Faced with a debate on a possible bond issuance, the Fernandina Beach City Commission has decided not to make a decision.
“I would like to delay consideration of the motion until the next meeting,” Commissioner Chip Ross said following 40 minutes of discussion, “for everybody to go home and think about what we’ve talked about, and talk to whoever you talk to about these things.”
He later added, “Think about it over the next two weeks, and I would like to come (back and) we could agree on something to bring to the voters to pay for at least one of these projects. A bond is a way to pay for one of these projects. All of these things are big amounts of money, some of them more than others.”
Projects priced out and included with the bond resolution involved shoreline resiliency and downtown revitalization. The waterfront stabilization project is estimated to cost north of $15.8 million, but that may be a soft estimate, according to discussions among Commissioners.
“Critical components of the construction phases of the project will,” according to Exhibit A of the resolution, “involve resolution of the Brett’s Waterway Cafe location and the adjustment of the resiliency wall to accommodate the exclusion of the Simmons property north of (city) parking lot A.”
Downtown revitalization, which also drew some support from Commissioners, would involve “sidewalk replacement and upgrade, new landscaping and irrigation, lighting, street resurfacing, new signage, and utility upgrades” in the area from Front to 8th streets and Ash to Alachua streets. It has an estimated cost of more than $16.9 million.
Neither city resident who spoke to the Commission was friendly to the idea of a new bond. Mike Sharpe said he couldn’t get clear answers from City Manager Dale Martin on bond questions.
“How can you even consider recommending a (general obligation) bond without knowing the consequences to your constituents?” Sharpe said. “The few thousand residents here cannot afford to continue to bear the cost of all the infrastructure for the hundreds of thousands of nonresidents and visitors here every year? There are other ways to raise revenue from these people without taxing your residents to death.”
Another resident, Nina West, said she was concerned about higher taxes, along with a lack of information about why they’re necessary.
“I don’t think we’ve had town meetings explaining what-all is going to go into this bond, and is it good for the residents?” West said. “And, could we ask more detailed questions? But the only questionnaire I got is, ‘How you want to pay for it?’”
All Commissioners agreed previously, Mayor Mike Lednovich said, that any bond offering would need their unanimous support. Between the projects offered and Commissioners’ feelings about both the individual projects and bonds generally, there wasn’t going to be unanimous support on any one of the projects.
“I see the biggest reason that we’re getting a bond is because we paid off the last one last year,” Commissioner Bradley Bean said. “That’s the biggest exciting factor for us to do a bond, and that would be OK — because again, that’s not inherently bad — if there is a good project, one that is ideal.”
It would need to be like the Egan’s Greenway on the island, in terms of both commitment and impact.
“I agree that resiliency is a worthy goal,” Bean said. “I don’t think that is a visible enough project for a bond like this. I don’t think the people would be happy to do that.”