OHPA passes new budget

  • Ocean Highway and Port Authority Commissioner Scott Hanna suggested cutting commissioner salaries to address an $18,000 deficit in the port’s 2020-21 budget, but the idea was shot down by fellow commissioners. JULIA ROBERTS/NEWS-LEADER
    Ocean Highway and Port Authority Commissioner Scott Hanna suggested cutting commissioner salaries to address an $18,000 deficit in the port’s 2020-21 budget, but the idea was shot down by fellow commissioners. JULIA ROBERTS/NEWS-LEADER

Despite one member’s suggestion to reconsider a combined $32,500 increase in commissioners’ salaries, the Ocean Highway and Port Authority passed a proposed budget that uses carry-over funds to cover their fiscal year 2020-21 budget’s $18,340 deficit.

The new budget was presented to the OHPA commission at its Sept. 9 meeting. As presented, it left the port $15,340 in the red, but OHPA Chairman Danny Fullwood added a $3,000 contribution to the Nassau County Economic Development Board, creating the higher deficit figure.

The budget called for proposed port revenues of $255,360 and expenses of $270,700 before the contribution to the NCEDB was added.

Pierre LaPorte, the port’s accountant, said that there are funds that will carry forward from the 2019-20 fiscal year to fund the shortfall, “but, obviously at some point those funds will run out, but for the next year or two, we have the funds to fund those debts.”

Commissioner Scott Hanna broached the subject of commissioner salaries, which the commission raised this year from $17,500 per year per commissioner to $24,000, or a combined $87,500 for five commissioners increased to $120,000.

“I’m going to put it out there like I did last year,” Hanna said about his suggestion to cut each commissioner’s salary by $500 per month, resulting in a combined savings of $2,500 per month and $30,000 per year.

Fullwood said that the budget has the money to cover the salaries, using the carry forward fund, and that he believes the salaries should stay at the $120,000 combined figure.

Commissioner Bob Sturgess, who recently lost his bid for re-election to attorney Miriam Hill, told Hanna that he could individually take his own proposed pay cut.

“We’d be happy to allow you to take less salary, since you are so committed to that,” Sturgess told Hanna. “I don’t think the board has to make every commissioner make the same amount of money.”

“If I’m the only one doing it, it’s not going to affect what’s going on, Bob,” Hanna replied. “If we are to help with $30,000 for the deficit … in my opinion, I don’t see why we can’t, as a whole, move forward. We keep putting ourselves in a negative area. I just feel we put ourselves behind the eight ball for something that we don’t need to be behind the eight ball for. It doesn’t hurt to try to be ahead of something, that’s all.”

“I just wanted to be sure we weren’t forcing you to do something you aren’t comfortable with,” Sturgess responded.

Fullwood, who won his bid for reelection in August, said the reduction of one commissioner’s salary would not make a difference and that he is “not willing to reduce everybody’s at this point.”

Fullwood said the reason he wants to give $3,000 to the county’s Economic Development Board is to help maintain OHPA’s relationship with that board, although he expressed concerns that “they haven’t provided us with any business, but I’m willing to give them another year to do something.” He added he hopes that with a new chairman the board will be able to create business for the port.

Commissioner Carrol Franklin noted that the expenditure for the Florida Ports Council went up from $15,500 to $20,500. The commission agreed to cut that back to $15,500.

With the addition of $3,000 to the EDB and reduction of $5,000 to the Ports Council, the budget was passed on first reading. It will be formerly adopted at OHPA’s October meeting.

Port Director and Worldwide Terminals Fernandina CEO Chris Ragucci told the commission he attended Florida Seaport Transportation and Economic Development Council meeting during which the Port of Fernandina was awarded $201,000 in funding out of $7.5 million for which the port applied.

“We expressed our disappointment and frustration with that figure,” Ragucci said. “It’s not a transparent process (regarding) what, if any, criteria is used to allocate that money.”

He added the council has $25 million in funds to allocate and that it “somehow skews to the larger ports,” with the top five ports receiving roughly $4 million each.

Ragucci also reported the Fernandina port received a virtual visit from Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Kevin J. Thibault that could result in the port receiving additional funding from FDOT.

Ragucci presented the port’s August tonnage report, which was down by 600 tons compared to July but still represents an increase of 27,000 tons compared to last year’s year-to-date tonnage.

Ragucci also reported a fabric building to be used as a warehouse will be delivered to the port by Sept. 28 and erected within 10-12 days after that. OHPA approved the building over the objections of Fernandina Beach City Commissioner Chip Ross, who also serves as the city’s liaison to OHPA. Ross said the tent-like structure would require approval from the city’s Building Department, but OHPA commissioners contend the authority’s charter says it can install the building without the city’s approval.