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Democracy By Default in Bunnell

| April 12, 2010

Bunnell dialect.

What happens when you hold an election and nobody shows up? You get Bunnell.

Retiring Circuit Judge Kim C. Hammond led his last swearing-in ceremony for Bunnell Mayor Catherine D. Robinson and commission members Daisy M. Henry and Elbert Tucker tonight in the early goings of the commission’s bi-monthly meeting. None of the three were elected, strictly speaking: the incumbents automatically won re-election, without so much as an hour’s stumping, when, on Jan. 26, at 4 p.m., the week-long qualifying period to run for any of the three positions closed without a single individual filing to challenge them.

Two years ago, incumbents Tucker and Henry faced just one challenger in an election for both seats. They held on. In 1982, Cary Holland, Harold Higginbotham and Barry Ferguson were reelected without opposition.

Robinson

“There’s two ways to look at it,” said Robinson, who was appointed to a commissioner’s seat 16 years ago and has won some elections and run unopposed in others since. “Either the people are very apathetic, they’re not concerned, or they’re satisfied with how this board is working as a team. And I would like to think that they’re satisfied with what we’re trying to accomplish as a team.”

The pay is not necessarily an enticement: Between 2002 and 2009, commissioners were paid $400 a month. The mayor got $500 a month. Last year, commissioners doubled their pay to $800 a month. The mayor’s pay doubled to $1,000 a month. The city’s population, below 2,500, has remained relatively flat throughout the decade despite record growth in nearby Palm Coast.

Following the swearing-in, Robinson recessed the meeting for 20 minutes–cake and coffee were served–and summed up the city’s challenges this year: the continuing search for a reliably clean and lasting water source, and decreasing tax revenue.

Bunnell is part of the Coquina Coast Seawater Desalination Project, a consortium of local government agencies (led by Palm Coast and the St. Johns Water Management District) exploring the feasibility of a desalination plant for the region. A plant would be colossally expensive and costs defrayed by many participating agencies. But last week Flagler County dropped out of the consortium because of the expense: it would have cost the county at least $50,000 this year alone to stay on.

Bunnell may be next, considering the city’s finances. Robinson was non-committal about the city’s future participation, saying that would be discussed in future weeks (to comply with a consortium deadline on who’s in and who’s out).

Bunnell’s finances are in poorer shape than Flagler County’s.

“If we stay on track and continue with last year’s trend,” Robinson said in her January State of the City Address, we will collect approximately $1,349,337 a shortfall of $6,644 for this year’s projection and down over $173,000 from last year’s revenues. Next year, however, will be another great challenge. According to the finance director, she is estimating an additional 10 percent decrease in values (I think this is a conservative number) which, at our current millage, would put us at a decrease in revenues of approx. $136,000.”

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