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

Former Fernandina Exec Lashes Out At Current Hogswallop; “You cannot Be Serious” She Says Of Proposed 7% Tax Hike

Fernandina Beach resident Patti Clifford knows her way around a balance sheet, thoroughly understands how corporate and city budgets are prepared, and comprehends the methodology used by enterprises to plan their fiscal years among other complex financial matters.

Patti Clifford

She should. She served 14 years as Controller, Comptroller and Finance Director for the City of Fernandina Beach retiring in 2019. She’s also familiar with all the current players. To say she knows a thing or two about economics and local politics would be an understatement.

Before landing in Fernandina, she worked in various financial positions for enterprises ranging from assisted living facilities to an environmental engineering organization and served a six-year stint as CFO for a major non-profit in Cincinnati.

Based on her background and hands-on experience with the city’s current dysfunctional city government, local property owner Ms. Clifford senses there’s something rotten in Fernandina’s city hall and indicates the stench is coming directly from the office of City Manager Dale “Big Spender” Martin.

As a co-founder of the local watch-dog group Common Sense, Ms. Clifford shared her concerns with its members. Another Common Sense founder and its spokesman, Jack Knocke, sent Ms. Clifford’s stinging criticism directly to all City Commissioners and “Big Spender” Martin.

When someone with Ms. Clifford’s extensive background in city budgeting and planning has difficulty comprehending the city’s proposed city budget and its capital investment plan, then how the hell is the average resident supposed to wade through the mind-boggling codswallop? said Knocke in a note to the city hall crowd, however, in somewhat milder terms.

“This speaks to lack of transparency, making things so confusing that even the retired Comptroller has a hard time reading it,” wrote Knocke in his message to city hall.

Knocke and Ms. Clifford think the tax payers of Fernandina Beach should be as outraged as she and Mr. Knocke are and urged them to let the city commissioners and city manager understand why.

Following are just a few items included in the new city budget that tax payers may be unaware of and find interesting:

  • $81.2 million in planned capital improvement spending. Which means $11 million in new bonds to pay for a new city hall and other baubles, which means new bond debt, i.e., higher property taxes
  • A whopping 140.2% increase in City Commissioners health insurance. Apparently several commissioners are letting taxpayers foot their health insurance coverage—at unprecedented levels.
  • 22 full-time equivalent new hires since the city now runs the golf course.

The city is also quickly burning through its cash reserves, for example:

  • 2019 ended with $7,558,182 in reserves
  • 2020 is projected to end with $7,391,748
  • 2021 is budgeted to end with $4,734,782— down almost $3 million in two years.

When’s the last time a commissioner said “Let’s go through the budget and see where we can make cuts”?  Such a statement would have City Manager “Big Spender” Martin convulsing with laughter.

“A few years ago, Commissioner Chip Ross told me that ‘people just don’t care about the tax increases’. Prove me wrong and let them all know, we care,” wrote Knocke to Common Sense members.

Following is Ms. Clifford’s letter:

Dear City Commissioners

In the words of John McEnroe – You cannot be serious!

How can the City Manager propose to HOLD the Millage rate? This is a 7% increase in tax collections – a bit greedy don’t you think?  Luckily, I am homesteaded and so, my increase is not as much as others will experience. People like landlords who, during Covid, were prevented from evicting tenants who couldn’t pay their rent will be impacted. Now, you are hitting them up with a significant tax increase, adding insult to injury. This seriously hurts affordable housing. Don’t preach that you are for affordable housing when you are increasing the millage rate above the rollback rate.

 Look at how property taxes have grown over the past 4-6 years in the city – incredulous, simply incredulous! This has allowed the number of full time and part time employees to swell! And now, the City Manager is adding to the General Fund full time staff. When will this end? Just like our local businesses, the city must learn to be more efficient.

I am once again making an appeal to use some of the Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) and Tax Increment Financing (TIF) dollars for a market analysis. I’ve provided examples of studies done for other Florida cities and made suggestions as to how to go about this. There needs to be a PLAN of what should happen at the waterfront.  Letting Atlantic Seafood take over a parcel, tripling their space with ZERO competition for this valuable real estate is WRONG for so many reasons: 1) You don’t have an agreed upon plan 2) expanding from a seafood store to a bar and restaurant without competition is underhanded and not good business sense. You are causing a hodge-podge to happen at the waterfront if you approve Atlantic Seafood moving and significantly increasing their square footage.

