The Nassau County Board of County Commissioners met Monday and passed the fiscal year 2020-21 millage rate and budget, among the other major items discussed. County Manager Taco Pope, County Attorney Michael Mullin, and Office of Management and Budget Director Megan Diehl participated remotely through the Zoom video conferencing application.
The first item on the agenda was to consider major changes to the county’s beach ordinances, including restrictions for driving and parking, but Chairman Danny Leeper announced it would be continued until Oct. 12. One member of the public was still allowed to give his thoughts on the item.
Ronald Starling of Jacksonville, who runs an organization called NightSanders Campers, spoke about the rules for American Beach, the number of people who would be allowed to camp at one time, the need for a rainout date for a canceled event, a proposal to allow camping in the Burney Park parking lot, the fee for an event, and a “harmless agreement” item. Leeper suggested that Starling put the comments in an email so they could be part of the record.
Addressing the BOCC’s reversal last week of the county’s indoor mask mandate for businesses, Arthur Israel of Callahan came forward to discuss his dismay. Isreal expressed his view that “dialing back that ordinance or message is sending a message. It is sending the wrong message to the public that we are in all the clear in this pandemic.” He pointed out that the commissioners were all wearing masks.
“You must have some faith and belief that the masks work,” Israel said. He opined that the commissioners were putting their constituents at risk, calling the change “reckless and irresponsible.” Israel requested that the commissioners reinstate the original mask mandate.
There was one expansion item that Mullin brought to the BOCC. It was later approved unanimously. The item read: “Discuss emergency petition for declaratory judgment in Bill Leeper and Nassau County, Florida vs. Kimberly Kessler A/K/A Jennifer Marie Sybert, Melissa Nelson and Charlie Cofer.” The petition authorized Mullin and the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office General Counsel to execute the request for the declaratory judgment action. Mullin later made the remark that this could not be discussed any further due to medical information in the case. He noted that Kessler is currently being held in the Nassau County Jail.
Judge James H. Daniel ruled in March that Kessler is well enough to be tried for the 2018 murder of Joleen Cummings. Kessler was charged in September 2018 with the first-degree murder of Cummings, with whom she had worked at the now-closed Tangles Hair Salon. Cummings’ body has not been found.
“(Kessler) has the sufficient present ability to consult with her lawyers with a reasonable degree of rational understanding and has a rational as well as a factual understanding of the proceedings against her,” Daniel wrote in his ruling. “These proceedings shall no longer be suspended and the attorneys may proceed forward with all relevant discovery and trial preparations.”
Kessler now has another hearing scheduled for Oct. 5.
Under the section of the agenda concerned with public hearings, Diehl discussed the millage rates and budget discussed at the public hearing on Sept. 14. Diehl reviewed the reasons the ad valorem tax revenues increased, including the addition of 19.5 positions: three in animal services; one in code enforcement; one in engineering; three in facilities maintenance; 10 in Fire & Rescue; a part-time position in Library Services; and one in the Office of Management and IT.
Prior to the vote, Pope read an email from Steve Sherman of Fernandina Beach, who requested that there would be no tax hike.
These were the three adoption resolutions passed unanimously: County-Wide Millage of 7.4278, Municipal Service Taxing District Millage of 2.3093, Recreation and Water Conservation District Millage 0.0000, Amelia Island Beach Renourishment Millage 0.0960 and the Total Millage of 9.8331; Final Budget $270,642,511; and a resolution for the utilization of the $0.01 Surtax Fund.
Diehl thanked her staff for their efforts, particularly Senior Financial Management & Budget Coordinator Cindy Wood and Financial Management & Budget Coordinator Megan Sawyer. Leeper thanked Diehl and her staff for their work.
There were a number of requests unanimously approved by the BOCC, including authorizing “Finance Package 2020-21 and associated Resolutions which included a Budget Amendment in the Municipal Service Fund” for donations received by Nassau County Animal Services in the amount of $1,494, and two items which approved deletions from inventory forms including numerous office items no longer in working condition.
The BOCC also approved a request for a $464,500 advance of Tax Collector commissions to be earned during the collection of the 2020 tax roll and repaid in December. The advance, explained in a letter from Tax Collector John M. Drew, is “to cover office expenses during the months in which office expenditures are greater than the commissions earned. For the 2020-2021 fiscal year, we expect this to occur in both October and November.”
The BOCC also approved a contract with the Camden County Solid Waste Authority to “accept at its solid waste disposal facility all of the solid non-hazardous waste generated within Nassau County and transported to the Camden County Landfill Solid Waste Disposal Facility by (the county).” Nassau County will be charged $24.36 per ton of solid non-hazardous waste.
Commissioners also approved signing two work authorizations with S2L Inc. to provide “Engineering Services Operation, Monitoring, Maintenance, and Reporting for the Landfill Gas Collection and Control System at the West Nassau Landfill in the amount of $188,485.10 for period of (10/1/2020- 9/30/2021)” and to provide “Sampling, Laboratory Analysis, and Reporting Services for the West Nassau Landfill and Lofton Creek Closed Landfills in the amount of $56,071.62 for period of (10/1/2020- 9/30/2021).” S2L is to provide “professional labor to complete groundwater and surface water sampling, laboratory analyses and reporting to support Nassau County” at the West Nassau Landfill for $27,680.44; Lofton Creek Landfill for $24,870.44, and Meadowfield Bluffs Road at $3,520.74.
