In order of occurrence at the meeting Tuesday, the City Commission:
Recognized Coleen Baker for “commendable” service on the Airport Advisory Committee as an “Ex-Officio” member since June 2011.
Recognized the Journey Church in Yulee for helping citizens, emergency responders, the American Red Cross, and pets before, during, and after Hurricane Irma. According to the proclamation, 326 volunteers provided 1,836 man hours of service, completed 31 work projects, and helped 1,033 families.
Recognized the damage caused by the opioid crisis and supported efforts by emergency services and non-profit organizations, including the Nassau Alcohol Crime Drug Abatement Coalition (NACDAC), which has formed a local task force with first responders, government officials, faith leaders, physicians, therapists, a recovering addict, and family members of addicts. According to a NACDAC presentation, Nassau County has one of the state’s highest rates of opioid prescriptions and is limited in treatment options. NACDAC also said fentanyl related deaths versus overdose deaths have increased from 2012 to 2017. The slide presentation offered by NACDAC’s Deborah Babin did not provide a number of fentanyl deaths during this time period, but gave a “cell range.” For example, the number of overdose deaths was listed as 18 in 2012 and the “cell range” for fentanyl deaths looked like two. It was easier to read the numbers in 2014. According to the presentation, that year there were eight overdose deaths and zero fentanyl deaths.
Heard from coastal consultant Eric Olsen of Olsen & Associates and Beau Corbett of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District, about the dredge project of the channel between Fernandina Beach and Cumberland Island, Georgia that is set to begin in December and will use sand taken from the waterway to renourish local beaches. Overall, it’s a $32.8 million project. The city and Nassau County will split with the Department of Environmental Protection the $1.6 million local cost. While Amelia Island taxpayers have been hit with a beach tax, the tourism agency is picking up the government’s costs for this project with money collected from the bed tax. Even with Hurricane Irma, tourism is up, according to officials, and there is money available. The Tourist Development Council estimated revenues in 2017 at $4.7 million. “The actual collections came in at $5.5 million,” according to TDC President & CEO Gil Langley in a Nov. 14 email. The Corps said they’re expected to finish the job by the end of March (hopefully) and will be careful to protect turtles. Mayor Robin Lentz said she liked the project because “that’s when we get the best shark teeth” (to wash up) on the beach.
Heard from Interim Main Street Director (and former Mayor) Arlene Filkoff, who said downtown Fernandina Beach has empty storefronts, broken lights, and needs an advocate to improve conditions as well as benchmarks to define success (she suggested property values and property taxes but how about sales tax revenue?). She said 10 to 15 representatives of local businesses came to a recent meeting (she invited 70) and they are committed to special events, the waterfront, sidewalks on side streets, historic preservation, fair enforcement of the noise ordinance, and addressing parking concerns. The city committed $120,000 of taxpayer money for a three-year program (this is the final year) and by mid-2018, said Ms. Filkoff, officials should move forward or make a “no-go” decision.
Applauded Fire Rescue Chief Ty Silcox and firefighters as they delivered a $4,000 check to the Nassau Health Department to provide for breast and cervical screenings. The money was raised through ‘pink’ t-shirt sales and a special event at Central Park on Oct. 21. DOH Director Dr. Eugenia Ngo-Seidel accepted the money with gratitude and said it will be put to good use. According to Dr. Seidel, 70 cases of breast cancer are reported each year in Nassau County and 30 local women die each year from the disease. She wanted people to know there is money available for those with low incomes and without insurance.
Heard the budget report, delivered by City Manager Dale Martin. Budget Director Patti Clifford did not attend the meeting. According to support documents, expenses exceeded revenue for the month by $386,758. The commission made payments to lobbyist (Attorney Buddy Jacobs) and the Nassau County Economic Development Board. The commission agreed to boost its contribution to the NCEDB to $25,000 annually from $5,000. Executive Director Laura DiBella said by email last month that she received a $20,000 bonus payment and a $10,000 salary increase. She also previously reported securing more than 331 new jobs in Nassau County this year, including LignoTech Florida, the movie theater on S. 14th St., an Aldi grocery store and UF Health urgent care facility. The grocery and medical office—both planned for Yulee—are not open and they haven’t been built. The city also reported that memberships at the golf course are down last month by $11,213 from Oct. 2016. And storm water fees, which tripled this year, are up $46,491.)
In public comments for items not on the agenda, Ronald “Chip” Ross, who is running for the City Commission and faces a run-off Dec. 12 with Orlando Avila, asked the board about the Housing Needs Assessment and Neighborhood Planning, which are required under the Comprehensive Plan. “Remove the mandates” if they’re not going to be done, he said. Commissioner Len Kreger said the city contracted with a consultant for the Housing Needs Assessment and information is expected in December.
Heard a threat from Amelia Cruisers, who said they’d move their event next year to another community if the city didn’t find a way to get rid of higher fees. Richard Wilson said costs would rise to an estimated $2,500 from approximately $300. Commissioner Tim Poynter wants to know how much the event costs the city and, he said, local business owners may have to pick-up the cost of new fees. “The fee should be paid by the people who are benefitting,” he said. “It has not been well thought out. It’s been willy nilly.” Ms. Filkoff of the Main Street Program said she would take the lead and asked Mr. Wilson to call her.
Under the Consent Agenda, commissioners unanimously agreed to annex 770 Wren Dr. The owners need water service and that requires annexation.
