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Its Initiative in Flames, Enterprise Flagler Hands Tax-and-Build Plan’s Fate to Tea Party

| September 17, 2010

enterprise flagler's tax-and-build plan

Not a fun game to get into if it's in flames.

“You know,” the character played by William Holden says at one point in “The Towering Inferno,” the kitschy all-star movie of 1974, “there’s nothing that any of us can do to bring back the dead.”

Nobody sitting around the table at the latest Enterprise Flagler meeting on Thursday used the line, at least not in so many words. Nobody needed to. The discussion about Flagler County’s towering inferno—the tax-and-build initiative that still bears Enterprise Flagler’s name, and that will appear on the November 2 ballot—was a reflection of the state of the initiative itself: confusing, aimless, disjointed, dying. There’s nothing any of the people sitting around the table (local government or private industry representatives) could do to bring back the dying thing, especially as some of them had provided the fuel to burn it.

It is the so-called “economic development” tax the local chamber of commerce and Enterprise Flagler are pushing: a $0.25-per-$1,000 property tax that would raise about $2 million a year and would be spent on building industrial and commercial buildings to attract companies big enough to fill them, and supposedly provide jobs. The proposal was flammable the moment it made its debut as a vague but hopeful idea before the Palm Coast City Council last May. By the time the actual proposal was unveiled as a slightly less vague outline and website last month, it was already mostly cinders, politically anyway, as none of the county’s governments—not even a single one of its elected representatives—proved willing to support it publicly.

The best Enterprise Flagler got by way of an endorsement from an elected official was that of Nate McLaughlin, the county commissioner-elect, who happens to be jobless and the product of two bankruptcies. Palm Coast’s elected officials haven’t been willing to support it because the tax revenue clearly would be controlled by the county, with little to no guarantee that Palm Coast would see a dime.

Still, the initiative’s diehard champions (the attorney Mike Chiumento III and Prosperity Bank’s Garry Lubi) will attempt to give the initiative some CPR one more time—and let the Flagler County Tea Party Group decide its fate.

At the tea party group’s next meeting at 6 p.m. at the Flagler Palm Coast High School Bulldog Café (it’s open to the public), 35 minutes will be devoted to the tax-and-build initiative. Representatives from Enterprise Flagler will make their case in 15 minutes. They’ll be followed by the tea party’s Vince Ligouri, who’ll speak against it. (Ligouri has been claiming that he only speaks for himself, not for the tea party, but that’s like Derek Jeter claiming he doesn’t represent the Yankees when he endorses a product: it may be technically true, but not essentially so.) Ligouri is more supportive of a half-cent sales tax increase to do the same thing the tax-and-build plan would do, but with twice the revenue, so that it can be split between Palm Coast and the county (and be more politically palatable to both).

After the two presentations, each side will have two minutes for rebuttals, then they’ll take questions.

Then comes the key part: The tea party group will hold a straw ballot on the initiative, and will announce the results by the end of the meeting. “I think that’ll be helpful to both sides,” says Tom Lawrence, who chairs the group. Based on previous tea party meetings, expect upwards of 200 people to participate.

That’s not where it’ll end for the tax-and-build initiative. Thursday’s discussion around the Enterprise Flagler table meandered, but that’s because the tax’s advocates are looking for a face-saving way to get out from the fire. By holding a vote at the tea party gathering—a vote likely to spell the initiative’s defeat—the initiative’s advocates will have data to go on to make their next move. If the defeat in the straw poll is severe, they’ll go to the County Commission and ask for the initiative to be pulled from the ballot. That’s no longer possible, of course: the ballots are being printed. But they’ll ask for the vote not to be counted. Or for the vote not to count as such.

If that sounds confusing, and obtuse, and embarrassing for the political process, it’s because it is—as the handling of the initiative has been almost from the start (which explains its bedraggled fate). One of Enterprise Flagler’s alternative plans will be to then float the initiative again as a half-penny sales tax increase in a special election sometime next spring.

