At Flagler Beach Commission’s Goal-Setting, Grim Numbers, Limited Possibilities
FlaglerLive | May 5, 2011
The Flagler Beach City Commission held a five-hour goal-setting session on Thursday. A clear, tangible goal that would affect residents directly: an attempt to capitalize more on Flagler Beach as a special events destination, and to raise more money through those events’ fees.
“Flagler Beach is the best bargain in town because if you go to Palm Coast, it’s going to cost you a lot more than if you do an event in Flagler Beach,” said Nancy Carlton, the consultant the commissioners chose to moderate the session (for $600, which covers the session itself and the subsequent report, a modest sum compared to the fees moderators generally cjharge for goal-setting sessions: the moderator the combined Flagler governments chose to moderate their economic development summit was more than $7,000 a day.)
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The city is scrambling for new revenue because it’s facing a dire financial cliff. Acting City Manager Bruce Campbell briefed the commission on the consequences of the city’s property valuations falling 17 percent in the past year. That translates to a loss of $465,000 in property tax revenue, out of $2.3 million generated by property taxes this year. That’s a very large drop. (The general fund, which also generates dollars through fees and charges for service, stood at $4.9 million at the beginning of the year, including reserves.)
Last year, the drop in values cost the city $320,000 in property tax revenues. The city made that up by raising tax rates enough to generate the same amount of dollars. But if the city were to do that again this year, the property tax rate would have to increase a full millage point (that is, a full $1 per $1,000 in taxable value), from 4.2 mills to 5.2 mills.
That’s not including the losses incurred in the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency fund, the separate property tax generated through the CRA district–the downtown redevelopment district where all property taxes above a certain baseline are restricted, and reinvested, within that district. The CRA is losing $90,000. Last year the CRA generated $186,000. So the CRA is essentially losing half its revenue.
With those numbers in mind, the commissioners delved into their goal-setting. They couldn’t do very much, given the limitations.
As in previous years, the general goals aren’t changing: the focus is on economic development, growth management—not that there’s been much growth to speak of for the past couple of years—infrastructure, internal administrative issues and the usual fiscal matters: how to raise more money, how to spend less. The idea was to narrow the goals to what is realistic, as opposed to wished for, given the environment.
Looking at special event revenue was the closest thing to a solid idea, though the money generated from special events cannot make up for any substantial loss, assuming that there is new money to be found in special events: the competitive environment for such events between cities is only getting more intense, and there is such a thing as too many events, particularly if the clientele for the events is the same.
There are also potential cost savings. The administration summed up the cost-savings of the previous 12 months: eliminating the city manager’s car allowance saved $7,200. Eliminating a secretary for the city clerk saved $24,800. The water plant’s piggy-backing on Palm Coast contracts for chemicals and services saved an estimated $20,000. The city also counted as a savings the repair to a dump truck, as opposed to buying a new one, a $25,000 saving, although repairing older equipment is presumably standard procedure in government and business. But those one-time savings are difficult to replicate.
Consolidation of services, such as consolidating the city’s fire department or its police department, was not a point of discussion, let alone a goal, though there are rumbles elsewhere in the county about just such possibilities.
Commissioners are also interested in ranking all existing ordinances for review, a daunting process considering the amount of time a single ordinance review can take–in some cases, years. Commissioners would like to increase the number of commercial businesses beyond the core downtown area, including on State Road A1A. But they know their role is limited. “As much as it’s wonderful to say we want more businesses on A1A,” Commissioner Jane Mealy said, “we don’t have a lot of control over that.” They’re also interested in possibly hiring a legislative lobbyist, but that’s for a future discussion.
Commissioners would like to make a decision on the future of the Pier Restaurant. They’ve already approved a first reading of an ordinance that would seal a deal with restaurateur Ray Barshay, who’d take over the bedraggled restaurant, invest in it heavily and remake it into an American cuisine destination. Barshay would have a long-term lease. But the city has yet to approve the ordinance on a second and final reading.
No decisions were taken today. The point of the session was to brain-storm and prepare a list of goals. “All of this has to go back to have action plans done and really flush it out,” Carlton, who’ll be summarizing the plan over the next 24 hours, said.
The session was not held at the usual commission chambers at city hall, but in the conference room of the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce on State Road 100. Commissioners weren’t trying to evade their city so much as have a place where they could share the same , ample table with their staff. The session was held workshop-style, informally, with staffers and commissioners exchanging ideas in a much looser format than meetings conducted formally by Commission Chairman John Feind–who wore a Hawaiian shirt rather than his usual meeting suit and tie.