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Flagler County Tentatively Adopts Highest Tax Rate in 12 Years at Subdued Hearing

| September 8, 2011

(*) The rate for 1997-2000 included the Palm Coast Service District, before the city was incorporated. The tax rate includes the county's voter-approved environmentally sensitive lands bonds and bonds to build the courthouse and the Government Services Building. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Tax-adoption hearings were notoriously uneventful until a couple of years ago, when the tea party got its training wheels and found government meetings almost as exciting as bingo night. What used to rank among the dullest meetings of the year turned into theater as residents eager to complain about modest property tax increases in one of the still least-taxed states in the union took out their frustrations on city and county politicians, who’d listen politely, sometimes obsequiously, and move on, hoping not to feel the aftershocks at the ballot box.

The fad may have passed. Not a single person addressed the Flagler County School Board at its first of two tax-rate-adoption hearings on Tuesday, though the school board has generally enjoyed a bye from tax protesters, and this year, the school board, by way of Tallahassee (whose lawmakers and student-population formulas set the school tax rate, not local school boards), gave Flagler County residents a substantial tax cut, by keeping the tax rate flat even though property valuations have fallen again by double digits.

Tonight, it was the Flagler County Commission’s turn. The proposed county tax rate for 2012 is $6.7814 per $1,000 in taxable value. That would be the highest tax rate in 12 years–or longer, given that, in the late 1990s, the tax rate was bumped up from including that of the Palm Coast Service District, before that city’s incorporation. The 2012 tax rate means that a $150,000 house with a $50,000 exemption would be paying $678 in county taxes, up from this year’s $605, a 12 percent increase. In reality, the majority of property tax payers won;t see that increase in their tax bills, because property valuations fell on average by 14 percent in the county. Most property owners will, in fact, see a decrease in their tax bills, particularly because the largest portion of that tax bill–the school board’s–is going down. That may have explained the relative quiet at the county’s public hearing.

Only one person spoke, David McDonald, a representative of the tea party, who was not happy with the response he got from County Administrator Craig Coffey beyond what cuts he already managed in this year’s budget below the the $1.5 million cut from the county’s general fund this year alone, and the nearly $10 million cut since 2006. “He’s not going to agree to much of anything in terms of cuts,” MacDonald said, quite inaccurately: Coffey was not going to agree to further cuts, because the county commission had not directed him to do so. MacDonald characterized that as “sort of a stone wall,” telling commissioners that the tea party’s next alternative would be to come back to commissioners “with specific questions and require that you answer us as to why you chose certain paths.”

MacDonald said about 28 percent of property taxpayers would suffer from “a shift” in tax burden this year, citing a figure given him, he said, by Jay Gardner, the property appraiser. “It’s not like you’re raising taxes, we know you’re cutting taxes, but you’re cutting a very small amount,” MacDonald said, when it could have been higher–particularly, MacDonald said, if the county hadn’t spread out the savings over three years from a now-required 3 percent contribution by all government employees to their retirement fund (from their gross pay, which amounts to a 3 percent pay cut for all government employees).

Short of other comments from the public, commissioners, who themselves had no further issues to work out in their budget (they shouldn’t have: they devoted about nine very lengthy budget workshops to the matter since spring) fell back on one perennial thorn in their books: Supervisor of Elections Kimberle Weeks’s budget, which is still not complete, and is part of what commissioners must approve. Commissioners had requested a set of numbers and information from Weeks, who pledged she would comply with the request. “We got some, but we did not get enough information, it’s my understanding, to determine the answers to the questions that we’d asked,” Commission Chairman Alan Peterson said.

“I don’t thinks he necessarily addressed the questions that were asked,” County Administrator Craig Coffey said. He recommended holding Weeks’s budget “level” (that is, no increase whatsoever) pending answers to the questions. It would not affect the property tax rate.

“I was not ready to take a vote until we were provided with more detailed information, and I think it was discussed further by other commissioners,” Commissioner Milissa Holland said. “I’m still very uncomfortable by voting on a budget item when we’ve not been provided adequate information, when we’ve requested, we’ve done a public record request. I don;t know what other action we can take to get this information, but something has to be done. This is not acceptable in my mind.”

Commissioners decided to leave the supervisor’s budget level, with more discussions on the supervisor’s budget set for the commission’s next meeting.

The commission approved the tentative $65.3 million budget in a unanimous vote. (See the details below.) The second and final public hearing on the 2011-12 budget is scheduled for Sept. 22 at 7 p.m. at the Government Services Building (which residents are still paying for, and will be, through their property tax bill).

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10 Responses for “Flagler County Tentatively Adopts Highest Tax Rate in 12 Years at Subdued Hearing”

  1. Liana G says:

    Raising taxes to improve and maintain the aesthetics (lights and sidewalks included) of PC is a necessity if the city wishes to keep and attract residents. Our public schools are also in need of serious help too. The two goes hand in hand. However, if this whole tax increase is just to maintain the cushy salaries of top heavy overpaid gov’t officials…well some interesting times are ahead. Those Tea Party folks sure are spunky!

