Musings, opinions, observations, questions, and random thoughts on island life, Fernandina Beach and more

Musings, opinions, observations, questions, and random thoughts on island life, Fernandina Beach and more

Impact Fee “Extortion” Has Negative Impact; City & Commissioners Blissfully Unconcerned

The Fernandina Beach City Commission unanimously voted last week to raise city impact fees for infrastructure to the maximum allowed by the state despite the fact that: The city already has excess impact fee money it hasn’t spent; the Public Utilities director says he doesn’t need it; a judge declared them illegal; and a recent study out of Tallahassee says they squeeze middle and lower income families out of the housing market.

Here’s what’s going on:

  • Every Fernandina Beach City Commissioner voted last week to increase impact fees to the highest rate allowed by state law because they says it’s necessary to improve the city’s infrastructure.
  • On the heels of this impact fee increase, City Commissioner Chip Ross, who voted for it, distributed an opinion piece to local media saying the city is currently sitting on $2.3 million in unused Parks & Recreation Department impact fee money that must be returned if it isn’t spent within the next few months.
  • In a 2014 court case Judge Brian Davis ruled that the City of Fernandina’s “impact fees” do not comply with Florida Law, that the “Impact Fees” used to purchase the city’s water facility (part of the city’s infrastructure) were in violation of law, and that “Persons paying the Impact Fees have received no benefit from their fees…”
  • In a 2010 opinion editorial in the local News-Leader newspaper Public Utilities Director John Mandrick wrote: “We should not need any new treatment facilities (infrastructure!) until 2030.”  He testified to the same thing in the court room of Judge Davis in 2014.
  • A policy study published last Thursday by the James Madison Institute in Tallahassee analyzed the effects of Florida’s infrastructure-funding impact fees concluding they are contributing to delayed housing development and higher costs, with the greatest impact being a negative one on lower and middle class homeowners and lower-income households.

Commissioner Ross, in his opinion editorial says impact fees aren’t a tax because they’re collected only from new construction. City bureaucrats also say they aren’t a tax because they’re paid by builders and business owners. So how do the builders and business owners recoup the cost of these fees that (pick one or all of the following: naive, stupid, indifferent, ignorant or corrupt) city officials say aren’t a tax? They pass them on to us, their customers — home buyers and shoppers. Tax, schmax, call it what you will, we — the local residents — pay.

Commissioner Ross says if the $2.3 million in impact fees for the Parks and Recreation Department isn’t spent within six years it must be returned to the payers. This may be one of the only times I’ve ever agreed with Commissioner Ross. But returning the money will not be as easy as it sounds since many of those payers may be deceased,  no longer residents, married with changed names, etc. And does anybody really expect the city to voluntarily return money? Even when a judge declared the fees the city collected illegal they keep doing it and suffer no consequences. For example, following the suit in which Judge Davis ruled the city’s water impact fees illegal, Mandrick led their reinstatement with the help of a $25,000 tax payer paid consultant, changing the term to “capacity fees”, thus continuing the city’s “legalized” extortion activity. Screw the tax-paying residents!

Mandrick, who admitted in his local newspaper editorial that no additional infrastructure is required by the city’s overbuilt water and treatment facilities, continues his extortion scheme with the blessing of the city and the bobble-head commissioners mindlessly nodding their agreement. In his newspaper piece Mandrick said that with a three percent growth factor: “the city won’t need any new treatment facilities until 2030.” But Fernandina has grown only about 1% per year since he wrote that piece thus pushing that date to 2050 or thereabouts. So why is Mandrick still charging restaurants impact fees?  As business owner, lawyer, and frequent city critic, who has been financially impacted by the impact fees, Pat Keogh, asks: “The impact fees he collects are supposed to be held in trust for the people who pay those fees and may only be spent to meet the new capacity they require. If no new capacity is required where do the funds Mr. Mandrick has extorted go?”

A reader of the recent James Madison Institute study that blasted the state’s  impact fees said what most Fernandina Beach business owners currently think, but are reluctant to voice publically due to their perceived retribution by petty and vengeful city officials: “Impact fees are extortion and criminal and should be outlawed. It is more like soliciting a bribe from anyone wanting to improve the community. Centralized planning of land that the municipality, county or state does not own should be Unconstitutional.”

