County beach ordinance delayed, millage is set

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With an ambitious agenda packed with a number of complicated topics, the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners decided Monday night to continue its action on a long-awaited ordinance that would change restrictions on vehicle access to the county’s beaches as well as camping and other uses. The item was rescheduled for the BOCC’s Sept. 28 meeting.

County Manager and Attorney Mike Mullin explained the county has been working on the changes for “well over a year and a half.” Mullin stated, “I was intending to ask you to set this for one more public hearing, because what’s in this draft only runs through October 31st.”

Mullin discussed extending current restrictions until the end of the year so that a new board can take up the item from then through the end of April. He added that camping and parking details still need to be addressed. Mullin then read emails he and the board had received about beach parking, American Beach and excessive traffic, alcohol and drug use by people on the beach, limiting beach driving, limited camping, reviewing the “beach buggy” definition, approving the ordinance as written, the negative impact of driving on the beach, protected species and turtle nests, earlier hours for driving on the beach, and night driving. He added there is a provision in the budget for a security company to be hired to supervise vehicle access at Scott Road, Peters Point, and Lewis Street.

Three people spoke about the ordinance, two in person and one via the Zoom videoconferencing application.

David Darin of Fernandina Beach requested that both parking and camping have the same dates for starting and ending. He also opined that he would not like to see camping at Peters Point.

Ronald Starling of Jacksonville, who runs an organization called NightSanders Campers, spoke about coming to American Beach over the years. He said his group has camped there for more than 21 years and taken care of the beach. He discussed the required insurance policy and the large number of items in the ordinance.

Pamela Buncum of Fernandina Beach expressed her concern with the increased traffic in the neighborhood of American Beach from Friday through Sunday. She requested the board review the implications of the ordinance.

Just like many homeowners and businesses, the commissioners heard Monday that the county’s insurance premiums are going up. Shaun Woleshin, representing Harden and Associates, told the board there would be an 8% increase in the county’s premium for property and casualty insurance, slated to renew Oct. 1.

While insurance costs are going up, Gil Langley, managing director of the Amelia Island Tourist Development Council, reported to the commissioners that tourist visits so far this year are down 45.1% and spending is down more than half of what it was last year; taxable sales are down 26%; and bed tax revenue is down from $6,598,805 last year to $4,845,722 this year.

Langley mentioned that the TDC is making changes to Dickens on Centre this year to help prevent further spread of the coronavirus. The “holiday lighting program, the décor and window decorating program and the Christmas Wish Tree” will be kept, while “in-person festival, staged entertainment, kid zone, vendors, illuminated procession and fireworks” will be eliminated.

He added that the proposed 2020-21 fiscal year budget for the TDC is $7,832,500 based on $4,750,000 in bed tax collections and $3,225,000 from reserves: $691,125 for administration; $4,719,875 for marketing; $960,750 for trade; $1,460,750 for the beaches; and $142,500 in county administrative fees.

BOCC Chairman Danny Leeper thanked Langley for his work and underlined the importance of tourism to the county.

The BOCC conducted a public hearing to consider the 2020-21 county millage rates and budget. Office of Management and Budget Director Megan K. Diehl said the tentative budget of $266,804,613 presented at the BOCC’s July 27 meeting has been increased $236,583 for a new total of $267,041,193. Diehl said a description of the changes was submitted in a packet.

The bulk of the increase is attributed to 19.5 newly added positions, Diehl explained. They include three in Animal Services, one in Code Enforcement, one in Engineering, three in Facilities Maintenance, 10 in Fire Rescue, a “half-line” position in Library, and one in the Office of Management and Budget. The changes were approved. Diehl then presented the 2020-21 fiscal year millage rates for approval: countywide millage rate – 7.4278, municipal service taxing district millage – 2.3093, recreational water conservation district millage – 0.0000, Amelia Island beach renourishment millage – 0.0960. The total millage for the county’s budget would be 9.8331. The rates were unanimously approved. Finally, Diehl asked for approval to set the final public budget hearing for the adoption of the new budget and millage rates for Sept. 28, which was also approved.