Enterprise Flagler is in a desperate mode to find a way out of the initiative as a way to salvage its future plans, but the damage, however, has already been done in voters’ mind regardless of the outcome. Just as Palm Coast’s ill-fated referendum on a city hall tax initiative failed in 2003 (a tax initiative Tom Lawrence, not so incidentally, championed), severely damaging subsequent attempts to build a city hall without incurring residents’ wrath, so too will the tax-and-build initiative severely damage subsequent attempts to float economic development initiatives—whether those initiatives are floated by Palm Coast or by the county.

Going to the tea party group and essentially handing it the reins of the initiative’s fate raises other tactically suspect issues: by putting the initiative to a straw-ballot’s test at the tea party, Enterprise Flagler—ostensibly a collection of government representatives, not just private business—is emboldening the tea party group’s litmus-testing of public policy.

That’s fine with Lawrence: “I’m pleased that we represent broad swaths of this community, and I mean broad swaths in terms of numbers of people and parties,” he said, “so I’m glad that the powers that be are listening to us, because you look at our values, what we’re trying to do is instill our values into all the candidates.” But it isn’t likely to sit well with a majority of voters that does not identify with the comparatively rigid orthodoxy of tea party doctrine. (Lawrence concedes that “what we’re missing obviously are the younger portion of the community, and one of our wishes is that we can get more of the young voters to come to our meetings.”)

Tactical errors have bedeviled the tax-and-build initiative from its beginnings. Getting out from the fire  with the tea party’s blessing is only the latest. When it comes to Enterprise Flagler, the most applicable line from “Towering Inferno” is the one Paul Newman’s character speaks so well to Holden’s: “Don’t you think you’re suffering from an edifice complex?”

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16 Responses for “Its Initiative in Flames, Enterprise Flagler Hands Tax-and-Build Plan’s Fate to Tea Party”

  1. George says:

    The fact that Tom Lawrence is a board member of the chamber and Tea Party chair is very unsettling to me.

  2. Marie C says:

    Another tactical error on the part of Enterprise Flagler is their embracing of the Tea Party. I will NEVER support another initiative from this group now.

  3. Justice for All says:

    The fundamental question that is being ignored by our politicians is why have this tax? I’d rather vote this down and vote yes for continuing the School Board’s tax. And I’m certainly not going to vote for a sales tax increase nor do I want my elected officials to do so………..

  4. Ky Ekinci says:

    It is my understanding that the alternative, the Sales Tax increase, does not require any citizen approval (a vote or a referendum). It is within the County Commission’s power to implement the increased sales tax.

    The way things are going, we seem to be heading in that direction.

    If the Flagler County Commissioners implement the 0.5% sales tax increase, it is uncertain how much of those funds will actually be allocated to Enterprise Flagler, though their current project, aka “the game plan” is likely to be funded one way or another.

    The question is: Is the opposition to the “new game plan” because of the current funding method (ad velorem taxes); or does it mean lack of support, a vote of no confidence by the community for the “new game plan” itself?

    When do you accept what the community says?

  5. FlaglerLive says:

    Ky, the county commission could approve a sales tax increase by a super-majority vote (at least four of the five), but if it did, the money could not be used to finance bonds. For that, the measure has to be approved by voters.

  6. Dave J says:

    Don’t they read this site? We don’t want any more jobs. More jobs means more traffic. We are happy the way things are; I came here to play golf and avoid the snow. Thank god for this site; to give us, the majority, a voice. Pierre keep watching them. If not for you and us this tax plan would probably pass. This is a retirement community we don’t NEED jobs! And we don’t need a city hall, but that is another rant.

  7. SAW says:

    The most important item on our next ballot as long as I can remember, will be that of Amendment # 4 please VOTE YES, and help us to protect our beautiful state from further abuse by “greedy” developers.

    These large developers are currently putting together a massive war chest of millions of dollars, in order to fight the Hometown Democracy vote.

    Do not be fooled by their TV blitz which will soon open up, they fully realize that amendment is their worst nightmare, as they would much rather convince just three commissioners to get their way, than you the residents.