Not one member of the current City Commission that I am aware of has ever owned or run a business other than a one-man consulting operation and one — retired Marine and fanatical sea turtle hugger, Len Kreger — who should recuse himself from voting on all property rights issues, doesn’t even own property here, he rents. So how do these five bobble-heads profess to be so knowledgeable about the effect of their impact fee decisions on home owners and business people that pay all of the fees hereabouts?

“You gotta pay to play.”

“Impact fees may only be charged and spent to ameliorate the additional capacity required to meet the needs of new development,” explained Mr. Keogh. Those funds cannot be used for maintenance and operating expenses.” Mandrick,  who is the city’s answer to Luca Brasi, was once described in this space by Mr. Keogh as “nothing less than a predator and  like a predator, he attacks his prey when they are most vulnerable. All new enterprises have made significant investments in their business. They cannot start operations without a certificate of occupancy (CO) and Mandrick controls the issuance of the CO. So, as Mandrick reminds citizens in Fernandina they ‘need to pay to play’. By that, of course, he means they need to pay him for the right to work and generate income from their investment and labor.”

Mr. Keogh adds: “I don’t see how the City’s unlawful impact fees are any different than the protection sold by a mobster. We have all seen that episode where the mobster stops by the new business and scanning the owner’s investment says ‘it would be a shame for all of this to be lost when it can be protected for a small fee’. Pay-To-Play Mandrick runs the same kind of protection racket but he’s authorized by city government.”

Now the city wants to spend everything it has already extorted and expand this lucrative racket even further. Why not? Nothing and nobody has stopped their extortion yet.


Deadly Customer Service: Just a few weeks ago The New York Times reported in an investigative piece that Planned Parenthood mistreats its pregnant employees. They should see what it does to its pregnant customers!


A Michael Ritter photo of one of last year’s enthusiastic Friday evening Sounds on Centre crowds

Silence On Centre? Critics of the well attended Friday evening Sounds on Centre event remind me of Yogi Berra’s comments about a New York City restaurant when he said: “People don’t go there any more, it’s too crowded.”  It’s been reported that a couple of business owners are complaining about the wildly popular May-October Friday evening event that for the last 12 years has attracted thousands of folks downtown to enjoy local musicians, eat, drink and shop. Run by the Historic Fernandina Beach Business Association (HFBA), the 6-8 p.m. event has witnessed crowds packing the blocked off  area from 2nd Street, down Centre to Front St. to enjoy the music, while fanning out before and afterwards to shop, drink and eat. While the majority of businesses welcome the crowds a couple of disgruntled business owners say the event is bad for their businesses because their customers can’t find a place to park due to the crowds and Friday’s are traditionally busy, so the concerts that day aren’t necessary. Move them to another day they say. Other businesses say “bring it on” because it keeps their cash registers ringing. To appease the vocal minority, the city’s Special Events Committee suggested moving the event to another night, time and location, not the center of town. Not a single member of the Special Events Committee is a local business owner, as that group consists of police officers, firemen, the city’s public information officer, the head of the Tourist Development Council, among other non-business owning folks, mostly city officials. Unfortunately this committee, which has no personal skin in the game, is the one that issues the event’s permit and without it, the concerts are dead. Chuck Hall, president of the HFBA, says moving the event to any day other than Friday is out of the question since it will kill it because families like bringing their kids to the concerts since there’s no school on Saturday and junior can stay up late. My wife and I regularly attend these events and thoroughly enjoy them as do our out-of-town house guests. We always hang out afterwards to have a cocktail or beer, enjoy one of the many bars or restaurants, and many times Linda and our house guests have returned home toting a bag of stuff purchased from a local shop. And has anyone on this “special events” group ever noticed the packed bars, long lines extending out the doors of the downtown ice cream shops and coffee shops during the concerts? Nobody asked me, but I say if it ain’t broke don’t fix it and don’t let the minority ruin it for the majority. And how about putting a downtown business owner who has a vested interest in this “special event” on the so called “special events committee” actually making it special?