Was taking over yard debris a good idea? In the past the Sanitation Enterprise Fund transferred money TO the General Fund. Now, it is another Enterprise Fund supplemented by taxpayers, as the budget calls for transferring dollars FROM the General Fund to support it. Unbelievable.  Clearly, the cost of picking up yard debris is higher than what is being charged. Do the unpopular thing – increase these fees. Find a vendor to take over this service and get out of the yard debris collection business.

 As a reader, I am finding the Capital Improvement Plan cumbersome to read. Also, there is no explanation of the Comp Plan codes.  

 I appreciate your taking the time to read this. I’m hoping you have the insight and energy to take this bloated preliminary budget and turn it into something reasonable.

 Best regards,

 Patti Clifford

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Speaking Of City Hall: Last month I received an email from Fernandina Beach City Attorney Tammi Bach, reprimanding me for a May 28 item here that characterized the city’s use of impact fees as “illegal” and accusing city government of acting as a criminal enterprise.

In Ms. Bach’s email to me she said that a May 28 item in my Blog headlined: “Quiet Please! Criminals At Work” was “patently false,” “malicious”, and “erroneous.”

I responded to her with a variety of questions relating to the city’s suspicious financial dealings. A number of readers also chimed in, many eloquently questioning the city’s alleged fiscal hanky-panky.

So far Ms. Bach hasn’t responded. In fact, I haven’t heard a peep from anyone at city hall. With Ms. Clifford’s public letter (see above article) questioning the city’s proposed tax increase and questionable financial tactics involving “back room” deals it seems that answers to those questions are becoming even more topical and urgent.

Ms. Bach’s letter denied that the state was conducting an audit of the city’s financial activities. If that’s the case I suggested she request one. I added a poll, which is still on this site, asking if readers thought a state audit would be a good idea. So far the results are overwhelmingly in favor of asking the state to take a peek at the city’s book keeping practices, with 92 percent saying “yes” and only 8 percent saying “no”.  Due to Ms. Clifford’s recent letter, I’m leaving the poll up for another week, maybe more. Folks can only vote once, and voters are anonymous.

What’s the city got to lose with such a review? If, as Ms. Bach claims, everything is on the up-and-up, it has everything to gain.

Ms. Bach, I responded to your letter. When will you or the City Manager be answering the questions the tax payers of Fernandina and I posed to you?

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Liberal Speak: Diversity is a code word liberals use to have people of all skin colors and sexual orientation sitting next to each other and mouthing the same inane platitudes, particularly in schools.

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Stay Tuned? Pompous litigious gasbag Fernandina Beach City Commissioner Chip Ross picked up a win in court last week when Fourth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Steven Fahlgren ruled that Nassau Terminals and Worldwide Terminals must turn over a variety of records he requested under the Freedom Of Information Act.

Ross will get what Nassau Terminals and its subsidiary Worldwide say are available, leaving him with bragging rights, but possibly little else. That is unless he succeeds in having his adversaries tossed in the slammer or fined since it appears that Nassau Terminals and Port Director and Worldwide CEO Chris Ragucci failed to fully comply.

On Tuesday, July 27, Ross filed a motion in Circuit Court to hold Nassau Terminals in civil contempt. On Wednesday July 28, 2021 Judge Fahlgren issued an Order directing Nassau Terminals and Ragucci to appear before him to determine whether that failure “justifies the imposition of sanctions for indirect criminal contempt” and/or civil contempt. If found in contempt punishment could include a fine or incarceration.

The contempt hearing is scheduled Monday August 2, at 1:30 p.m. at the court house on Centre Street.

This situation continues to get more and more interesting.

What is Ross’s objective?

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Overheard At PJD’s Beer & Wine Garden: “Bad news — Teachers are teaching Critical Race Theory.  Good news — They’re teaching it about as well as they’re teaching math.”

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US DOT buses at Atlantic Recreation Center.

Who Are You & Where Are You Going? An Amelia Island friend sent me a text last Friday saying: “When I was headed back to my house yesterday I was behind two white buses that had US DOT on them, not FL DOT. Since we know the present regime is relocating the million plus illegals coming thru our southern border to various states I am rather suspicious. I stopped by our local police office to ask but there was no one there to assist.”