    VOTE YES ON 4 *** (What side does the Tea Party take on that issue ? )

  8. wsh302 says:

    it’s too late dave j , look at all the schools that went up in the last several years. there are a lot of young people here , it did not turn out to be what IT&T planned on it being

  9. rickg says:

    Wow, how desparate do you have to be to put your fate into the hands of the tea baggers???

  10. Larry says:

    if it’s not pro-business the tea baggers will be opposed hence the love affair with the chamber tom lawrence tea party chair is also chamber board member

  11. Charlie says:

    I’m hoping that at least all of us agree, that doing something to create jobs in Flagler County, is our objective. There is no other option being presented, to help our situation. Let’s make it known, that the sales tax option will cost each one of us, MORE money, infact double, than the Enterprise Flagler option. Right now, the EF option is a quarter mil ,based upon the assessed value of our home. In most cases, that will be about $25-$30/ year. The sales tax is unlimited, and is expected to raise about $3.8 million/year double, the EF option. Just who do you think will pay that? The residents will mostly… Mr. Laguori, tries to tell residents, that many others, (visitors) will help pay, the tax, NOT TRUE. the largest percentage of the tax will be borne by the residents. With the sales tax at one-half a cent additional, it will only take, $5,000/year of taxable purchases, to get $25 more out of our pockets. Let’s remember that most of our utilities, gasoline, car leases, and retail purchases,etc, are subject to the sales tax. So, if you spent $10,000 annually on purchases, you will pay an additional $50/year. Also, EF says they can get us economic development for $1.8 million/year , why then give them $3.8 million???…But don’t be fooled by Mr. Logouri,…. he has a motive for his speaking out…I just have a gut feeling, that with all of his “politixing”, during the elections he might be interested in a job down the road.. Perhaps, Mr. Netts should be nervous??

  12. Robert says:

    The citizens won’t be in a position to vote for or against a sales tax if the Flagler county administrator is able to make an end run around the tax referendum with his sales tax proposal.
    Let us see the positions of the county commissioners on the sales tax proposal.

  13. Ben D says:

    Laguori has told many people that he will run against Netts. This is all about him getting his name out there.

  14. Barney Smythe says:

    wsh302 says:
    September 18, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    it’s too late dave j , look at all the schools that went up in the last several years. there are a lot of young people here , it did not turn out to be what IT&T planned on it being

    That’s because the children of the retirees have come to live with mom and dad and brought their kids with them!

  15. Merrill says:

    Rather than plant another spec building, a rather quaint 20th century idea, here’s what Chattanooga, TN is doing to attract business–the kind of business we need here in Flagler County:

    WSB News

    Chattanooga: Super Fast Internet Service
    By Chris Camp @ September 14, 2010 3:32 AM
    CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) Chattanooga’s city-owned electrical utility has started offering an Internet service that is among the fastest in the world, and it is hoping the move will attract businesses looking to relocate.

    The Chattanooga Electric Power Board’s new Fiber Optics network will provide a 1 gigabit-per-second Internet service. The utility said the service is more than 200 times faster than the average national download speed today.

    At a cost of $350 a month, it’s also much more expensive than the typical residential plan. Harold DePriest, the Chattanooga Electric Power Board’s president and CEO, said residential customers don’t really need that fast a service, but businesses might.

    He said the high-speed service won’t be costly for EPB to operate, yet it should put the Chattanooga community at the forefront of attracting businesses possibly Internet providers that can benefit from having it.

    “Chattanooga represents the next frontier in communications technology, with limitless potential for new applications for education, entertainment, health care, industrial development and more,” DePriest said in a statement.

    The Chattanooga utility is working with telecom equipment maker Alcatel-Lucent SA on the project.

    DePriest said the fast Internet service is immediately available.

    DePriest said providing the high-speed Internet service is part of the utility’s $37 million fiber-optic network venture.

  16. Dave J says:

    They have the fiber here already; it launched this year

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