Things I Wish I’d Said: “Women are like elephants to me. I like to look at them but I wouldn’t want to own one.” — W.C. Fields.


Trash Talk:  It took one-fourth of  a page of the local News-Leader newspaper’s January 18 edition for Fernandina Beach City Manager Dale Martin to explain the sudden proliferation of colorful garbage cans that sit strewn along city streets the past several weeks. Headlined “Update on garbage cans”, Mr. Martin, who writes as if he’s paid by the word, had my eyes glazing over after the first paragraph while indefatigably explaining: 1- there is no cost for the new cans and there’ll be no increase in collection fees this year, but one will probably come later; 2- Bar codes, color coding, and the city’s logo on the new cans will ensure correct billing and that the cans will not be confused with those of the county; 3- the current vendor is cost effective; 4- yard waste will continue to be picked up whether it is bagged or not. I’m not being critical of Mr. Martin’s weekly updates, as they are appreciated and informative. However, I have a suggestion. Once he’s finished writing them, he should ask his wife to review the material, and if she’s anything like mine, she’ll say to him what Linda says to me every Tuesday and Thursday: “Take out the garbage.”


What The ….? This past weekend following two of the most exciting professional playoff football games that I’ve witnessed in many years a network TV twit stumbled onto the field just seconds after each game to ask the winning quarterback an imaginative and probing question: “How do you feel?”  Wait! What? The exhausted and excited football player with a huge grin on his face just guided his team to a victory that will send him and his teammates to the Super Bowl. How do you think he feels you clueless jerk? Every beer soaked fan, no matter how toasted that watched the game on TV or in the stands can read his emotions. The sap with a microphone in his hand is apparently the only person in America who didn’t have an inkling of what was taking place on the field because he was in the press box  playing “Fortnite” during the game. How do you get a job that pays a six figure salary to embarrass yourself on national TV? And how do the players he’s  interviewing keep from laughing in his face or picking him up by his lapels and slapping him silly?


You Know It’s Going To Be A Bad Day — when you get a letter from Publishers Clearing House that says: “You may already be a loser.”


Drinking, Dining & Dancing:  He’s baaaaaack! Piano Man John Springer, the popular tuxedo-clad singer and piano player will entertain and take requests at The Patio Place, the corner of Ash and 5th St. South, every Wednesday 6:30-8:30 p.m. He’ll perform outside when weather permits accompanied by drummer Rob Taylor and inside during inclement weather and without Mr. Taylor due to the venue’s size. Rob and John will also play at The Sandbar & Kitchen at Main Beach Valentine’s Day, on Feb 14 and March 16 from 5-9 p.m. and several other dates to be determined in April and May. Starting this past Monday and continuing every Monday thereafter through February the Sandbar Restaurant & Kitchen will feature a $12.99 bargain basement all you can eat, all day, shrimp (blackened, fried or grilled) meal with two sides. And while you’re gorging yourself on shrimp, you can enjoy the delightful live music of the Phil and Kathy duo, “The Macys“, from 5-8 p.m. I usually try to get there between the 3-6 p.m. happy hour. This past Monday I ordered the blackened shrimp with sides of collard greens and fries, and discovered that was ALL I could eat and didn’t take further advantage of the deal. However, for those with bigger appetites it’s a heck of a bargain and is regularly $21 on the dinner menu but not AYCE. Get the annoying Valentine’s Day out of the way early this year at the local American Legion Post 54, the corner of South 3rd Street and Gum, which is having its Valentine’s celebration Saturday, February 9, five days ahead of the Feb. 14 celebration. The catered menu is a choice of prime rib or chicken cordon bleu for just $20 per person and entertainment featuring Janice Joplin sound-alike Michele Anders and the Beach Street Band. Tickets are on sale now and the event is expected to sell out. You can pick up your tickets at the legion anytime or stop by and buy ’em Friday, February 1 and treat yourself to the cheapest selection of draft beers in town and listen to local musician Larry LeMier. Both the Feb. 1 and Feb. 9 events are open to the public. If, like me, you saw the sign saying London’s Pub & Pups, on the red brick building on the corner of Ash and 5th St. South (formerly Luigi’s Italian restaurant and Nana Teresa’s Bakery) downtown, and figured we’ll soon be quaffing English ales and munching hot dogs, you’d be wrong. According to Blaire Sheffield, who’s spearheading the new joint, the bar is named after her and husband Wes’s dog, London, and will feature a dog pen in the back with a fake red fire plug, in an area that will enable canines to sniff behinds while their owners sit on theirs inside enjoying a full bar. Every Tuesday evening beginning at 6:27 sharp, downtown’s quirky 12 South 2nd Street PJD’s Beer & Wine Garden hosts live music, usually featuring the popular Hupp Huppman. If you don’t know anyone hereabouts, after 10 minutes at PJD’s you’ll think you’ve lived here all your life.

