County extends its state of emergency

  • The Nassau County Board of County Commissioners met Wednesday via videoconferencing technology. Office of Management & Budget Director Megan Diehl can be seen in the lower right. PEG DAVIS/NEWS-LEADER
    The Nassau County Board of County Commissioners met Wednesday via videoconferencing technology. Office of Management & Budget Director Megan Diehl can be seen in the lower right. PEG DAVIS/NEWS-LEADER

On the same day the head of the county health department told the Nassau County Board of County Commissioners there were 81 total cases of COVID-19 virus in the county, with new cases not related to “anything other than normal activity,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the state is moving to Phase 2 of his plan to carefully reopen businesses and allow additional public activities.

At a special meeting held Wednesday, Dr. Eugenia Ngo-Seidel also told the commissioners she recommended that youth sport leagues considering the resumption of play follow all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Ngo-Seidel also mentioned there would be additional mobile coronavirus testing in the county this week. Later in the day, two posts on Facebook said the testing would take place Thursday at Yulee Middle School at 85439 Miner Road in Yulee and Saturday, June 6, at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center at 1200 Elm St. in Fernandina Beach. “Tests will be conducted via drive through and are open to everyone. This is on a first come, first served basis. Fifty tests are available. BRING SOME FORM OF ID. Anyone receiving a Hepatitis A vaccine will receive a $10 food voucher,” the notice says.

The special meeting was called to consider extending the county’s state of emergency for another week, which the BOCC did.

In his report to the board, Emergency Management Director Greg Foster said more tests are coming from the Florida Division of Emergency Management along with personal protective equipment, though later he said he was having trouble finding gowns, Clorox wipes, and masks. Foster also said he had found a place for long-term storage of the PPE. He told the commissioners he is working on plans to find more hurricane shelter space because of the extra room that will be needed for people to follow CDC social distancing guidance.

Referring to “civil unrest,” Foster said Nassau County EM is “monitoring the trends.”

“We have plans in place to protect lives and property in Nassau County,” Foster added.

Consent items unanimously approved at the meeting included the final plat for Amelia Concourse Phase III, Unit A, dividing 30.11 acres into 31 quarter-acre single family lots and five tracts. The staff recommended approval. A public hearing was set for July 16 to amend the Impact Fee Ordinance and repeal and replace “Fire Rescue, Law Enforcement and Administrative Facilities Impact Fees,” and Chairman Danny Leeper was authorized to sign a CERT/Citizen’s Corps contract amendment extending it through Aug. 30.

County Manager and Attorney Mike Mullin told the board the departmental budgeting process is in full swing, referring to it as “an ongoing process. ... A lot of the numbers are changing.”

Management & Budget Director Megan Diehl said she has received the preliminary taxable property values from the Nassau County Property Appraiser’s Office, and her number one priority for this budget cycle is to increase the transparency of the planning process.

Diehl is looking at a “range of millage rates” to present to the board, including a “blended rate.” She said her office is currently collecting information on capital improvements and fleet replacement.

“Our job is to give you all the options,” Mullin added, saying he wants the public to understand the board stays out of the day-to-day management of the county’s budget.

Assistant County Manager Taco Pope encouraged the public to attend a workshop scheduled for 5 p.m. June 8, when Dr. David Barth will present findings from an “Existing Conditions and Needs Assessment,” part of a long-range master plan for parks, recreation, and open spaces in the entire county. The workshop meeting will be held in Commission Chambers, located at 96135 Nassau Place in Yulee.

In his remarks to the board, Leeper again expressed his frustration that local governments are not being given more of the state’s allocation of funds from the federal CARES Act, but added there is “some movement from the governor – maybe.” He also stressed, “We know what’s best for our county.”

Commissioner Pat Edwards said he is concerned about businesses reopening and mentioned the health department’s 2% presumed positive rate of coronavirus infection in county residents.

Commissioner Aaron Bell spoke about “rioting” in cities across the country saying the county “can handle what comes our way.”

Commissioner Justin Taylor said he had a conversation with state Sen. Aaron Bean regarding the CARES Act funds to help local businesses.

Mullin followed up with information that he is changing an emergency order so that hotels, inns, and short-term rental units in the county are required to only report on guests from the “tri-state” hot spots for cases of COVID-19 plus Louisiana. The tri-state area he referred to is New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

Gil Langley, managing director of the Amelia Island Tourist Development Council and president and CEO of the Amelia Island Convention & Visitors Bureau, rose from the audience to tell the board the TDC is preparing to spend $800,000 on a new advertising program that shifts focus to a “volume game” to attract visitors. Langley also mentioned a donation to the Barnabas Center nonprofit, where he said about 80% of the donation went to help furloughed hospitality workers.

Leeper concluded the meeting by saying the county is learning, “unfortunately,” how dependent it is on tourism.