Commissioners unanimously agreed to give Insituform Technologies, LLC a contract not to exceed $150,000 to rehab sewer lines. Officials called it a “piggyback” contract through Daytona Beach.
Commissioners agreed 4-1 to borrow $200,000 from the Wastewater Fund to purchase new golf carts from EZ-Go for the municipal course. “The fund will enjoy the 3.75 percent interest income on their investment,” according to support documentation filed with the agenda. The city is scheduled to make 36 monthly payment of $5,882.58. Commissioner-elect Phil Chapman stepped to the public podium to ask why the amount of the loan was a bit shy of the amount to be borrowed and was told the budget office “rounded up” the number. Commissioner Len Kreger, who voted no, questioned why the city wasn’t accepting the lowest bid (it doesn’t have to). “It stinks,” he said. Golf Club Manager Steve Murphy, who works for Billy Casper Golf, said low bidder Yamaha offers an inferior product with windshields that fall out and pedals that stick. Still, Mr. Kreger maintained the bids should reflect performance requirements. Commissioner Poynter took issue. “What are you going to write a bid for? So the windshield doesn’t fall out?” Commissioner Johnny Miller–who exchanged looks with Mr. Poynter during Mr. Kreger’s comments—asked Mr. Murphy: “You’re not anti-Yamaha?” No, he said. According to Mr. Murphy, Billy Casper Golf is using the experience of its 140 golf courses under management to find the best deal for the city. He said the EZ-Go carts would be worth an estimated $24,000 more than the Yamaha carts when it’s time to get rid of them.
Approved a lease agreement with HBF Fernandina, LLC for a non-aeronautical lease for 15,681 sq. ft. building at the airport. City Attorney Tammi Bach called it “sort of a playhouse” for the leaseholder. Support documents say the “ground lease” is for Howard Banaszak and that “approval of this agreement will increase Airport revenue by $489.38 per month.”
Unanimously approved an interlocal agreement with Nassau County Property Appraiser Mike Hickox and Nassau County Tax Collector John Drew to audit homestead exemptions to make sure they’re “legitimate.” Mr. Hickox believes the Homestead Tax Exemption is “ripe for fraudulent or improper claims” and he wants to hire a vendor with “big-data” capability to uncover “potential undeserved homestead exemptions.” The vendor collects 28 percent of the money and the Property Appraiser gets two percent, according to documents filed with the agenda. The remainder goes to taxing bodies.
Allowed the miniature golf property at Main Beach to transfer the leasehold from Putt-Putt Florida LLC to Putt Putt Amelia, LLC. There was discussion about the lighting at the city-owned facility. New leaseholder Tom Miller, who owns a cigar and flavored ice shop said the light poles are “rock solid.” He said his goal to make “modest cosmetic renovations.” Note: The lease was once held until Jan. 2014 by State Senator Aaron Bean’s family.
Approved a temporary use agreement for submerged lands near its property on Front St. until a permanent agreement can be signed with the state.
Unanimously accepted responsibility for a 1,000 feet of land that Rayonier Performance Fibers plans to use as a rail spur for the LignoTech manufacturing facility. The company is receiving an $841,000 grant that must be used for transportation improvements on public property. Ronald “Chip” Ross stepped to the speaker podium to ask why there has not been an environmental study. “What’s the benefit to the citizens?” said Mr. Ross, who is a candidate for City Commissioner in the run-off election Dec. 12. City Attorney Tammi Bach said the risk is small. Local attorney Frank Santry said Rayonier wouldn’t allow a “Phase One Environmental Study” because they wouldn’t get “a clean bill of health.” He said, “Ladies and gentlemen that’s significant.” Further, he said, “This is a contaminated site that the city will be required to clean up in the future.” Mr. Santry said he thinks it is “foolish” for the city to take responsibility for the land. Resident Lynn Williams, who is also on the board of the Florida Inland Navigation District (FIND) agreed. He suggested the city ask Rayonier to take out a bond. “Get some money and get it now,” he said. Commissioner Len Kreger said that’s a good idea, but he wasn’t going for it. Neither was Commissioner Tim Poynter said, “Life is full of risks.” He said dry cleaners also pose risks to the community. He also muttered that the community has a “moral” obligation to fulfill its commitment to Rayonier. Mayor Robin Lentz said she understands the risk (of catastrophe) but said the city would have a bigger problem “at the end of the day” if the mill closed for good. Commissioner Johnny Miller, who was voted to serve as mayor next year, said the city should do what it can “within reason” to make the mill healthy.
Started efforts on the (Bosque Bello) Cemetery Master plan, according to City Manager Dale Martin, who said WestRock wants to donate land to the cemetery adjacent to its plant on the north end of the city. There was also mention that the city will open bids Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. for work at the marina.
Announced plans to shoot coyotes, potentially. Commissioner Kreger said coyotes are a concern at the municipal airport and the Airport Advisory Committee has said there is a “strong possibility” that “we’ll have to hire somebody to shoot them.”
Accepted kindness. Commissioner Roy Smith said Mr. Poynter has been kinder and gentler since he lost his bid for re-election. “Oh, shut up,” said Mr. Poynter, in jest. Mr. Smith also wanted to know if there were nepotism concerns over the appointment of Marlene Chapman to the Code Enforcement Board. She is married to commissioner-elect Phil Chapman. City Attorney Tammi Bach said no. She said Mr. Chapman could recuse himself on matters, as warranted. Mr. Chapman, who sat among the audience, said he would.