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Another Budget Grilling By Commission Puts Clerk of Court Gail Wadsworth on Defensive

| July 11, 2011

Clerk of Court Gail Wadsworth had an uncomfortable morning with the County Commission. (© FlaglerLive)

Clerk of Court Gail Wadsworth had an uncomfortable morning with the County Commission. (© FlaglerLive)

For the second straight year, Flagler County Clerk of Court Gail Wadsworth’s presentation of her annual budget to the County Commission took on shades of an inquisition, and provoked a politely resentful reaction from the clerk, who put it plainly to commissioners: “I would think sometimes at these meetings you would say, thank you, Gail.”

Like other constitutional officers, Wadsworth has to submit her budget for review to the commission, whose responsibility it is to probe, question, and at times reject budget increases—or, as they did last year, actually grant Wadsworth a $120,000 increase in a year when other constitutional officers abided by the county administration’s request to keep budgets flat. Wadsworth had also cut 10 positions since 2007, the peak of the housing bubble that swamped her office (which handles all recordings).

There is no projected increase in Wadsworth’s proposed budget for next year. The $1.63 million budget is slightly lower than the current $1.67 million, though the cost to the county’s general revenue fund is $26,600 higher than the current $1.08 million. The difference is due to the revenue the clerk’s own services generate. That revenue is dropping by a projected $36,000 this coming year. Wadsworth is projecting another drop in real estate recording fees.

Alan Peterson questioned why there was no reduction in personnel costs to reflect the 3 percent that employees are now contributing to their retirement fund: the clerk’s overall personnel costs this year are $1.775 million. The proposed budget calls for $1.778 million, even though the clerk should have realized a 3 percent windfall from retirement contributions it is no longer required to make.

“I don’t know where you’re going,” Wadsworth said.

Alan Peterson, Flagler County Commissioner

Alan Peterson. (© FlaglerLive)

“I think what Alan is trying to say, Gail, is that if you haven’t hired anybody knew or added any new positions and you haven’t given any raises, so everything is across the board the same, we should be seeing a reduction in that line item for the retirement,” Commissioner Barbara Revels said.

Craig Coffey, the county administrator, suggested an explanation: a position was added mid-year, and approved by the commission, but the $90,000 cost wasn’t reflected in the budget numbers. “We’re going to have to check back into that,” Coffey said.

“The only other question I have,” Peterson said, “are travel expenses. A year ago, we tripled them. I don’t remember now why we did, but obviously we felt we needed to. But why so we have to continue at such a very high level?”

In 2008-09, the clerk’s travel expenses were at $4,928, and at $6,051 the following year. Last year that jumped to $21,800. The proposal for next year: $22,800.

It’s a matter of certifications, Wadsworth said: those certifications have to be renewed. “All of us must maintain our certifications or we’re not valuable to you and the function we provide you,” she said. There are five clerk of court seminars Wadsworth goes to annually for certification, for example. “This amount of money encompasses the have-tos, for us.”

Peterson wasn’t convinced. If that’s the case, what about previous years, when travel expenses were so much lower? Revels added: “We’ve also jumped the educational conferences in addition to that,” she said. “You’re saying that travel is for educational conferences, but we’ve also got $10,000 in for that, so you’re up to $32,000 for travel and educational conferences. Actually $33,000.” (The cost for educational conferences jumped from about $3,100 two years ago to $8,700 this year and $10,200 for the coming year.)

Jennifer Barker, director of finances for the Clerk, explained: “The education and conferences are the actual registration fees for all the different people. The travel expense that’s included in there is for hotels and such. The bulk of it is for the clerk, she does a lot of legislative travel.”

Peterson asked how many employees require certifications. Three, including herself, Wadsworth said (she would later amend that to seven), detailing some of her responsibilities in keeping up with changes in the law, and documenting those changes. It was then that she lost patience with the line of questioning.

Wadsworth paused. Then she said: “Let me ask you to recognize something. I am not ever going to criticize you, your budget or any other constitutional officer. But if you have your historic budget books, you might want to take the opportunity [to see] that the clerk’s office has the same number of FTEs”–the equivalent of full-time employees–“as tax collector and the property appraiser and we do the job we do for Flagler County for a half million dollars less. I would think sometimes at these meetings you would say, thank you, Gail, for being efficient, working smarter, and not asking for more than we ask for as we could, to provide the people who work for us a stronger wage for their level of expertise.”