The board approved signing an agreement with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for a “Consolidated Solid Water Management Grant” in the amount of $93,750, and also under the heading of waste management, a contract with Water Recovery LLC for “Total Leachate Management-West Nassau Landfill” at a rate of $.0549 per gallon for leachate removal was approved, with “specifications (describing) the services of Transport,
Treat, and Dispose of non-hazardous leachate water from the West Nassau Landfill.” Leachate is defined as “water that has percolated through a solid and leached out some of the constituents.”
The board also approved Leeper signing a contract with Meridian Waste Florida LLC for “trash haul assistance at the Convenience Recycle Center, at a rate of $175.00 per pull.”
The commissioners considered and unanimously approved a construction and maintenance agreement with the Florida Department of Transportation for the replacement, installation, or construction of various School Zone Improvements such as signage, pavement markings, and/or flashing signs within various school zones.
An amendment to the 2015 “Reserve/Support Agreement with Nassau Oaks Volunteer Fire Department” was also approved, with the county providing “certain firefighting equipment and funding for protection services, and in exchange, the Nassau Oaks Volunteer Fire Department is to provide fire protection and first responder services for the unincorporated areas of Nassau County.” The amendment extends the services until September 30, 2021.
The BOCC agreed to reject alls bids received for a Fire Rescue Metal Building and authorized staff “to submit a revised scope of work and re-advertise the Invitation to Bid for the Fire Rescue Metal Building.” The explanation was that “Eleven (11) bids were received; all bids were over the amount budgeted for the project. In an effort to ensure the citizens of Nassau County receive the best price for the project, Staff would like to revise the scope of work and re-advertise the Invitation to Bid.”
The board also authorized Leeper to sign a “State Aid to Libraries Grant” application where the county could receive $33,296, and unanimously agreed to consider a request from Amelia Baptist Church to utilize up to 60 parking stalls at Peters Point Beachfront Park as overflow parking for holiday presentations from 4-8 p.m. Dec. 4-7. “The Public Works Director will mark the sixty stalls as reserved for the corresponding timeframe,” the request says.
Ed Hubel, president of Baptist Medical Center Nassau, was reappointed as Nassau County’s representative on the Health Planning Council’s Board of Directors for the term of Oct. 1, 2020 through Sept. 30, 2022.
One item was continued until a meeting on Sept. 30: “Review and provide direction to Staff how to proceed with an Interlocal Agreement (CM2911) between the City of Fernandina Beach and the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners.”
County Engineer Robert Companion presented information on the item. The commissioners agreed it needed additional wording, with Leeper and Commissioner Pat Edwards suggesting that a clause needed to be added that states a “not to exceed amount.”
An item to consider amending the Animal Control Ordinance was withdrawn. There was no discussion.
The last item on the agenda was to consider modifying a previously approved Planned Unit Development known as Nassau Crossing, filed by “Island Education Inc., Owner; and Gregory E. Matovina, Agent.” The explanation was: “The proposed modification will allow institutional uses, including, including private schools, childcare facilities and elder care facilities (adult day care, assisted living facilities, nursing homes) as a permitted use on an approximately 9-acre site north of William Burgess Boulevard fronting on Harts Road. There will be no change in the maximum number of units permitted. The modifications would be consistent with the existing FLUM designations and the maximum development program for the Nassau Station PUD will remain the same.”
There were two separate votes on the item, with four commissioners voting in favor. Commissioner Aaron Bell abstained each time since he is president of the Montessori School, which is involved in this item. Director of Planning and Economic Opportunity Thad Crowe briefly discussed this item.
Pope then read some emails sent in by the public. Vernell S. Britton of Fernandina Beach expressed disappointment with the BOCC on the new mask mandate; David Darin of Fernandina Beach sent an email regarding beach use conditions at Peters Point and American Beach; Robert Darin commented on golf carts not being included in beach access at Scott Road; and Joseph Smaha of Fernandina Beach commented on beach regulations, driving on the beach, dogs, camping and the request for year-round regulations.
There was a telephone call from Mary Maguire of Fernandina Beach and the NCFL Independent to inquire about expansion items. Maguire wanted to know “does the board have any place that the public can find information on expansion items before they are discussed at county meetings.” Maguire related that she often does not see these items prior to meetings and discussed the problem of the public not being able to have input since many times they do not appear on the agenda.
Mullin explained, “Expansion items sometimes occur later in the day. We try not to have as many expansion items, but some require board action due to other reasons.”
Maguire referred to the Kessler matter voted on earlier in the meeting, and Mullin responded, “There is a declaratory action asking the judge to sign an opinion on the case. It does not involve anything to affect the public. This is asking the court to opine on a particular matter on a justice case … one of the items that deals with medical information which we could not disclose.”
Editor's note: This story has been updated with a new date set the next Kimberly Kessler hearing, Oct. 5.