BOCC decides how to divide CARES Act pie

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  • David Jahosky of Government Services Group.
    David Jahosky of Government Services Group.
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The Nassau County Board of County Commissioners held a special meeting Monday for a presentation by David Jahosky, managing director for Government Services Group (GSG).

GSG was recently hired to perform CARES Act-related services for the county.

The meeting also covered critical new county revenue, budget, and property tax considerations.

In addition, the BOCC discussed not making any decisions at Tuesday evening’s beach ordinance meeting, which would give people the opportunity to continue their input on the issue.

The meeting was held to review the Nassau CARES Small Business Recovery Grant and to approve the Nassau CARES Small Business Recovery Grant Program eligibility criteria and means of allocating funds, as well as to approve the Nassau County Coronavirus Relief Fund allocation from the Florida Housing Finance Corporation to assist with rent and mortgage assistance.

How to decide who gets something, how much, and when, formed the key issues.

GSG is supposed to “create an expenditure plan for Nassau County.”

Jahosky previously reported on the plan at a meeting on July 6 and said he would talk about GSG’s accomplishments since then, the Business Assistance Program, and the Ship CRF Individual Assistance Program. At tonight’s meeting, a discussion of the overall spending plan is scheduled.

Jahosky reported that after receiving input from the BOCC, the county departments, elected officials, the Nassau County School District, the city of Fernandina Beach, the towns of Hilliard and Callahan, the Nassau County Chamber of Commerce, and the Small Business Development Council, GSG worked on identifying the potential pool of applicants, determined eligibility criteria and program requirements and subsequently worked with an external legal counsel on the applicant requirements.

The “guiding eligibility principle presented by the Florida Division of Emergency Management and the External Legal Council for Financial Assistance” to receive funds is “a business must document disruption or negative financial impacts due to COVID-19.”

What is necessary to balance the Business Assistance Program is the program requirements and eligibility.

The eligibility requirements they are looking for are: “for profit entities not a publicly traded company: businesses that have up to nine FTEs (employees per full time equivalent) and less than one million dollars in gross income for 2019; businesses that have been operating and can prove ongoing business operations since January 1, 2017; businesses that have not received funds covered by insurance or reimbursement from the federal Payroll Protection Program in excess of $50,000 related to COVID-19; the business is expected to operate after applicable local and state emergency guidelines are removed; businesses that commit to following recommended COVID-19 safety guidelines: those businesses that are located and operated in Nassau County; those that are wholly or partially owned by Nassau County residents; businesses that are current on all Federal income, payroll sales property and unemployment taxes; businesses that have no current unpaid code enforcement liens or violation of any state federal or local laws; no business owners, including all managing members and/or officers, (who) have been convicted of financial crimes within the past three years; Nassau County employees or (their)spouse are not eligible.”

Jahosky also reviewed the multiple documentation requirements and noted there are 6,710 businesses in Nassau County and $2.2 million was the amount that the BOCC has so far allocated for businesses in the county under the CARES Act. Given the number of businesses, the math works out to a grant of $328 per business.

It was decided that this formula would not work well.

Working with the Nassau County Chamber of Commerce and the Small Business Development Council, it was determined by consensus to look at businesses that were in place for more than three years, who had nine FTEs, with $1 million dollars in gross revenues. That criteria brought the pool of businesses who would qualify down to a total of 2,030. He then presented a chart with the numbers of businesses in the county per location: Amelia Island – 23, Bryceville – 32, Callahan – 235, Fernandina Beach – 1,189, Hilliard – 149, and Yulee – 402.

He presented a chart with the award amounts and the different possible allocations.

The recommendation is that the award should be $5,000, which it is believed will generate the most interest. The decision was that 440 awards would be made.

Jahosky discussed the manner in which applications would be processed in the fairest way possible. GSG will provide information online or applicants can come into the county office to receive a paper application. There will be a two-week open application process. The applications will be reviewed and then presented to the county for payments.

The applications, once finalized, would be randomized into a lottery system.

A vote was taken by the board on the proposed numbers and the program presented by GSG with both receiving unanimous approval.

Jahosky then discussed the SHIP Individual Assistance Program: Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) allocation from the FHRC in the amount of $372,504, which is made up of $336,000 for the program and $36,504 for project delivery and administration. The first disbursement for the program will come in August and the second in September-October.

The research involved looking at the area median income and the types of programs being offered that would fit into this program. The first area is Rental Assistance, which can be used for current or back rent, deposits, or other types of utility payments. The second area is Mortgage Assistance, which can be used for mortgage payments.