“I will thank you for reducing your staffing over the past four years,” Peterson said after a long pause, “but you must admit that your travel and conference expenses have mushroomed substantially.”

Peterson wasn’t entirely joking when, with Wadsworth’s turn over for the year, he said: “The next victim is the tax collector.”

Suzanne Johnston, the tax collector, had an easier time of it: she did not have her final budget proposal ready for review.

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29 Responses for “Another Budget Grilling By Commission Puts Clerk of Court Gail Wadsworth on Defensive”

  1. lawabidingcitizen says:

    It’s stunning. These people are in some kind altered state of consciousness where it’s business as usual instead of a state of emergency where every penny counts. Over twenty thousand for certification? Most of that stuff can be done on line now.

  2. palmcoaster says:

    The clerk also not only needs not to be approved and increase on her budget, but furthermore a reduction in these outrageous expenses on our pockets. Last year these commissioners approved for the clerk to hire whatever was “one employee/assistant/secretary” at $90,000?
    Give me a break! What these commissioners were thinking about? Also all these “licensing excursions with subscriptions fees, travel, hotel and meals in our pockets?” What are we morons by way of these commissioners? My child had to renew her insurance license and had to pay the course about 350, plus the test fee plus her own travel expenses and meals to be able to continuo working in Florida. Then when these Republicans including Gail Clerk of Court demand cut cut cut to the social programs Florida Health Dept’s, SS, Medicare, Medicaid, They should be the first to set an example. Otherwise we go back in time to feudalism, when all was stripped from the lower classes to benefit the Lords. She needs to lower her good old boy prepotency and stop these mandates to hire assistants at 90,000 a year and do the work herself, as she gets paid probably close to double that now! The Supervisor of elections was denied last year her request for increase of about 67,000 but they approved $90,000 hiring, plus totaling over 120,000 for Gail? What kind of bias do we have here commissioners? Shame on you all!
    Looks like you do not see the local picture yet of 16.5% unemployment and business folding one after the other and thousands of vacant foreclosure homes in this county. The insensitivity of this wealthy clerk of court that resides on a mansion ocean front on A1A, is appalling.Typical Republican..greedy to the core! Just seating comfortably on the untimely King Hammond Palace imposed by some of the same seating commissioners we have now on us all and asking to bleed more money and sacrifice on our depleted pockets The current commissioners re-election is a stake with their vote on her budget, for sure. Say NO…what is Gail going to do shut down the court house? If so, let her!

  3. palmcoaster says:

    Also if what Gail stated regarding that the Tax Collector and the Property Appraiser budgets are half a million dollars more…? then commissioners need to trim those as well. Too much administrative waste here while these Tea Party new elected governors, legislators, golf/booze addicted federal chairs of the House in DC and Republican presidential running candidates are cutting and even propose more cuts for the retirees on SS and Medicare, public employees, health services for the poor and Medicaid, education and our services we pay for up front, in our taxes.
    No wonder my county taxes as usual, are unjustifiable higher than my city taxes that provides me with all the services except police. By the way where are they using the mosquito spraying that we pay for in our taxes? In the Ginn and Hammonck Dunes Golf courses….because mosquitos are devouring us even when seating while on a restaurant on the beach. And do not tell me is cause the fires or the rains…always excuses!
    Nice way to receive our so much called for tourism. I witnessed young couples from GA seating for a dinner at the Turtle Shack on A1A and their baby attacked by mosquitos…they had to leave on a hurry. Nice way to attract tourism!
    When ITT was here we never had these problems as the mosquito control was in check to provide the service we all pay in our taxes for ….now we have to be devoured first, before we call and get them to spray some. There is mosquito bite Nile disease in Central Florida in case most are unaware of..So where the heck is our Mosquito Control Dept spraying then? In my taxes my mosquito control is 36/year? Now how many employees is that paying and for what? As mosquitos are eating us alive? And is allover Palm Coast this morning C, F and all the way thru PC Parkway and Rte 1 intersection. So spray what I pay for before we get sick!

