Nassau County Budget Woes - Fernandina Observer (2024)

Submitted by

Suanne Z. Thamm

Reporter - News Analyst

Nassau County Budget Woes - Fernandina Observer (1) Steve Kelley

During their July 12, 2012 meeting, the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) spent considerable time trying to come to grips with what looks like an $8.8M shortfall for the FY 2012-13 budget. County Management and Budget Director Shanea Jones walked the commissioners through a series of scenarios, asking for guidance from them in moving closer to the August 4 deadline for setting millage for the next year.

Finally, on a 3-2 vote, commissioners approved a motion made by Commissioner Stacy Johnson and seconded by Commissioner Junior Boatright to keep the millage at the FY 2011-12 rate, use the $6.3M in anticipated revenue from the One Cent Fund and transfer the remaining funds needed from the reserves, until such time as the BOCC can identify additional savings from operations. Chair Danny Leeper cast the deciding vote, while Commissioners Barry Holloway and Steve Kelley opposed the motion.

The vote came after a long debate over balancing the county’s current financial plight against future needs. In presenting the early budget picture, Shanea Jones suggested that the shortfall could be made up by decreasing services, increasing revenues, transferring more money from the One Cent Fund (county optional sales tax) or dipping into the reserves. County Manager Ted Selby indicated that over the past few years the county payroll has been slashed to the point that it cannot take additional cuts without closing some departments and/or eliminating services completely.

There is a great unknown regarding the Florida Supreme Court's ruling on the Florida Retirement System (FRS) settlement, and whether employees were unfairly required to contribute to their retirement systems. Should the Supreme Court uphold the lower court ruling, Nassau County will be on the hook to return to employees a total of approximately $80,000 for each month the money was withheld and possibly make up the lost revenue to the retirement fund from its reserves. The longer the Supreme Court deliberates, the higher the potential liability not just for Nassau County but for all participating local governments around the state. (The City of Fernandina Beach does not participate in the FRS.)

Commissioner Boatright expressed confusion over the amount of reserves, citing a document prepared by Nassau Clerk of Courts John Crawford that stated that county reserves had risen 16% to $34M. He asked how the BOCC could justify keeping such a high level of reserves when citizens expected that their taxes were being put to work, not just banked. Jones explained that of the total reserves, only $12.7M is unrestricted. Other reserves are either restricted by law to certain purposes or have been designated by the BOCC to certain purposes, such as the Capital Improvement Fund or the Fernandina Beach branch library expansion. While the BOCC could change decisions regarding earlier designations, they cannot use money in restricted funds to make up operating shortfalls.

County Manager Selby warned against using non-recurring revenues to fund recurring expenses, stating that such a move would create further problems down the road.

After close to 45 minutes of debate, Commissioner Steve Kelley weighed in. He cited millage rates charged by neighboring counties: Camden, 11.7; Duval, 10.1; and St. Johns, 15.8. Nassau County’s rate is only 5.6. He said that thanks to the diligence of past commissions, he believes that the county has trimmed all the fat over the past few years and that the result has been “a lean, mean machine.” He said that sooner or later, the BOCC is going to have to stop kicking the can down the road and raise the millage rate. He moved that the BOCC set the millage rate one full mill higher to cover the shortfall this year and go to the rollback rate in subsequent years. There was some confusion as to whether Kelley had made a motion or just talked about making a motion. Kelley said, “Let me clarify for the newspaper: I move that we increase taxes one mill.” The motion died for lack of a second.

Chair Leeper clarified his position as well, stating that he would not support a millage increase at this time. Selby said that hopes for an improvement in revenues over the next 1-2 years were unfounded. Ad valorem revenues keep falling due to the continuing decline in property values. He said that only new roofs would increase ad valorem revenues.

Commissioner Kelley said that the BOCC is finally at the point where there are no easy answers. He said that he probably wouldn’t live long enough to see property values return to where they were 5-6 years ago. Even if appraisals do rise, because of the Save Our Home provision in law, the taxable values of homesteaded properties can only rise 3% per year.

Selby said that even with an increase of one mill, there would still be a shortfall. It would take an increase of 1.5 mills to cover the $8.8M shortfall. Commissioner Barry Holloway jumped in to echo concerns raised by Kelley with respect to placing the county’s future in jeopardy without responsible action today. He expressed grave reservations about dipping into the county reserves, since the last audit recommended increasing the current level (about 15%) closer to 20%. He said that eliminating funding from the Capital Improvement Plan or the Fleet Replacement Plan would only push these costs down the road until future commissions would be looking at millage rate increases possibly to as high as 8 or 9 mills.

Kelley also asked what the county was doing to collect municipal services fees from Callahan and Hilliard to cover the cost of county fire protection. The consensus seemed to be not to discuss that matter at this time.

Despite the concerns raised by Commissioners Kelley and Holloway and County Manager Selby, the BOCC agreed to set the initial millage at the current level. In making her motion, Commissioner Johnson cited her concern for families who might be more inclined to support an increase if they saw the value of their property increasing. She did not want to consider the rollback rate because that would result in increases to individual households even while holding county revenues steady at this year’s level.

July 16, 2012 2:3 p.m.

Nassau County Budget Woes - Fernandina Observer (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Geoffrey Lueilwitz

Last Updated:

Views: 6030

Rating: 5 / 5 (80 voted)

Reviews: 87% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Geoffrey Lueilwitz

Birthday: 1997-03-23

Address: 74183 Thomas Course, Port Micheal, OK 55446-1529

Phone: +13408645881558

Job: Global Representative

Hobby: Sailing, Vehicle restoration, Rowing, Ghost hunting, Scrapbooking, Rugby, Board sports

Introduction: My name is Geoffrey Lueilwitz, I am a zealous, encouraging, sparkling, enchanting, graceful, faithful, nice person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.