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Flagler County’s Budget Outlook Adds Up To $8 Million Gap and Likely Tax Increase

| April 24, 2013

Flagler County Administrator Craig Coffey presented the main outlines of this year's budget outlook at a meeting this afternoon, cautioning commissioners about having to make difficult choices ahead. (c FlaglerLive)

Flagler County Administrator Craig Coffey presented the main outlines of this year’s budget outlook at a meeting this afternoon, cautioning commissioners about having to make difficult choices ahead. (c FlaglerLive)

Flagler County Administrator Craig Coffey opened his introductory budget presentation of the year to county commissioners Wednesday afternoon with what sounded like better news than on previous such occasions the last five years: “We’re not in dire straits, we’re not in crisis mode, we do have some challenges,” Coffey said.

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But he then outlined a budget picture for the county that resembles the bleakness of the last five years more than it suggests an improvement, especially when what Coffey called “challenges” are included—an estimated $5 million in potential charges the county could not, at its current level of funding, pay for. Some of those charges are optional. Many are not. And even the optional ones have been delayed year after year.

Commissioners are “walking in the door” with $3.3 million revenue gap ahead of next year’s budget. That figure is identical to the one Coffey submitted to commissioners last year around this time. If all numbers stay as they are now, the county has $51.7 million in revenue, bare-bones demands totaling $55 million, hence the $3.3 million gap. That’s before the $5 million in “challenges” Coffey listed. The word is a different way of describing demands and costs the county must, at some point, assume. The commission doesn’t have to finance all these costs immediately, Coffey said, but it must make choices, and some of the costs cannot be avoided.

Combined, that’s a gap and a set of “challenges” adding up to $8.3 million.

Last year, they made up a more-than $5 million gap by raising taxes (bringing in an extra $2.6 million) and reaching into the county’s reserves ($2.8 million).

Coffey, citing the media’s tendency to jump on such numbers, was quick to caution against making too much of them. “We face the challenge every year, it just comes in different forms, it’s just something you have to deal with,” he told the commissioners. But he was also clear about the severe limits commissioners face when it comes to finding new revenue. Coffey’s own numbers are real, and by the time he was done with his presentation–and absent a surprise revision upward in property tax revenue–it was difficult to see how commissioners will emerge from the budget process in September without either a substantial tax increase of one type or another or vast cuts in county services.

The reserves are now dangerously low, and nowhere near the 10 percent of the county’s budget at which the county has historically tried to keep them. “Use of reserves, that’s not really an option anymore,” Coffey said.

The challenges Coffey listed include a sudden increase of $870,000 in state-required contributions to the Florida Retirement System. That’s not the county’s fault, but rather the governor’s and the Legislature’s decision to artificially depress the costs of the retirement system in the last two years, only to sock local governments with a backlog of costs this year. There is also an estimated $450,000 additional county burden to cover its share of Medicaid costs (the health insurance program for the poor and some of the elderly). Rebuilding the reserves would cost money, too. Coffey is tentatively proposing $1 million a year for that. The county has delayed a lot of capital needs, whether it’s the roof at the county library or the need for new fire trucks. “We can’t continue to defer these needs and capital projects indefinitely,” County Commission Chairman Nate McLaughlin said.

Health insurance costs are rising. Salary and cost of living raises and miscellaneous issues are on the list. Election equipment must be improved. Add it all up, and the bill comes to $5 million.

Coffey listed the commission’s options: raising property taxes again, adding a sales tax, increasing the gas tax, adding an electric utility franchise fee (“Palm Coast went through this and they had a lot of fun with it,” Coffey said facetiously), increasing user fees (which would have a negligible impact), creating special taxing districts. None of the options looked appealing to commissioners, but they have no choice. Some of these choices will have to be part of their plan. The question, in the next five months of budget discussions, will be which ones, and to what extent.

Coffey offered commissioners the choice of having “a gazillion workshops” or have fewer workshops and instead meet one-on-one, commissioner with administrator—the difference being that workshops are public, one-on-one meetings are not.

Meanwhile, and for the sake of context, Coffey also described to what extent the county has cut costs. Since 2007, the county payroll has fallen by $4.8 million, a 20 percent decline from the 2007 peak of $22.8 million in total payroll.

It’s not all layoffs and firings: employees have also taken on a much larger share of their employment costs, such as increased health premium costs and increased retirement costs. Employees have also seen their payroll taxes rise by 2 percent, after a two-year break, when an Obama administration cut in the Social Security tax expired. In essence, the typical employee’s purchasing power—the value of a dollar earned—has declined over the years, as inflation and additional costs have significantly eroded take-home pay. Coffey said that has hammered employees’ ability to keep up, with some employees quitting the county payroll and others feeling drained by how much they’ve been asked to make up.

