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Enterprise Flagler’s Tax-and-Build Plan Bombs as Tea Party Wags a Big No

| September 21, 2010

greg rawls gary lubi prosperity bank mike chiumento iii

Champions of a lost cause: From left, Enterprise Flagler's Greg Rawls, Garry Lubi and Mike Chiumento III. Recognizing the liability, not a single elected official has publicly spoken in favor of the tax-and-build plan. (© FlaglerLive)

It was another impressively attended meeting of the Flagler County Tea Party Group Tuesday evening. More than 250 people filled Flagler Palm Coast high School’s Dog House Café, including political candidates trolling for votes (among them John Fischer, the local school board candidate, and Joe Horrox, running for circuit judge). The main attraction was the debate over the so-called “economic development tax”—Enterprise Flagler’s hobbling tax-and-build plan that would levy a tax on property owners and use $2 million a year in revenue to build industrial buildings that might attract businesses to the county.

The debate featured Enterprise Flagler’s Michael Chiumento III and Greg Rawls against the tea party’s Vince Liguori, the activist who’d rather see the county commission approve a sales tax and split twice the revenue between the county and the cities. (Enterprise Flagler’s proposal would have its revenue administered by the county.)

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The evening was to end with a straw ballot on the issue, giving Enterprise Flagler a sense of how well, or how badly, its measure was doing ahead of the November 2 referendum. Enterprise Flagler opted for that straw-ballot route at its meeting last week, and Tom Lawrence, the local tea party chairman, agreed.

But there was no vote. Just before the meeting at the high school, Lawrence said the voting was canceled. After talking about it last week, Lawrence said, he received a lot of “feedback” suggesting that a vote ran against the tea party’s intention to steer clear of endorsements.

Not that a vote was necessary to know where the tea party crowds stood, or rather sat, on the issue: when Chiumento and Rawls made their presentations, the silence was polite, the applause absent, the gray congregation approximating nap time.  When Liguori spoke, life returned to the congregants, Liguori was interrupted several times with applause, and during the Q&A afterward, the only times the crowd erupted was in opposition to the Enterprise Flagler plan—on every count: there was displeasure over the plan’s vagueness, over the exclusion of the public, over the absence of proof that building a structure would attract anyone. What, in sum, have become the usual plaints against a plan that’s never made it out of the neonatal intensive care unit.

“If you build this building, they will come?” one woman asked, to laughter.

“Companies put together a five-year plan. They don’t come down to your county and say I need a building, and I need it right now,” Bill McGuire, a retired executive, said.  “What we’re all about and what we should be about is tourism,” not building BMWs, he added.

“This is not only about building a facility and hoping that somebody comes,” Chiumento said, describing the building component as “the farthest thing from the truth.” Rather, he said, it’s about recalibrating the local economy, the local workforce included, and helping local businesses stay here. Again, however, it’s unclear how the small amount of money the tax would raise would achieve all that, legally or financially: the measure sets out, precisely, the proportions that must be spent on infrastructure exclusively (60 percent) as opposed to marketing (up to 10 percent) and  tax incentives (up to 30 percent).

Still, it was a stoic performance for Rawls and Chiumento–Chiumento especially. He’s been the face of the economic development tax. He’s also a lawyer trained to read juries. This one was an open, large-print book.

There was plenty of doubt over local government planning of the commercial economy, too. Liguori mentioned three developments and developers that got the crowd’s disapproving recognition:  Ginn, European Village and City Walk. “Somebody is not doing their proper planning, are they,” Liguori said.

The question-and-answer period ran longer than the two sides’ presentations. More than a dozen people asked questions or made comments. Virtually no one spoke in favor of Enterprise Flagler or its plan, or asked questions that indicated more than skepticism. Most spoke approvingly of the notion of economic development, but not the type the Enterprise Flagler measure was putting forward. The notion that people were there to educate themselves on the issue was put to rest. Minds are not in flux at tea party meetings, where people gather to revel in their mutual certainties, not to explore ideas.

“I’m not going to pay one cent more on my property taxes,” one woman said, claiming the Q&A microphone for what seemed like an entire presentation of her own. “I’m sick and tired of people coming to me to take my property tax, that ain’t going to happen to me.” She was roundly applauded. Tea party meetings, of course, are not much concerned with fact, either, especially the sort of facts that contradict their mythology.

The applauded woman was Anne Martone, who’s also complained to the Palm Coast City Council about taxes. You’d never know that her taxes have gone down each of the last four years, and will go down again this year. She paid $1,404 in taxes in 2006, when her house was valued at $114,000. She was down to paying $957 this year, with her house value down to $94,000. In 2010 she’ll be paying taxes on just $31,000, so her property taxes will most likely fall again even as the the county tax rate will rise, and would likely fall even if the “economic development” tax was tacked on.