  2. Ask yourself says:

    The Board of County Commissioners has no problem throwing away $800,000 for the Flagler County Tourist Development Council, but they have a problem approving the proposed budget for a Constitutional Office which is less than $700,000; the only constitutional office (Supervisor of Elections) that does not have a multi million dollar budget-Shame on them! We the voters elected Kimberle and the other Constitutional Officers, and it is not the boards responsibility to micromanage these constitutional offices.

    The board has had the supervisor’s proposed budget for over 3 months, and I believe they have only asked for records (from three or more years ago) in the last week or two. According to the Supervisor of Elections website there are two elections currently being held. Is it expected the supervisor stop doing her job, to appease the board? Weeks gave monies back in the past, and she is being criticized for it? Wow, something doesn’t seem right here.

    I don’t recall any questions being posed to Kimberle Weeks at prior meetings concerning her current years proposed budget, only for what was spent and given back to the board in 2009-2010. I also don’t recall there being two county-wide elections in 2009-2010. What questions does the board have regarding the current proposed budget of the Supervisor of Elections?

    Kimberle has said there are two county-wide elections in this proposed budget for 2011-2012, and there are increases for election expenses-so why would the board think the budget could or should remain the same as the previous year when there weren’t two county wide elections in last year (2010-2011)?

    MacDonald I commend you for your efforts…don’t give up…we deserve answers and explanations. The Board of County Commissioners believes anything Coffey tells them. Coffey plays the board like a fiddle. They should be doing their job and requesting records from Coffey and looking for areas to make cuts in their own budget.

    Why aren’t the commissioners asking more questions of Coffey? This is who they should be managing. The board of county commissioners and their staff are out of control.

  3. Yogi says:

    12% rate increase takes more money out of my pocket and puts it into the hands of government. I voted for people to represent my interests not theirs. Take these “sons of bitches” out next election if they don’t make changes before the second reading. Go to the county website and flood them with emails.

  4. Taxpayer says:

    It would appear from the lack of participation of the tea party at the county budget meeting, compared to how they have demonstrated at other municipal budget heaings. That the tea party is no different that any other party. Selective in there demonstrations. You would think that the proposed budgets by the county would have brought tea party members out in droves. But apparently that was not the case. Hmmmm curious.

  5. palmcoaster says:

    I agree with askyourself. These commissioners are pounding the new Supervisor of Elections Weeks since she won the election. Reminds me what they are doing with Obama in DC. Shame.
    The lady was elected by the people, let her do her work. Is shameful that they approve $800,000 for bogus God knows who’s pocket fattening tax payers funds for one FCCOU…commerce Volusia resident Peggy Heiser and denied funds for a Supervisor of Elections elected by the people, having to fund two incoming elections? Ms. Weeks refunded over $58,000 last year saved from her budget to these commissioners. When did they ever get a refund from her predecessor Peggy Border?
    Also those $600,000 received via Un Representative John Mica head of the Federal Transportation Committee in DC to extend one runway in the FC Airport probably come with strings attached…as how much our Flagler County “matching funds” for it? I want to know as we are in no condition to fund more lavish installations for the flying elite on the airport. I want to know to the penny. When Coffey says that the airport is self sufficient is BS. Right now receiving” a 600,000 grant”. Sure this grant is not funded by the Chinese or the Japanese right? Good try to brainwash the gullible.
    These past and some of the still present (Hanns) commissioners are the ones that got us in these Monuments to Themselves;Taj Mahal and King Hammond Justice Center demanded by the current county clerk for her buddy with the gift of a Tomoka Indian Sculpture and all and that we are still paying in our homes tax bills today during this pathetic economy. Sure our taxes would be lower now if not for these elected past and present commissioners abuses. This increase in our county tax rate we may not feel it now as homes prices are down the hole, but by approving it without a fight we set the demise of our tax outrageous bills as soon as housing prices will start recovering and would not take that long. Better take this in consideration and very serious. Once they raise the tax rate they won’t lower it even while ripping us off on the homes prices turn around, like when houses values were up…remember your tax bills? They had all our tax money on their hands and sure those commissioners wasted it big time and no content yet, mortgage us to the max in the payments shown today as bonds in our tax bills. Do anyone know that this county and cities have exhausted all their credit available now? If we have an emergency there is no credit for us. Sure we could have done just fine without the monuments in Rte 100 as we are this little county still.
    Those monuments rival with the ones in counties of some state capital cities I have seeing myself in Dade, Duval, Maricopa AZ and others.
    Would be like a service employee buying a brand new Cadillac with his employers $$$.