“We’ve cut and cut and cut, we’re at breaking point in some of these areas,” Coffey said, referring to the budget in general. Employees might feel the same way about their own household budgets.

frank meeker palm coast city council

Frank Meeker. (© FlaglerLive)

County Commissioner Frank Meeker suggested, with repeated qualifiers, doing a one-time substantial tax increase that would enable the county to catch up with needs that have been delayed year after year. The following year, the tax rate would be scaled back. “I’m curious, has anybody ever done it, is my question,” Meeker said.

But Revels and Commissioner Hanns said the public wouldn’t go for it. “People believe in general that once a tax is in place, it never goes away,” Commissioner George Hanns said.

There were some surprises: for the first time, a county commissioner spoke explicitly of considering combining some services with Palm Coast or Flagler Beach to cut costs, or at least to more cooperatively run those services. Charlie Ericksen referred to fire and rescue services. “I think—think–that there are some possibilities,” Ericksen said.


“I don’t see any reason why we can’t ask a task force to look at that,” McLaughlin said.

Coffey cautioned commissioners about the sensitivity of the issue, which immediately triggers defensiveness from cities that may see encroachment on their turfs. But Coffey said that throughout the recession, the county never added manpower, but cut overtime, while other local governments have in some cases vastly expanded their services.

“We’re not just talking about cutting costs, we’re looking at improved service at better rates,” Ericksen said.

“I just wish that it could be so, Charlie,” Revels said. “But…” and her voice trailed to a silence that reflected disbelief that such a plan would work.

There was no intention to reach any decisions on Wednesday. The first budget meeting is on may 15 when “we will be diving hot and heavy into the general fund,” Coffey said. “This is just to get you acquainted, to start your creative juices flowing,” Coffey said.

Flagler County Commission 2013 Budget Overview and Outlook

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33 Responses for “Flagler County’s Budget Outlook Adds Up To $8 Million Gap and Likely Tax Increase”

  1. Mel Bronson says:

    Like EX speaker of the House, Nancy Piglosi said about the monstrous Federal debt of 17 trillion dollars, “We don’t have a spending problem, we have a deficit (debt) problem.”

    With leftist political space cadets like Piglosi setting the mold, it is no wonder here in Flagler the politicians take OUR MONEY and spend it without our permission and as freely as they wish. After all, they have created laws entitling themselves the right to tighten the screws ever tighter to squeeze more and more and more taxes from the public.

    Yes indeed, the tax and mindlessly spend progressive liberal Democrats policies will always fail.

    As the wise late Margret Thatcher said, “Socialist works until they run out of OTHER PEOPLE’S money.”

    • Nancy N. says:

      Why are you ranting about Democratic policies being to blame for this situation? Virtually everyone elected to our local city and county government in Palm Coast and Flagler County are conservative Republicans, and have been for a very long time! They own the electorate in this area to the point that it’s hard to even get a Democrat to run for anything!

      And since you are ranting about the county spending so freely, can you name one expenditure that you think should be cut? No I don’t mean tell me that you think they should be able to run the fire department on $2 and a couple of buckets. I mean actually tell me something that the county is spending money on that you think they shouldn’t.

      Because everyone is against a tax increase until they realize that going without one means that they have to go without services themselves.

      • FED UP says:

        Yes I can Nancy. Let’s start with all the higher up salaries, Faith A county engineer over $100,000., Joe Mayer over $100,000 with benefits and he is getting a retirement from another source and last year the Board of County Commissioner approved a senior retirement for him and four others. Bob Atack was hired as a county engineer $100,000. With benefits. Do we need three county engineers? Carl Laundrie at $100,000. Incuding benefits. Gail Wadsworth hired an assistant with no experience and he makes nearly $100,000 with benefits and he was one of the many employed by the clerk who received a pay raise. Her pay raises ranged from six to thirteen percent. Heidi Petito another county hand picked, is making $100,000. with benefits. What happened to the $5,000,000. Dollars that was miss handled by Gail Wadsworth, with the new court house. Sure that was thrown under the carpet and people just keep electing her again and again. This budget should be put to the TAX PAYING PEOPLE for a vote. Believe me the tax payer should do their homework and go to the county clerk and investigate all of these HIGH PAYING positions and we can find the money Coffee is looking for. These high paying positions are getting wonderful retirement and health care on the backs of WE THE TAXPAYING CITIZENS!!!!!!!!

        Reality Check you need to run for Board of County Commissioner or better yet get Coffee out and you apply for that position. You have the intelligence.

        notasenior, Believe me, It does not matter what pary these elected are affiliated with they are all LIARS. They tell you what you want ro hear and when they get in they fall into the snake pit with all the others because they do not have the back bone to stand up to what is right.

        • John Janai says:

          It will not change. Petito. Little or no college. Job gotten because husband has big county position. What does she do all day that entitles her to such a large salary? The pay disparity from her to in the trenches employees is gross. Remember. WHAT QUALIFICATIONS does she have. Plus if she did; “Qualify”. Who determines what; “Qualify” means, anyway?……..They are taking our money. That simple. They are laughing from home to work and at home. Shrewd should not be saluted. It is a dirty word. And they’re it.

