City Commission seems set on not making big budget cuts

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  • Retired Fernandina Beach comptroller Patti Clifford at an August meeting. Clifford has joined other citizens in asking the City Commission to find more savings in its budget for the next fiscal year. It faces a revenue shortfall created by the economic downturn since the global coronavirus pandemic. JULIA ROBERTS/NEWS-LEADER
    Retired Fernandina Beach comptroller Patti Clifford at an August meeting. Clifford has joined other citizens in asking the City Commission to find more savings in its budget for the next fiscal year. It faces a revenue shortfall created by the economic downturn since the global coronavirus pandemic. JULIA ROBERTS/NEWS-LEADER
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At a Sept. 8 workshop to discuss the city of Fernandina Beach’s proposed budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year, some city commissioners offered suggestions for cutting expenses in order for the city to operate using a rollback millage rate, and citizens let commissioners know, in no uncertain terms, that they believe the city should do so.

The proposed budget is based on a millage rate of 5.4683 mills per $100,000 of assessed property value for operating expenses and 0.1553 mills for voter-approved debt. The rollback rate, which is the millage rate that would be set to bring in the same amount of revenue as last year, would be 5.2977 mills, so the rate adopted by the commission represents a 3.22% increase over the rollback rate.

The new rate was approved in July by a 3-2 vote, with Vice Mayor Len Kreger and Commissioner Mike Lednovich voting against it.

Kreger said Tuesday that the city needs to trim $468,942 to stay within a budget that could operate on the rollback rate. He suggested cuts to the Capital Improvement Plan that would reduce expenditures, he said, by $590,000 “without having any significant impact on equipment.” He said the removal of four vehicle purchases and a sign would save $30,000, and asked an expenditure to fund a study for the Friends of Amelia Trail be removed, explaining “We’re not the sugar daddy for everybody around.”

Lednovich also supports adopting the rollback rate and suggested not moving forward with a project that would bury utility lines on Front Street, saving the city $250,000. Lednovich also suggested slashing $225,000 slated to be spent on the mooring field at the Fernandina Harbor Marina, an investment he said would not pay for itself for 15 to 20 years.

“I beg anyone to argue that those are both essential items to this city running properly. They’re non-essential,” Lednovich said. “Let’s get real here.”

Several city residents spoke at the workshop to protest the higher millage rate and asked the City Commission to reconsider and adopt the rollback rate when the budget receives final approval.

Former City Comptroller Patti Clifford objected to the use of reserves while the city “continues to spend, spend, spend.”

“Instead of doing the heavy lifting – closely examining personnel, for example – the new proposed budget eats away at General Fund reserves, all the while maintaining spend, spend, spend,” Clifford said. “Simply put, this is unsustainable. This budget is not in the spirit of the rollback rate, living within your means. By using up reserves, the city is eating off the shelves. What happens next year when the revenue and reserves aren’t enough to support spend, spend, spend?”

City resident Bryn Byron said the city simply needs to live within its means during a time when revenues are being affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think it’s appalling that, at a time like this, that this City Commission would, in any way, shape, or form, jeopardize the health and welfare of this island,” Byron said. “I do not think that we should spend one penny extra. We should actually put money into our coffers and save money for a rainy day because we are going to be looking down the road in the near future, more than likely, for issues that we had not seen coming.”

No action was taken since the meeting was a workshop. Another budget workshop is scheduled for Sept. 22, after which the proposed budget is expected to be formerly adopted. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

jroberts@fbnewsleader.com