  6. Bob E. says:

    Ask yourself Weeks,
    Here is the answer to give your mother. The Board of County Commission has oversight and approval of what is spent of the county’s funds by constitutional officers. You mention that the Supervisor of Elections does not have a multi million dollar budget like $700,000 is chump change. She proposed last year a budget of $656,192 budgeted. She returned about $63,000 to the county, so says the News Journal this morning 9/9/11, and that figure does not include the bonuses she paid to her employees, but claims she did not, so for the sake of this response I will ignore those dollars, $10K or whatever they were. So if her budget was $656,192 and she returned approx. $63,000 then she ran her office on $593,192 less those bonus dollars. That is the base line figure the commission should use for analyzing her 2012 budget request.
    Now, she has 2 elections to conduct in 2012 according to her statement to the county at the last budget workshop she actually attended. Adding back the $63,000 to her expenses of last year of $593,192 that would give her a budget or $656,192 which should be more than adequate to for her to run her office.
    Two things you say are contrary, first you say the BOCC is trying to micromanage her, then later you say that ” I don’t recall any questions being posed to Kimberle Weeks at prior meetings concerning her current years proposed budget”, so which way do you want it micromanaged or not?
    Now, Ms. Weeks is too busy to attend meetings that impact her budget for next year, and yet when I went to the library to vote on 9/1 I was the only non employee in the poll, with a gentleman walking in before I left, and Ms. Weeks was no where to be seen. What is she busy doing, not working at the only poll opened? There are more flaws in your post, but I will let them go for now, if you want me to point out your miscues just let me know.

  7. palmcoaster says:

    To start with to Bob E.
    What makes you believe that a Supervisor of Elections has to be all day in a poll place standing waiting for voters? What an ignorant assumption. I was a poll worker for 5 years for Peggy
    Border and guest what? she never stud 24-7 on a poll place except when was at the Supervisors Office ballot box. Then you go there and see Peggy working at her desk among other assistants at least 2 or 3 as I recall. Peggy will stop once or twice at all the poll places on election day and we are talking during those 10 hours or more that polls were open.
    How come you assert what is the correct budget for Weeks and keep silent about the always increasing request requested budget of clerk of court Gail W.? Maybe their parties affiliation are influencing your words or your bias attitude assessment between these two constitutional officers? Depending Who is Who in this county is where the tax payers monies flow, unfortunatly for us that pay the bills.

  8. SAW says:

    Is there still is a Flagler County Tea Party out there, if so they appear to be impotent at this time, not important.

    If they are indeed still breathing, they may want to drink something stronger than tea, maybe some super high test “caffeine” in order to wake up ?

    Seems this group has withered on the vine, they are never involved in anything controversially, nor anything that would be beneficial to local residents. In other words they are unable to commit to much of anything as far as one can see, and as a result yet more higher taxes.

    This weakness is probably all due to lack of leadership in the group, and the fact they simply have just a few followers still hanging on.

    I guess by now, the politicians realize this fact. So much for “Don’t Tread On Me”

  9. Bob E. says:

    palmcoaster, Wow you call me ignorant and in the next sentence speak of a stud being at a polling place. When were horses allowed??? You then go on further and say that Peggy would go to the polling places on election day for the 10 hours or more they are open and you worked in the polls for 5 years. GEE you must have left work early, the polls are always open 12 hours, 7AM to 7 PM, is dementia setting in?? My suggestion before you call someone else ignorant is that you get your facts straight, if possible.
    Now you apparently have bad feelings for Gail W. Sorry, she is intelligent enough to present a verifiable budget, does not yell at the BOCC, and has the trust of her employees behind her. and oh yeah, she does know where her budget stands, not do not have a clue, like Weeks. You support her, she really needs you. So for all of your self declared intellect, what do you think the SOE budget should be??

  10. palmcoaster says:

    Bob …txs for your correction of my error supposed to be “stood”. In exchange for the sake of your destructive critique also you should know better that is “micro manage”, with a space.
    My ten hours or more, should have said instead, 12 or more, because one election stood us until 9 PM over Broward and Miami Dade voting schedules anomalies. What is an error of memory, should not be described as dementia by the ill intended.
    My volunteering as a poll worker, I gave up many years ago in spite of invitations to continuo. Other personal obligations were first. Looks like you work for this county or maybe Gail, given your relentless attacks on Weeks. Please correct me if I am wrong …As I recall was Kimberle Weeks, one that was fired by Gail W. county clerk, along with 12 more employees years ago? That really showed how intelligent Gail is. If so, no wonder your witch hunting rant here. Could you imagine that someone fired by the seating county clerk becomes a Supervisor of Elections via “the peoples vote”? Is like Gail removed Weeks wooden chair and she landed in a comfortable couch! Really to “ruffle some elite feaders”. If I recall correct.
    Regarding Weeks budget we will have to wait until she presents one. I am not Weeks or work for her, likewise you, maybe on Gail’s payroll. One thing I can see is that her budget is smaller than the other constitutional officers and she refunded 63,000 last year…how much Gail refunded, could you please inform us? Still clarification is due from Gail about the use of funds collected for violation fines.
    Now going back to this intended increase of our county taxes 12% I would like to remind these commissioners and Mr. Coffey that Miami Dade county recalled their Mayor Alvarez last March for a same 12% increase approved on property taxes. When our house prices will recover, this 12% now will really hurt us.

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