  • Comment (8)
  • Hey Dave! I heard there are some people are of the opinion that a twit on the sideline asking questions making over 6 figures a year and an ex-journalist/consultant writing a blog making 0 dollars a year have something in common….Both are grossly overpaid! By the way, thanks for the info regarding Sandbar’s ayce and the Valentine dinner at the American Legion.

  • Dave there are other issues somewhat related to the “extortion like” impact fees in the City. Recently officials from the state and county got together to discuss the impact of SR 200 construction fiasco. You know the one with the a moving date of completion now described in Star Dates. Seems there have been many complaints about the pot holes from those who travel on it and access from those who have businesses near by. One would have thought these issues would have been hammered out during a planning phase albeit it seems it has taken three years during construction to recognize these issues. The result of this meeting is now at hand. The state is providing more traffic enforcement funds! Yup, now anyone carefree enough to speed through our bombed out Ho Chi Minh trail roadway can expect to be nabbed in a radar trap. Well, while the meeting may not enhance the driving experience, it apparently will enhance state coffers I guess.

  • The voters put these guys on the city council. Maybe your blog will begin the campaign to throw them out of office. Why don’t you run?

  • Bless me father for I have sinned but I’m in agreement with you on a few things. To do away with sounds on Centre has to be one of the dumbest business decisions that could possibly be made. I’ll never understand why a business district wouldn’t want people in front of their stores. If people can’t park close to a store they can walk just like they do in every major city in the world, yes people actually walk. And when your wife tells you to throw out the garbage please for the love of God listen to her she knows what she’s talking about.

  • Dave:

    Greetings from Havana. Nice job on the impact fees. Glad you saw they increased them. Hard to believe. There were two court cases on the legality of FB’s impact fees. Both conclusively found the fees illegal. Once the City had agreed to refund the fees they hired a new consultant. The consultant’s fee was actually $24,500. Why $24,500? Because state law requires a competitive procurement for work over $25K. As you said, impact fees are not taxes. In fact, once collected they are not City property. They are to be held in trust for the property owner and refunded unless the City can prove they were used to ameliorate the impact caused by new development. FL law is clear. The burden of proof rests with the City.

  • Dave, thanks for the kind words about HFBA and Sounds on Centre. These have been tough days and we appreciate all the support we have gotten from everyone. I’m sure the City thinks they are doing the right things, but bowing to a tiny minority of 3 complaints seems like a mistake, as this event that entertains thousands and costs the City little would be a tragic loss.
    We are trying to work this out. Next week will tell.

  • “Please leave us behind” is the unwritten motto of the city commissioners and a solid voting block of Sapp-ites. As Nassau county grows and prospers, don’t include the city… comes The Wall!!!


Recent Posts


Recent Comments

Dave, I want to know why more people aren't highlighting the part of the speech…
Great article!!! How can Tim P get away with not paying permit fees? Outside attorneys…
Hats off to Billy Cimino for organizing the “Cross the Line Paddle for Veterans” event…
Let's continue to back our wonderful Congressman, Aaron Bean!! We went to a breakfast with…
Repeating. The 2020 census reveals that just over 70% of Nassau County registered as Republicans.…
How does “Moderate Majority” justify his/her handle ? He or she is not moderate and…

subscribe to my blog