Requirements in the program were based upon 120% of the area median income, which came to an income level up to $83,156. Thus the median household income in 2018 dollars was $66,297 with 50% of people making more and 50% of people making less.

The determination was for a three-month award based on $1,100 for each month for a total of $3,300 maximum per person. This method would provide aid to 102 eligible applicants.

Similar to the Business Program, the applications, once finalized, would be randomized into a lottery system.

The BOCC unanimously approved the SHIP Individual Assistance Program.

Jahosky said that at tonight’s meeting there would be a number of items discussed for the board’s approval prior to its being submitted to the state.

This concluded the Special Meeting and a recess was taken.

The BOCC reconvened at 6 p.m.

Unanimous approval and acceptance was given to “the roadways and infrastructure within Flora Parke 6B for county maintenance.”

Three items were granted continuance until Monday,
Aug. 24.

• “Consider a Resolution setting the time and place for public hearing on the closing, vacating, and abandoning of those certain rights of ways or the renouncing and disclaiming of any right or interest of said Nassau County, Florida, and the public in said rights of way or alleys.” This specifically would involve “an application to petition the Board to abandon a portion of Clements Road, Fernandina Beach.”

• “Approve and authorize the Chairman to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with JEA, Contract No. CM2844, for design and construction of the William Burgess Extension Project Water Main from US 17 to Miner Road.”

• “Consider R20-005, the rezoning of approximately 53.88 acres located North side of Roses Bluff, between Brooker Road and Haven Road, from Open Rural (OR) to Residential Single Family 1 (RS-1). Application filed by WFS Family Trust, LLC, owner, and SEDA Construction Co., agent. District 3.”

Three items had applications withdrawn by the applicants. Those items were:

• “Consider CPA20-002, a Small-Scale Future Land Use Map amendment to change the classification of 3.21 acres located on the south side of Julia Street between Julia Street and Lewis Street from Commercial (COM) to High Density Residential (HDR), Application filed by J.H. Cobb Properties, LLC, Owner; and Rogers Towers, P.A., Agent.”

• “Consider NOPC20-001, a Resolution amending the Development Order For The Summer Beach Development of Regional Impact (DRI); specifically amending the Development Order to a previously approved Development Of Regional Impact pursuant to a notification filed by Artisan Homes, LLC; Providing for up to Twenty-eight (28) multi-family residential units on Parcel D-1.”

• “Consider FD20-001, the Final Development Plan for Parcel D-1 of the Summer Beach PUD/DRI; allowing a maximum of 28 residential units and associated open space. Application filed by J.H. Cobb Properties, LLC, Owner; and Tim Ritch, Forum Capital Partners, Agent.”

The next item on the agenda was the “Presentation of the tentative budget, set tentative millage rate and date/time of first public hearing for the FY 2020-2021 budget; authorize OMB to electronically submit the Dr-420’s.”  

Prior to the presentation, County Manager and Attorney Mike Mullin alerted the commissioners they might need to continue some items until the next day or accomplish what is needed from the BOCC before Aug. 4. Mullin noted that the pandemic had greatly affected sales tax and gas tax funds and budget issues. He expressed confidence that county staff had worked hard to cut items from the budget and had also worked hard to give the BOCC the best information upon which to set the millage rate. A millage rate is the tax rate used to calculate local property taxes. The millage rate represents the amount per every $1,000 of a property’s assessed value. Assigned millage rates are multiplied by the total taxable value of the property in order to arrive at the property tax. He added that at this time “we do not have the exact numbers from the Florida Department of Revenue, but we feel confident that the numbers will be very close to what (Office of Management and Budget Director Megan K. Diehl) has anticipated.”

Diehl began her presentation by stating she would be presenting the tentative budget and the potential millage rates. The outcomes expected would be: “setting the tentative millage rates which she would go over; to authorize the OMB staff to submit the TRIM forms to the State and to set the first public hearing for the final budget.”

Diehl said she brought the required tentative balanced budget, which is always due by July 31. She noted that by Aug. 4 they have to submit the TRIM (Truth in Millage) forms to the Property Appraiser. These forms include the prior year millage rate, the current year proposed millage rate, the current year calculated rollback rate and the date, time, and meeting place of the tentative budget hearing.

Diehl said the state shared revenues, which include one-cent surtax, half-cent sales tax, and communication services tax amounts are due later in the week.