His suspicions are well-founded. Governor DeSantis recently told reporters that 70 percent of the migrants apprehended in Texas’s Del Rio Border Patrol Sector are bound for Florida. He also said that 95 percent of the methamphetamine coming into Florida comes from the Texas border via illegals. See the following link.

https://www.breitbart.com/border/2021/07/17/desantis-70-percent-of-migrants-apprehended-in-del-rio-texas-headed-to-florida/

I approached three white US DOT buses parked at the Atlantic Recreation Center this past Sunday, the same kind you see on TV that the border patrol herds illegals onto. I asked one of the drivers who his passengers were. He responded telling me he often transports US Navy personnel from Kings Bay to Fernandina to enjoy the beach and had just dropped a group of sailors off at Main Beach That’s a worthwhile use of those buses and I applaud it.

But where are the illegals Governor DeSantis mentioned? Since the Biden administration is transferring illegal immigrants from Texas to other states are any being brought to Nassau County? If so where? Are they being tested for Covid? Are they undergoing criminal background checks? Where are they housed?

In spite of a 900% spike in Covid cases in the Rio Grande Valley (TX), loopy House Democrats like Marxist Ayanna Pressley are demanding that Biden do away with the restriction called Title 42, labeling it a human rights violation. This isn’t a border crisis. It’s border chaos, a national security issue, a national health crisis and a national crime catastrophe.

As reported by Tucker Carlson and confirmed by former Trump advisor Stephen Miller, the U.S. military has been accommodating the Democrats’ desire to resettle hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens all over the country. And what’s more, they are doing everything in their power to keep these transports secret, even from the towns and cities in which they’re depositing their human cargo.

I contacted the offices of State Representative Cord Byrd, State Senator Aaron Bean, 4th District Congressman John Rutherford and both Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio asking them those questions.

Representative Byrd and Senator Bean responded saying they know of no illegals being deposited here. Senator Scott’s and Congressman Rutherford’s offices said they support securing our southern border and fully funding efforts to stop the influx of illegal immigrants who cross into the country. They had no specifics on Nassau County. As of this writing Senator Rubio hasn’t responded.

If, as the Democrats and Joe Biden say, America is a systemic racist country plagued by white supremacy why do these mostly black and brown citizens of foreign countries continue to pour across our southern border to seek refuge here?

As a naturized U.S. citizen I empathize with them, but I expect them to come here the same way my family and I did – legally. I don’t want my tax dollars paying their medical, housing, and education expenses and I don’t want my family and community to be exposed to those who haven’t had criminal background checks or tested for Covid.

Where am I going wrong here?

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Dapper & Dangerous: The only difference between the BLM, Antifa and criminal street thugs in Seattle, Portland, Washington, Chicago, New York, etc. and the left-wing politicians and prosecutors in government buildings coddling criminals and defunding the police, is the loons inside are better dressed.

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Bad Behavior Doesn’t Deserve Rewards: Representing the United States in the Olympics is an honor and a privilege, not a right. If an athlete cannot behave with the appropriate decorum while representing this country, the Olympic Committee has an obligation to ban that athlete from the competition. Let them search for another forum to display their disrespect.

NFL Hall of Famer Herschel Walker said the Olympics is not “the right place” for U.S. athletes to protest America since there are foreign athletes “who would love to represent the United States of America” if they could.

The satirical online news outlet Babylon Bee calls out these disrespectful boobs for what they are with the following headline this week: “American Women’s Soccer Team Defeated After Opponents Play U.S. National Anthem During Game Forcing Them To Kneel The Whole Time.”

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Things I Wish I’d Said: “Start off every day with a smile and get it over with.” – W.C. Fields.

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Drinking, Dining & Dancing: For one of the most fascinating evenings you’ll experience hereabouts make a reservation to hear local resident Bill Craun, when he speaks to the “We The People” crowd this coming Monday, August 2, beginning at  5 pm at the Shuckers outside patio and bar. The soft-spoken Mr. Craun recently authored the book “Working the Kill Zone” describing the life of a mercenary fighting the war on terror in the Middle East. It’s a fictional account because the U.S. government told Bill he couldn’t relate what he actually did. Bill served as an officer in the U.S. Army Airborne Rangers prior to signing up as an independent. There is no cover and drinks, and food can be ordered from the regular Shuckers menu. RSVP to Deb Boelkes at 904-310-9602 or at  Deb.Boelkes@BWRising.com. Tonight at the Sandbar beginning at 6 pm folks can hear popular local musician Davis Turner.