  4. palmcoaster says:

    My post above missed a line after; Republican legislators propose to cut retirees benefits like SS and Medicare, public employees…

  5. Frances says:

    I also have a question about the mosquito control this year. I live at the beach and we have had 0 spraying here this summer. I can not go out in my yard without getting covered by mosquitos and bitten excessively. I do not have standing water and have none in the bird baths this year because of the increased number of mosquitos. It’s ridiculous to not be able to go outside the entire summer because the County is not spraying… How about some help on this and get somebody over here to spray! We’re desperate. I wonder how many people are being exposed to the Nile virus, especially children. Part of our taxes are supposed to go for this and I pay a lot of taxes and they keep going up each year as the value of my house goes down. Please help us out!!!!

  6. Liana G says:

    Why do republicians complain about big gov’t yet under their governance, government is not only BIGGER but EXORBITANTLY paid and indulge in a lot of WASTEFUL SPENDING!

    Where is the fiscal responsibility these people like to preach about? Doublespeak

  7. palmcoaster says:

    Frances call…445-4135 Mosquito Control….if you want to talk to a machine, where is our service?
    Not only we scare away our so much needed tourist in this county with the mosquito control disservice but as well have to endure it ourselves.

  8. palm says:

    “I have to appreciate to the Mosquito Control Dept” that after my call, they communicated with me explainning some factors and service programs and that will spray the areas that I noticed, first thing tomorrow early AM. Their technical official was very understanding and very polite and reassured me that Flagler County is totally free from West Nile virus infected mosquitos.

  9. tulip says:

    I’d rather we be free of mosquitos—period!

    Back on subject, I am glad some of the Commissioners are heavily questioning some of the expenses cropping up for the coming year before makeing a decision.

  10. Frances says:

    Palmcoaster, thank you for the number. I called and left a message and got a recording as you said would happen. I left my name and number so I will see if they return the call. It is really bad over here at the beach. I was encouraged by Palm’s message. I hope I get the same service. I don’t think any one can be sure that Flagler county is totally free of West Nile virus infected mosquitos or mosquitos that carry other diseases… At any rate, I am sick of the mosquito bites and the fact that I can’t go out in my own yard, yet pay taxes for this service. Hoping for a reply.

  11. Frances says:

    Good news for my area! The mosquito control people will spray tomorrow morning. I really appreciated their assistance. They were helpful and genuinely concerned. It will be WONDERFUL to get to be in my yard again! I only wish that I had called earlier. Many thanks to Palmcoaster.

  12. palmcoaster says:

    You are welcomed Frances!
    We should both appreciate Flagler Live for this invaluable communication tool that Pierre provides to our community. We can do and achieve much more helping each other than fighting. In our wonderful country we can still ask and do something to change the course to benefit all and learn about issues and help each other communicating.

  13. palmcoaster says:

    Today’s The Observer tells us this morning that the county commission approved on concensus all that was requested by the library…including the cafe, about 131,000, while they cut social services for the one’s in need and also services that we tax payers dearly pay for. These majority commission voting yes to all, need to go. Where is the Tea Party on this one?
    A $2,230,000 plus bridge in 305…. I would like to know the itemization of “grants”and our county taxes involved on most grants request a matching partial funding as well.
    Is this bridge also to make nice? or failing structure repair need? A sidewalk installation on road 100 mentioned as a big ticket item, no detailed cost. Who ever walks Rte 100…? (maybe the armadillos) will be unused as much as the Palm Coast huge luxurious infrastructure in the Town Center? Are these commissioners specially Hans and Holland aware of the fact that we have a recession specially in this county with over 16.5% unemployment, vacant homes foreclosures allover, business shutting down do to lack of sales and they go ahead and approve “just to make nice and compete with Palm Coast” capital projects. Every time that commissioners get involved in a so called “money making using my tax dollars up front” they just generate a big failure Ms Holland! We have a Starbucks already and you will take business from them, to benefit some probably elite connected to you guys, as usual, to run one from “our library”, as is not just Holland’s-Hanns county library. Here is when we need the Tea Party please I support your promise voting out any commissioner lobbying for “nice to have”.