Among the items Diehl discussed were health insurance increases, the receipt of $8.6 million in new and continuing requests and subsequently reported that they had made cuts and are now recommending funding for $4.5 million.

The recommendation for the coming year is a flat millage, or “no change in the millage rate from the prior year.”

She broke it down to 7.4278 for the General Fund and 2.3093 for the Municipal Services Fund, bringing the combined rate to 9.7371. This will bring in $7.5 million in new ad valorem revenue. She pointed out that this is a balanced budget; however, there is a $1.3 million recurring deficit currently offset with one-cent funds. She added that due to the pandemic this may not be the time to deal with that deficit, but it needs to be dealt with in the future.

Diehl discussed how any reduction of the millage rate would increase the deficit. In addition, she discussed the rollback rate calculation, which would also increase the deficit.

She also presented a revenue expenditure projection out to 2025 with the growth rates expected. This was made up of 8% growth in operating expenses, 11.60% in Constitutional Officers, 8.5 % Ad Valorem revenues and 5% in shared revenues. A chart of this projection based on a flat millage rate revealed that the expenditures moving forward in 2021 and beyond would be significantly higher than expected revenue.

Diehl said two ways to deal with this issue would be to reduce the recurring expenditures or to increase the recurring revenue, so in the future there will need to be a discussion regarding raising the millage rate. Diehl pointed out that the issues around the pandemic are the cause of this problem.

Diehl included in her presentation The Tentative Budget, Ad Valorem Taxing Funds Summary, which numbered 164 pages. This included The Grand Summary, which included original and requested budgets from FY 16-17,17-18,18-19,19-20 and 20-21 which included a total of revenues, expenditures, total personal services, total operating, total capital (equipment) and total debt service, grants and other. BOCC Departments, Constitutional Officers, Elective Expenditures, Required Expenditures, Reserves.

Readers can find that document available for download here at https://bit.ly/3hJv4jJ .

Jack Knocke of Fernandina Beach was the only public speaker to contribute to the discussion. He stated that his point of view was from the perspective of a taxpayer. He suggested reducing non-essential expenses as much as possible.

Knocke proposed the option of instituting a hiring freeze of halting cost of living increases. He asked the commissioners to make a concerted effort to look at the budget and try to find additional places to trim back.

At this point, Mullin suggested that it would be prudent to take more time to look at the budget closely and see where reductions could be made and review the possible consequences. Chairman Danny Leeper noted that this should be considered.

Leeper suggested that compromises be made, saying his goal “has always been to try to get a rollback because of what COVID-19 has caused our citizens.” He suggested that it would be beneficial to look again at the budget and come back, so that there would be no rush as the decisions made would be impactful over the coming years.

Commissioner Pat Edwards then made a motion that the millage rate “be set as flat as it is today” and then come back over the next few days and have meetings “to come up with a millage rate that we can get a group effort on.”

The other commissioners spoke to the importance of taking time, not cutting essential services, and not cutting public safety, but to cut the tax rate down to aid people who have been affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Suggestions were then made that a full rollback would be problematic.

Leeper said they would “continue to work, continue to look at expenses, and see where we are by September 14 when (a) public hearing would be held.”

A motion was then voted upon to set the tentative millage rate previously discussed, set the public hearing for Sept. 14, and to approve the submission of the TRIM forms. It was unanimously approved. It was agreed that work would take place over the next few Wednesdays. Edwards asked the staff to look at the budget items and work with them to see if any of the CARES Act funds could be utilized.

Mullin then reviewed the four expansion items on the agenda, authorizing Leeper to sign documents naming Thad Crowe as interim director of the Department of Planning and Economic Opportunity, approving the coronavirus relief fund “subrecipient agreement” and authorizing the County Manager to approve the subrecipient agreement for the second payment due to the time restraints of expending funds by December30, 2020, Contract no. CM2892; approving the COVID-19 Federally Funded Subaward and Grant Agreement with the Department of Homeland Security Contract No. 2892; and consider extending Executive Order Number 16 regarding the wearing of face masks. The current order is set to expire August 1, 2020.

Mullin suggested extending the facemask order an additional 30 days, however Commissioner Justin Taylor asked for the latest statistics from the Department of Health. Mr. Mullin suggested that Dr. Eugenia Ngo-Seidel would be able to comment at today’s meeting. The motion was then unanimously continued.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with the correct spelling for the name of Government Services Group Managing Director David Jahosky.