Letter: To know where we are, we need facts
St Augustine, FL
There is no question that our City is a magical place—and each one of us has their own view of what makes it special and unique. The historic buildings, the sun on the water, the carriages, each neighborhood with its own character, continue to draw visitors and delight those of us who are lucky enough to live here.
As residents, we each have the responsibility to take the best possible care of our City, so that it remains the extraordinary place it is, and is a livable City for all of us now and those who come after us.
So how can we best do that? We can start with real understanding of where we are as City. We have a Vision process underway, and the Commission recently had a budget strategy session, the traffic and parking committee met for the first time in a year. The trouble is none of these groups and none of us residents know very much about the true state of our City, so we are all working in the dark.
A few examples:
• Traffic is overwhelming us but we don’t know much about what the cause is—People driving through on the way to beach? Day visitors from the rapidly growing county or from Jacksonville? We have studies that provide some guidance, but they are sitting on the shelf.
• For years the City has been saying that businesses contribute the lion’s share of tax revenue. Actually residents contribute over two thirds of real estate tax revenue, so we’ve been making decisions on running the City based on the wrong information.
• We don’t know the true state of our 66 miles streets. They haven’t been assessed in over ten years and if only 20% need serious attention, that’s about $25 million we haven’t planned for.
• We don’t have an accurate picture of the number of visitors to our City—guesses range from 1.5 to 6 million—but only about 600K visit the Castillo.
• Although we say we are a tourist based economy, we don’t know the cost or benefit of the visitors to our City. The last time we had a cost number—over ten years ago, the cost was $1.6 million
• We know the number of residents who live here, but we don’t have an inventory of the number and types of businesses we have.
• For the first time ever, the City is working on a long range Capital Plan—which is a good thing, but without actually knowing what we need, it will just be based on a best guess or pet projects.
We can do better. With solid information about where we are, we can all work together to make the right plans, and smarter decisions about our hometown. What makes us the Oldest City is not our buildings—it’s that we have been a community where people lived and worked for closing in on 450 years. And it’s ours to take care of in the best way we can.
But we need the real facts to do that.