  14. tulip says:

    I agree, we absolutely do not need a cafe in the Library!! Mr. Peterson was the only dissenting vote and is not in favor of voting in “nice to haves” in these bad economical times, and the “younger” commissioners should realize that right now we have to make sacrifices and only spend for things we need—like our parents did in “the old days.” The way the economy is now, I agree with that line of thinking

  15. barkback says:

    Status qou from a constitutional officer that made a unilateral decision to spend unused money from one voter approved capital project on another project without authorization or approval. Frivilous spending of our tax dollars once again. I maintain 3 professional licenses that require approx 60 credit hours of time each year and travel expense is zero.

  16. palmcoaster says:

    You are right bark, Gail did a number in our taxes with the abuses..
    Now I come to learn thru the Observer that the (armadillo) walkway along Rte 100 has a figure of a whooping 3 million cost. A Varn Park.parking addition at $450,000 who is getting what for that, as every time I drive by there the parking is empty? A “barn” replacement for Princess Place at $204,000 when many of our county residents are pushed to homelessness by the banks? Wow …and these commissioners are approving it. I think that they drank too much Coffey. No wonder they go for raising our taxes…Hey Tea Party do you get the Observer inside Grand Haven? Here we have something in common! So what are you going to do about the armadillo walkway? Something that should be left for when at least we go back down to only 7 percent unemployment again and revenue improves. Also the gazebo”vandalized”in the library…what about it? we do not have insurance to pay for that? If we don’t why to spend, to be vandalized again? Hello? Totaly insane!
    As per editorial county capital projects pushed by Coffey to green flag by happy commissioners

  17. Liana G says:

    I’m not an elite, I’m not connected but I do like what’s going to take place at the library, cafe and all. Thank you! This is great news for our community! We love our local library! No need for a Starbucks, just a ‘ye olde coffee and tea shop’ serving Barnie’s? :)

  18. Anita says:

    As I understand it the Internet cafe in the Library is being created to bring additional money into the Library by selling beverages and snacks. Just as with the Pass Port operation, funds generated will be used to sustain the needs of the Library without additional input from the taxpayer. If the county decides to appropriate the money, then it will go into the County’s General Fund. Either way, your taxes are not affected, it’s still a FREE Library and the County benefits. Now what can you possibly object to about that?

  19. palmcoaster says:

    Anita with all my due respect I disagree here, as yes our taxes will be affected by total $131,000 library capital projects. These funds are from our taxes. The coffee shop alone will cost 20,000 and when they will come to the nickel and dime completion, I bet will cost more. Once we, tax payers pay up front as usual, then if the goal is successful, income will be generated from the sales of coffee, tea and snacks. County plans to layoff employees and curtail the services we pay for and at the same time in these harsh economic times spends in “to make nice no vital needed capital projects?” Can these projects wait until our unemployment goes down and revenue improves? We are spending in county capital projects, funds that this county actually does not have. Did you read the other astronomical cost of the other capital projects already approved by consensus, besides the library that is actually not the costlier? I am so disappointed already with my support while campaigning for Nate McLaughing, on his vote now, just one more commissioner allowing Coffey to ram this frivolous spending on our pockets, while laying off employees that provide our services and sustain our budget revenues via income and payroll tax and support our local small business by spending locally!

  20. palmcoaster says:

    Are County Commisioners and “nice to have” capital projects pusher Manager Coffey aware of this pathetic reality that actually worst than reported here?:

  21. tulip says:

    Yes, this cafe is going to cost the county $20,000 to build and it will take space where the kids have their section. Does anyone realize how long it will take to recoup the $20,000 selling coffee and probably $1.00 a cup? Out of that comes salary and expenses, as this cae will be run by an outside source. I hope that person has personal insurance to cover any mishaps, such as hot coffee spilled on someone.

    In my opinion, having a cafe will also open the door for people to bring in their own coffee from somewhere else and, while they’re at it, maybe a donut or muffin. This will not bring in revenue, only leave a mess of crumbs and coffee stains to clean up all the time.

    As Palmcoaster said, this comes out of our taxes and the patron will BUY the coffee–it’s not free.

    As the only dissenting commissioner said, right now is not the time for nice-to-have’s, neccessaties come first, or something to that effect.

    If people want to read and drink coffee—go to Starbucks.

  22. tulip says:

    In addition to my post I just made, Someone said that there are some libraries around the country that have cafes. A lot of these counties, and cities are broke or almost broke——I think Flagler County should learn from mistakes other places have made, and do everything to prevent this from happening to us—it’s really a no-brainer.

