

He covered flamboyant swindler Billie Sol Estes throughout the 1970s and 1980s, writing about how Estes made millions of dollars in phony fertilizer tanks. Cochran noted in the AP obituary for Estes in 2013, “how many city slickers from New York or Chicago can make a fortune selling phantom cow manure?”

“Billie Sol was a character’s character,” Cochran told The AP. “I spent literally years chasing him in and out of prison and around the state as he pulled off all kinds of memorable shenanigans.”

Born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, Cochran grew up in the West Texas town of Stamford and graduated from what is now the University of North Texas in Denton.

He began his career at newspapers in Denton and Abilene before joining the AP in 1960 in Dallas and opening the AP’s Fort Worth bureau the next year. He retired from AP in 1999 and then went on to work for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for five more years.

He also wrote several books, including “Texas vs. Davis,” about the murder case against Davis, and “Claytie,” which details the life of Clayton Williams, a colorful Texas oilman and philanthropist whose 1990 run for governor was derailed after joking about rape and acknowledging he went a year without paying income taxes.

Cochran was inducted into the Texas Newspaper Foundation Hall of Fame in 2018. He won numerous awards over his career, including Star Reporter of the Year from the Headliners Foundation, the top individual award given annually to a Texas journalist.

“He won a trunk load of journalism awards, but he cared more about his readers, his sources and his friends,” Lumpkin said.

He’s survived by his wife, Sondra, son, John Shannon Cochran, daughter, Kendyl Arnold, four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

His funeral will be held Jan. 29 in Fort Worth.

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14 Comments

Coleman Langshaw - 17. Jan, 2022 - Reply

Hey Dave, thanks for sharing that very interesting story about your friend Mike Cochran. As a communications/journalism major, I so admire people like Mr. Cochran, for their lifetime of journalism, in a field that is now all-too-often unappreciated. The part about Oswald’s funeral was amazing, and I had no idea (as I am sure most people had no idea) about the pallbearers. On an unrelated note, I appreciate your sharing the information about the City/OHPA agreement, and the need to keep the fire lit on moving northward. Its been a long, and all too overdue step towards a better and more viable marina.

Richard Lowe - 15. Jan, 2022 - Reply

Mike was, indeed, a character. I, too, will miss him. I last saw Mike at John Lumpkin’s 40th wedding anniversary at J T Garcia’s in Fort Worth.

Bill Shaffer - 14. Jan, 2022 - Reply

Cochran was the greatest. Solid reporter. Excellent writer. Straight arrow.

Harvey Slentz - 14. Jan, 2022 - Reply

Great Dave!

Your recollection of Mr. Cochran was quite interesting and a wonderful tribute. The part that brought a smile to me was that about the phantom cow manure.

Years ago, as Postmaster of Louisville Kentucky, I was looking for every opportunity to improve service and reduce costs. One cost that really stood out was the need to mow the fenced rainwater collection area at our main office. With 49 acres under roof or asphalt, a 1-inch rain yields a surprising flood as the rainwater is routed to the 7-acre dry depression that was maybe 10-feet deep at the center. The rainwater was moved through a sewer grate at the deep part at a slow rate to not overload the sewer system.

Every week or so, a crew of USPS maintenance employees would mount riding mowers to cut the grass. Our national collective bargaining contract didn’t allow us to contract out the mowing service.
The annual cost of mower maintenance, fuel and labor hours was about $25,000.

So we investigated alternatives, and settled on allowing the local Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter to bring a herd of steers onto the property, where they were cared for by kids in a million-plus metro area who are interested in ranching.

It continued on for several weeks. The steers ate the grass to a perfect height, dropped cow patties like the 8th Air Force in WW2. and enjoyed a cost reduction of $25k annually. It was reported in a wide variety of media with the predictable jokes.

Weeks later a young business owner called, asking if I would be willing to sell the cow patties to him. He was already bagging manure from the local zoo and selling it as “Zoo-do”. We met at the pasture, and settled on a price of $1.00 per supermarket paper bag of patties. With that, he had one more question: How high could he fill the bags?

I said “Son, life is too short to be measuring cows**t.” With that, we became the first federal entity that made money selling its bulls**t.

CoCoNUT HaiRRy - 14. Jan, 2022 - Reply

Bwahaha – good story !

David Lott - 14. Jan, 2022 - Reply

Dr. Jerry Decker’s questions with regards to the decades old plan to relocate the marina slips to the north side and ease the biannual dredging expense are spot on. The City paid $800,000 for the Vuturo
Front Street property and its riparian rights as the first step. CHECK The agreement with OHPA to support the realignment of the Amelia River channel is the second step. CHECK. So what comes next? In a recent email exchange I had with one of the commissioners he admitted that he was unaware of any long-term plan to achieve the reconfiguration called for in the ATM and, more importantly, the source of the funds necessary (millions of dollars) to complete the plan. It seems that unless there is a commissioner that keeps the fire lit under the seat of the City Manager, these steps continue to be haphazard and while there is an end goal in sight, there is no plan to get there. Much the same with the golf course.

Charles Mullen - 14. Jan, 2022 - Reply

Dave, I’m sorry about the loss of your friend Mike. It sounds as if he was really a really a colorful character.

Dr. Judith A. Yankus - 14. Jan, 2022 - Reply

Great overview of the current state of Fernandina Beach , and the growing popularity of the state of Florida. And so importantly, you shared about an enduring friendship with vivid memories! What treasures we have in true lasting friendships!

Melodie Winston - 14. Jan, 2022 - Reply

Dave I am very sorry about the loss of your friend. Also, I am sorry for those 2 long winded antagonists that will be posting here shortly.

Coleman Langshaw - 17. Jan, 2022 - Reply

Nice! couldn’t just leave it at “Dave I am very sorry about the loss of your friend.” Do you wake up like that? or do you just toss and turn all night thinking about me? Haha.

Melodie Winston - 17. Jan, 2022 - Reply

Mr. Langshaw please stand on a box when you speak. I can’t hear or see you.

Coleman Langshaw - 18. Jan, 2022 - Reply

Wow, body shaming with a short joke, never heard that before (ah…that would be sarcasm, Ms. Winston, in case you can’t understand that). You are SO witty! You should watch the movie Roxanne with Steve Martin and a dumbass bully who tries to belittle him about his nose (maybe you have seen it?). I would love to do the same to you, but it would be unfair and mean, so I will refrain, unlike yourself.

Alan Terego - 21. Jan, 2022 - Reply

Melodie, you are an idiot.

Fred - 22. Jan, 2022 - Reply

What’s the matter Alan? You jealous of all the attention Cole and Dick receive? I’m sure if you keep up your antics, Dave will out you too. LOL And speaking of the dynamic duo, when are you guys going to post a pic so we can see who we need to avoid when we are out and about? I mean I don’t see name tags on most folks, so your obsession with knowing the identity of your detractors, is basically worthless and an attempt at cyber bullying at best. Cole, we’ll forgive you if you don’t have a box tall enough to get you in the frame for the pic.