Precision and transparency, however, as Enterprise Flagler itself is learning, doesn’t score as high as sloganeering.

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25 Responses for “Enterprise Flagler’s Tax-and-Build Plan Bombs as Tea Party Wags a Big No”

  1. George says:

    Attract a Green tech company, offer incentives, subsidies, etc. to retrain the current out-of-work workforce (i.e. construction workers, tradesmen, etc.), that’s what Flagler County needs. China is investing heavily in green tech and they are now reaping the rewards as a result, they are leading the U.S. in this endeavor.


  2. Fred Macfee says:

    Both speakers seemed to agree that funding economic development was a critical need. If is is so critical why have our county and city governments only contributed a token amount to this effort?

    It was also stated that individuals receive services worth $1.34 for every tax dollar paid; business receives only $.28. Don’t you think businesses know this? Do you suppose that is the reason businesses aren’t attracted to our area?

    I am voiting no on this measure. This seems to me to be giving a big checking account to the same powers that got us where we are today.


  3. Fed Up says:

    After all these years and you still don’t understand how government functions do you?
    Once elected the first priority is to get re-elected and spending every tax dollars that comes in plus is sop>>>they never start with zero and build a budget…they begin with last years amount and go up….and then make sure they spend every dollar in thier budget before the end of the budget year so they can justify next years increase regardless if they need it or not…


  4. John Inc says:

    Here’s a suggestion for reducing unemployment in Flagler County: FOCUS ON SMALL BUSINESS. I have been saying this for over two years – no one is listening… except maybe the Kaufman Foundation who published this:
    Small business is the key to reducing unemployment. Moreover, where small business succeeds, big business will follow. It’s all about reaching out to small business, finding ways to assist them and their success, and provinding access to meaningful education. Flagler County had the means for forming a Small Buisiness Advisory Council – they repealed it despite my urging exactly the opposite (Section 1 of Ord. No. 2010-06, adopted March 1, 2010, repealed Div. 4 in its entirety. Former Div. 4 pertained to the small business council). Only one commissioner gave it any thought, but she pushed it off to the Chamber. I spoke with the Chamber about forming an advisory Board, only to find that they were more interested in my becoming a Chamber member than going forward in a meanginful way with this idea. Odly, I am a member of the Chamber but was not recognized as such at my meeting. The leadership of this country is obviously lost on the issues of building business and reducing unemployment – if they were not, we would not be in the situation that we are now. And moreover, they seem less interested in accepting help to make things better – if they were then at least one of the people that I contacted in Palm Coast administration, County COmmissioners, or the Chamber would have taken me seriously.


  5. John Inc says:

    I meant county not country in my post.


  6. Tim M says:

    Looks like the chamber and enterprise do help local businesses. Half of the projects they worked on were helping local businesses expand ( I think it would be goofy to say the Chamber and enterprise do not care about local businesses, but maybe I am wrong.


  7. John Inc says:

    Just so everyone understands: a retail based economy is a downward spiral – the retailers must always pay out less than they take in to survive; a “big business” economy means businesses must always pay out of town financial interests (Walmart must pay its home base, etc.); and giving away manufacturing facilities is a guaranteed expenditure of taxpayer funds but no guarantee of jobs.

    We know that development of a Free Trade Zone (of which an area of Flagler has been designated) has been shown to dramatically increase the flow of money in an area – just ask Dade County, whose western region (Kendall and Doral) expanded faster than their infrastructure could handle as a result of the surprising level of economic activity, due in part to their free trade zone. Didn’t you know we have a free trade zone waiting to be made active and developed right here in Flagler? Probably not because the efforts to make that happen seem to be in the back burner rather than the fore.

    So there’s two big and plausible ideas given to you in one day to decrease unemployment and increase jobs in our area. Let it not be said that we are complainers without solid ideas. If only the powers that be will stop thinking of themselves as the answer and accept assistance from the local talent, we might actually have some improvements around here.

    And that “” – its a great example of wind without a melody. We should fire Enterprise Flagler and hire the web designer – if they can make nothing look that good, they could probably get some business into our area.


  8. Layla Hansen says:

    To those of you who missed this forum, it was great. This local citizen learned a lot about what Enterprise Flager is trying to do and I learned even more about local and county taxes. Congratulations to all for putting this on. Have not seen anything else like it in the county.

    I don’t understand the personal attacks against the local TEA Party. They at least are attempting to get involved and do something about our situation. How many others can say the same?

    Thanks for covering this. I’ll stick with the Tea Party.


  9. George says:

    @ local teabaggers: could you communicate to your national tea party counterparts to take the time to inform themselves as well?


  10. Sammy says:

    Ive got some good party ideas from this. Halloween is going be a scary one! Thank you


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