The BOCC also took up the appointment of a new chairman and vice chairman from Nov. 17, 2020 through Dec. 31, 2021. Leeper, who lost his District 1 seat to John Martin in August, will leave office in November. Martin then rose to address the board, saying he believes the incoming commissioners should decide who the leadership is going to be. “So I would ask that you reschedule this vote until the first meeting the three commissioners take their seats,” Martin said.

The board discussed Martin’s concern, after which outgoing Commissioner Justin Taylor made a motion that from the BOCC’s Nov. 18 meeting until the end of 2020, Commissioner Thomas R. Ford would be the chairman and Commissioner Aaron C. Bell would be the vice chairman. The motion was unanimously approved.

After adjourning and convening as the Municipal Service Benefit Unit Governing Board, the commissioners considered and passed a resolution relating to the South Amelia Island Shore Stabilization Municipal Service Benefit Unit, a special tax assessed on some southern Amelia Island property owners to maintain the beaches there.

After reconvening as the BOCC, County Engineer Robert T. Companion discussed rejecting all proposals received in response to a Request For Proposals for engineering design services to make safety improvements from Bay Road to Middle Road on County Road 108. Companion said the Florida Department of Transportation said there were two items that were not included in the RFP, so it needs to be revised and re-advertised.

After approving an interlocal agreement that admits the county as a member of the Florida Government Utility Authority, the BOCC approved a contract with FGUA “for management, operations and maintenance services for the Nassau Amelia Utility Water and Wastewater Utility System” and a lease agreement for vehicle and equipment usage. Nassau Amelia Utilities serves customers in the unincorporated area of the county on the south end of Amelia Island.

Companion presented slides about an application to the state about the future transportation map for the county, “a vision of the future for the road and trail network.” The changes amend the 2030 Nassau County Comprehensive Plan, its transportation and capital improvement elements, and maps.

The BOCC also approved the “Maintenance Assessment Roll for the Amelia Concourse Assessment Area.” The background on this said “A resolution approving the Amelia Concourse MSBU maintenance assessment roll is considered annually. Assessment proceeds are used for various maintenance and operational costs such as landscaping, utilities, and repairs and maintenance to sidewalks, roadway, and irrigation system within the MSBU area. Per Equivalent Residential Unit (ERU) assessment is requested at $45, same amount as prior year.”

The commissioners approved rezoning 1.4 acres on the east side of Russell Road, between Russell Road and Friendly Road, from Residential Single Family-2 (RS-2) to Industrial, Warehouse (IW). Thad Crowe, the county’s director of Planning and Economic Opportunity, presented slides to the board, but there were no questions. They also approved a Final Development Plan for a portion of Parcel A of the Nassau Center Planned Unit Development, allowing for 9,000 square feet of office, retail and storage uses and 12,000 square feet of warehouse uses on the east side of Chester Road, north of David Hallman Parkway.

They continued an agenda item modifying a previously approved PUD for Nassau Crossing filed by Island Education Inc. The item was continued until Sept. 28.

The BOCC also unanimously approved these agenda items: adding Lisa West and William Wiest to the Tourist Development Council board; utilizing $100,000 in TDC funds to sponsor the Amelia Island Museum of History’s “Reimagination of Exhibits”; utilizing $25,000 in TDC funds for the “Fernandina Beach Main Street Environmental Branding Project”; donating $2,000 from the Crime Prevention Trust Fund to Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Nassau County for mentoring at-risk youth; donating $2,000 from the Law Enforcement Trust Fund to the Boy Scouts of America North Florida Council for youth programs; and accepting a $31,486.00 firefighting grant for the purchase of two AeroClave Decontamination Systems.

The BOCC also recognized the members of “Foar From Home” for their efforts in combating and prevention of veteran’s suicide. Leeper read the proclamation. More information can be at their website, www.foarfromhome.com.