The City Commission budgeted almost $80,000 for non-profit organizations at the workshop Thursday and in discussion revealed a clash between elected officials about philanthropic values.
A $5,000 request to support the Fourth of July fireworks display split the board 3-2.
Mayor Robin Lentz said the bucks are not worth the bang. She works in education and believes the money could be better spent on school programs, including field trips.
“In 15 minutes that money burns up,” she said. “I could use (the money) for school.”
Commissioner Tim Poynter, a downtown restaurant owner, said local businesses should pick up the tab.
“I hate to use taxpayer money,” he said. “I think it’s something businesses can step up and do.”
Commissioner Len Kreger, a retired military veteran, disagreed.
“It’s a big deal holiday,” he said.
Commissioner Johnny Miller, who is also a veteran, and Commissioner Roy Smith, a retired businessman with a background in building, also supported the financial contribution.
According to City Manager Dale Martin, the city has “cobbled together” the money for Light Up Amelia over the last two years at a cost of $4,300. He suggested putting the fireworks in the proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2017-2018 as a specific line item.
Ahead of the meeting, city staff made recommendations to the board about donations to a variety of social services organizations, including a $10,000 contribution to Starting Point Behavioral Health in Yulee, a mental healthcare provider that accepts Medicaid. Mr. Kreger said the organization serves county residents primarily and should receive nothing.
Ms. Lentz challenged his thinking and in support of the respected mental healthcare provider said city residents had virtually nowhere to go until Florida Psychological Associates opened on the island about two years ago. There was mention that the Council on Aging (COA is expected to receive $10,000 from the city) routinely takes local residents to the facility (just west of the intersection at SR 200/A1A and US 17) via its transit vans.
Mr. Smith asked if FPA was the “Drew business.” He was told yes.
FPA is owned and operated by Catherine Drew, the wife of Nassau County Tax Collector John Drew, who is also involved in the business. It was revealed earlier this year by the Naples Daily News that State Sen. Aaron Bean had quietly secured $1 million annually for FPA that would be funneled through Florida State University. Mr. Drew is a longtime friend of Mr. Bean and worked as his campaign manager. A look at FPA’s mental healthcare program for schools and courts by state House Speaker Richard Corcoran revealed that FPA had fallen far short of fulfilling its contract and the money – which was set to recur at $1 million yearly without further legislative approval – was stopped. Additionally, FPA did not fully account for how it spent the money, according to documents submitted to Mr. Corcoran. The state’s ethics commission was asked to look into the matter at the request of Callahan resident Carlos Slay, who opposed Mr. Drew in the election for Tax Collector last year. The ethics commission decided in July that Mr. Bean and Mr. Drew did nothing wrong. Mr. Drew was first appointed to be Nassau’s tax collector by former Governor Jeb Bush.
The commission was also divided on funding for Barnabas Center, a social service agency located in the city on Jasmine St. that provides food and healthcare and supports people who are homeless.
Mr. Kreger was the only commissioner to agree with staff about a $10,000 contribution for Barnabas, while Ms. Lentz, Mr. Poynter, and Mr. Miller agreed to give Barnabas $5,000. Mr. Smith said Barnabas should receive $3,000.
The board agreed to boost a contribution to the Nassau County Economic Development Board to $25,000 from $5,000.
Public Hearings on the budget are scheduled for September Two public hearings on the budget must be held and they are scheduled for Sept. 5 and Sept. 19. The meetings are set for the commission chambers at City Hall located at 204 Ash St. in downtown Fernandina Beach. For information, visit www.fbfl.us.
City Attorney Tammi Bach said the budget must be approved by a supermajority – that means four out of five commissioners must say yes – because the budget exceeds the ‘rollback rate’ by 0.5049 mills and is considered a tax increase.
The roll back rate is the amount the city would need to ‘roll back’ the tax rate to collect the same amount of money it did in the previous tax year. With property values up by $2 billion, according to Property Appraiser Mike Hickox, property owners can expect their taxes to go up.
In a presentation at the workshop, the City Manager, said homestead property owners can expect an increase of $9.16 for every $100,000 of value. And non-homestead property owners can expect an increase of $55.11 for every $100,000 of value.