  • Comment (12)
  • Dave, On every level, from Federal to local, the importance of voting has never been more important. It’s obvious to me, and highlighted by you that there’s a whole class of people who are either ill-equipped to hold office or are intent to undermine basic American sovereignty. These are important times for every American to take part in the process of propping up our democracy. Locally, it appears the city commission and their ilk are intent to destroy the goose that lays golden eggs. Between excess development and proposed increased taxes, they appear to be hell bent on sullying this little corner of paradise. Thanks for shining a light on their nonsense and not letting them scurry away. Great blog, and thanks for doing the heavy lifting!

  • A good week’s blog Dave. I know you will never say anything positive about Chip Ross, but he should receive kudos for his personal legal action against OHPA and Mr. Ragucci. Both groups have operated behind a veil of secrecy with regards to their financial transactions ever since their relationship began. OHPA throws up their hands and says “not us” and then points their fingers (except for new Commissioner Hill) at Mr. Ragucci and Worldwide Terminals – while at the same time doubling their salaries by dipping into their reserve funds.
    Kudos to Judge Fahlgren for cutting through Ragucci’s BS. The threat of contempt, well that is the letter of the law something I thought you would support. Ragucci was given a deadline for producing the requested documents and failed to do so. I strongly suspect Mr. Ragucci will appeal Judge Fahlgren’s decision in an attempt to further delay.

  • Breitbart as an objective news source? Just shows how myopic and full of guano you are getting with this non-stop drivel. Come on Dave, more of the same rehashed mularkey, and then, yet again you can’t see the point of Chip Ross’ battle with the corrupt nest of snakes, better known as the Port Authority and Ragucci? Its getting to the point that you obviously like to promulgate foolishness over common sense and facts. But your readers love this crappola so, carry on
    .

  • Dave,
    Your blog this week is spot on. I find it interesting how the city manager continues to do as he wants with no back push from the city commissioners and mayor. I believe the state of Florida does need to audit the cities books. After all audits are part of ensuring the records are correct and accurate.

    As a former employee of Trident Refit Facility on the Kings Bay Base I don’t remember seeing white DOT buses. I did see white buses which had U.S. Navy written on them. I’m speculative of the DOT. If the person who seen these buses and they had U.S. Navy written on them, they would have most likely put 2 + 2 together and would not have questioned it. Not that I don’t trust our administration but I don’t trust this administration.

  • Dave:

    The Socialist Republic of Fernandina Beach needs no additional tax revenue. They are “Socialist” because, like all such governments, they own too much of the community’s productive capital. Golf course, water/sewer utility, marina, cemetery, athletic club, airport and a vast portfolio of non performing real estate assets. On the real estate just enter “City of Fernandina Beach” in the Nassau County appraiser’s web site and check out all the property the citizens of the SRFB own. When socialist governments like SRFB own too many assets they deny their citizens the tax revenue and return on investment those assets would generate in private hands. Wonder why the former CFO of the SRFB never created a balance sheet to show how asset laden and, therefore, cash poor the community is.

  • I have been reading this blog for 2 years. Sadly the main story is always about Dale Martin and his minions on the council. In the State of Florida the laws on City Managers and Municipal Attorneys clearly indicate that both positions work at the pleasure of the council. For me to be an observer of the actions by these six men indicate to me the five council members are supportive of the work of these two. In another observation the five council members are elected at the pleasure of the registered voter-citizens of Fernandina Beach. The OHPA of Nassau County is elected by district and the election is at the pleasure of the citizen-voters of Nassau County. My question that no one ever answers, including the author of this blog nor the Common Sense Group is why is this Council not held accountable by the citizen-voters? Why are the manager and attorney position not held accountable by the council? And why is the OHPA not held accountable by the citizen voters in Nassau County? The solutions to these ineffective positions, council, and board is in the power of the vote. Use the power and these problems will go away. They may be replaced by other problems but until the City of Fernandina Beach becomes part of Nassau County Government this revolving door of corruption will continue and Chip Ross will continue to sue as many as possible until a judge slaps him down

    • Possible answer—Ignorance and apathy? Both are curable beginning with education and elimination of cynicism.

  • As much as it pains me I must agree with Dave on an issue. Dale Martin must go. Since day one where he wrote articles about himself I knew we were in trouble. I have had two issues that I addressed with him and he chose to do nothing, despite one issue where we had multiple property owners asking for action.

    I have seen nothing on Martin’s behalf that indicates any concern for the citizens of FB.

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