  23. Liana G says:

    Well if the city wants to convince me to pay more taxes I want to see tangible benefits!

    As I understand, the library will be expanded, increasing the space. I’ve been to several libraries that had cafes, I never saw anyone bring in their own coffee and cake. I don’t want to see funding cuts for our public libraries neither do I want to continue to have a dinky room with a few books serve as a library here! We’re dumb enough all ready as it is, but we’re never too old to learn. Hopefully our children will be the smart ones and get our country back on track when we invest in amenities that facilitate learning.

  24. palmcoaster says:

    Every time the county engaged in any venue “to make revenue using our hard earned dollars up front ” thru bonds, grants hand outs, etc. the venue became a failure and the county tax payers are left to hold the bag. Examples; Government Services Building aka Taj Mahal and Justice Complex aka King Hammond’s Palace with plenty empty space and we are still paying the bonds listed in your home taxes.
    You better don’t even think how much cost the upkeep and maintenance of those structures. Then we have the super sized hangar for Ginn, he took off with his oversize aircraft and left us holding the mortgage on it and no $20,000 rent as planned. Cakes across the pockets of Flagler taxpayers, another half million and they are already caput, we, you and me, are also paying back the grant…county manager now too late, trying to make ends meet by finding someone to rent that space. Commissioner Holland last year I think was, pushed and was approved to give $370,000 I think was, for a semi private Marina at Marineland that we, the ones to fund it can’t use.
    County is pathetic at business affairs, because is easy to use other people’s monies (tax payers funds) for favoritism in enterprises, that end up becoming so costly to our taxes.
    The issue in our country now is, that the decisions about how to spend best our hard earned taxes, are made not with us the tax payers in mind but instead with the serious influences of the one’s (many wealthy and corporations) that lobby best. Someone please, tell me that I am wrong….

  25. Liana G says:

    @ palmcoaster

    you’re not wrong, but public libraries, state/national/recreational parks and forests, museums, botanical gardens, the washington zoo, public beaches, and others such places are provided for public enjoyment/good and are therefore not designed to be self sufficient or show a profit. And this is the way these places should remain.

  26. donna says:

    I’m sure there are many people who still use a library. The last time I was in one was the fifth grade. Well, one other time to vote. Books A Million has a cafe. You can sit down with a book and grab a cup of coffee. Not sure I’m understanding the library cafe thing. It’s not like I’m going to buy a book or even read one there. I could be totally off base here, but I don’t see the library sustaining itself. And let us not forget computers, the information highway. I remember owning a set of encyclopedia’s. Times have changed, ALOT!

  27. tulip says:

    I think the original issue was that because of tight budgets and lessening tax income, the County should not be spending money right now on frivolities or “nice to haves) because we need it for necessities and it shouldn’t be wasted right now on unnecessary things. A lot of people have poorly managed their money so they could have all their “wants” and a lot are now looking at bankruptcy, poverty, etc. I don’t want to see this happen to Flagler County or any of its cities and towns.

    When things eventually get better, then we can be a little more indulgent. All in all, this is a pretty good place to live, and have a lot of amenities.

  28. Liana G says:

    Librariies have some books that are found in the reference section that cannot be checked out. Sometimes finding the information online is near impossible and definitely time consuming. My kids love going to the library to borrow books and have study groups. I was given a Kindle for christmas but returned it because I still prefer the feel of a book, more so one that has been through many hands.

    When I once lived in a very southern city, I remember visiting three libraries there in search of books by George Orwell, John Steinbeck and Upton Sinclair, but couldn’t finy any books by these authors. At the time I wanted my 11 year old to read Animal Farm and The Pear, books I was required to read at that age. Upton Sinclair was for my own personal reading. I ended up purchasing the books from Amazon, but imagine my surprise!

    When we continue to hack away at funding for public enjoyment/good, these fundings never return because there is no incentive by politicians to return them when the money can be used on ‘frivilous’ stuff such as overblown salaries, and costly seminars / conferences / retreats, etc.
    Seems like we are already being convinced that places of learning are ‘frivilous’.

  29. Layla says:

    My…some GOOD information here. One would almost suspect some of you might be elected officials, you know so much about our Clerk of the Courts.

    I know a litte, too. She does not live in an ocean front home.

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