Local Tax Initiatives: City of Fernandina Beach, FL

Local officials are seeing dollar signs — as tax receipts erupt like an oil gusher from rising property values around Nassau County.
                              And government types are inclined to find creative ways to spend these newfound dollars. Like on wasteful projects or unnecessary equipment or creative staffing. For instance, consider some of these questionable efforts:
                            — A project to build a Fernandina Beach airport terminal shaped like an airplane at a cost of $4 million (about half of which comes from local tax dollars). This controversial project was just approved by city commissioners.
                            — A proposal to open Alachua Street in downtown Fernandina Beach, but at the financial and logistical costs of closing Centre Street. The total bill to revamp both streets would have easily exceeded $1 million, with the biggest disruption on traffic flow in downtown. The proposal has been tabled for now.
                             — An initiative to spend about $300,000 on yet another waterfront study for Fernandina Beach. (When we already have enough previous studies and reports to fill a wing at the new library.) Let’s dust off these older studies and read them. This initiative is pending right now.
                            These potential financial costs each come by the way of Fernandina Beach city officials. However, there are renewed efforts by their colleagues in the county to spend their new tax inflows.
                          For instance, there have been staff additions across most county government departments, the sheriff’s office wants another across-the-board increase, and there are requests to remedy an alleged mold problem in the county jail.
                       And there were again rumblings to raise the property-tax rate for the county. Despite substantial new revenues coming in at the current tax rate due to higher property values. Raising the tax rate would create a doubling-down effect of taxation for the county government.
                     One county finance official made a passionate plea last week for more tax revenues for capital projects. However, county commissioners have voted down a tax rate increase for now.
                    Nonetheless, city and county officials have gone on somewhat of a spending spree. Like kids with gift cards at Toys’R’Us. And local taxpayers are footing the bill: residents, businesses, industry alike.
                     A new terminal at the city airport is unnecessary. However, the idea originated because the city could receive $2 million of federal funds for a new terminal building — if it could serve as an emergency shelter.
                    But with money to burn, city officials added another $2 million of local money to create a more “desirable” look. The conceptual design itself was expensive, but not nearly as much as the work that will be done by several different companies. Not exactly an exercise in frugality.
                  The downtown street and waterfront projects are wasteful or redundant. It’s like city officials are searching for ways to spend money — with little benefit for the majority of residents and businesses here.
                 As for the county, the staff additions are probably the most costly (considering the new salaries, benefits, etc.). Meanwhile, a debate rages over how to pay for capital improvements like new roads and resurfacing old roads — and whether to appropriate $8 million collected each year from a county gas tax.
                   Also, pro-growth factions argue that the unpaved roads on the west side of the county are costly to maintain and can slow down economic progress. However, asking residents on the east side of the county — where most of the property taxes are collected– to pay for roads they will never travel is about like asking west side residents to pay for beach improvements.
                   Maybe some type of special taxing district could be arranged to pay for the vast network of unimproved roads on the west side — like has been done for renourishing the beaches. This sounds the most equitable for everyone.
                   And making improvements to the county jail after just spending more than $7 million on a new sheriff’s office seems to be a reach — even as more taxes flow into county coffers. These are probably luxuries, more than necessities.
                  Next year, the tax revenues will again accelerate here. Just look around. Property values are skyrocketing while new houses and buildings and stores are being built. These are also taxable.
                  Hopefully local governments will not get pulled into any more of a spending spree. The city and county should consider rolling back their tax rates, so that the same revenues will be received as the previous year.
                Or here is a novel idea. How about a true, blue tax cut?

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