    • notasenior says:

      Keep electing republicans in Florida and this is what you get!

  2. Jojo says:

    …and we bought a defunct cesspool water system in another county, hmm.

  3. gator says:

    well to save a lot of money , start at the court house, their over paid, and rude people in their,and half of them don’t even know their jobs, and then their are some that cover up their screw ups, that is thousands or my be millions of dollors. but thay are still sit in their make alot of money , i for one have brought up one dept, and it was covered up so much, and people in flagler county still getting these people that are ripping people off, and the county covers it up ,the building dept, even knows of these people that is doing bad dealings, but hae to look the other way if thay want to keep theeir jobs. and the county want to taxes us for their screw up, thay should pay the difference not us.

  4. PJ says:

    Sometimes you have to pay to keep services in order. I’m sure The County has cut many departments to the bone. So there is just a point that you mst go back to the property owners. This may that time…..PJ

    Let’s see

  5. kmedley says:

    Here comes the next Special Election seeking another tax increase.

  6. r&r says:

    If Coffey has his hands on it, you better keep a hand on your wallet. He’s like the school board with the lack of knowledge of how to LIVE WITHIN YOUR MEANS…

  7. Realty Check says:

    Short falls are there year after year, I agree with a one time tax to get caught up and even help build the reserve back up. The problem with this theory is that when they come up short again what will they do? Please stop talking about increased taxes and health care for county employees, we all face those same problems. My company did not hand out raises the last two years due too us not meeting financial goals, raises are not deserved, they are earned. I do not believe having a task force or a consultant will help, you incur more costs and get an unrealistic view point in my opinion. I know I will get bashed by all for saying this but I would agree to a flat rate one time property tax of say $50-$100 to raise the money. I know you will say “I am on a fixed income” but so is anyone who has a salary position, or anyone who only works 40 hours a week. We cannot go to our companies and say hey my electric and taxes went up so I need a raise By chance this one time flat tax works use it every 5 years or so too regain the reserve. I do not mind paying taxes if I get the proper services in return. We really need to focus on getting industry here, a typical residential taxpayer uses about $1.38 of government services for every dollar they pay in, industry only about 38 cents, this is how you make up on short falls. We do nothing and nothing changes, remember the definition of insanity “doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results.

  8. confidential says:

    Dear Mel Bronson:
    Stop blaming the “leftist” for the mess and the 2000 and 2008 financial disasters and depression caused not by the Nancy’s Pelosi’s, but by El Busho, Chaingrin and their band of bandits at the helmet.
    Also before you point fingers in the wrong direction see the party affiliation of the one’s suggesting a tax increase in the current county commission supporting and their almighty county manager that should have been let go when Milissa Holland wanted back years ago. Find out about the total income of them both and will see then how they justify to further over tax us all. Ask them where the 13 plus millions to buy and repair the Plantation Water Utility will really be coming from….? And top spreading lies please.
    Also we should tell the county manager to stop lay offs cutting the services we pay in advance in our taxes…instead cut the fat and stop buying holes in the ground benefiting developers that swallow our hard earned tax funds. I saw this coming after the secret late nite meeting to buy that failing Plantation utility from Hoseini! Hope if a “task force” will be called will not be another “price consultant” in our pockets as usual, but instead a group of retired professional volunteer residents lift up “the rug”.

  9. BOB S. says:

    WHY NOT PUT A TAX ON ALL THESE RENTAL PROPERTIES THAT ARE BOUGHT UP CHEAP BY INVESTORS THAT DON’T EVEN LIVE IN THE AREA CHEAP FROM THE BANKS THAT PEOPLE WHO LOST THEIR JOBS DUE TO HARD TIMES AND REAP BIG PROFITS FROM THEM MOST ARE POORLY MAINTANED AND ARE OCCUPIED BY MORE TAN ONE FAMILY.

    • Doug says:

      Better yet why don’t we see if we can borrow money from the feds at 0% interest like some of the banks that got us all in this mess. You know the ones that were too big to fail. and just keep going . Yes I’m just kidding . Our polticians in Washington DC got us in this mess. It’s kind of hard to trust politicians with more money again,
      Maybe let them increase our taxes for as long as they are willing to take a 2 day cut in pay each month. Not 2 days off. They probably do that already.

    • really? says:

      If there isn’t a city ordinance on the limiting the number of unrelated persons in residences there should be. And the number of persons that can occupy a residence based on square footage also. After all Gainesville did. Don’t you dare raise our property taxes!

  10. there are three sides to every story says:

    Stop buying land and water treatment plants…for that matter… stop buying…make due with what you already have…learn how to turn the lights off when you leave the room!

  11. Stevie says:

    Coffey isn’t to blame. The elected reps are the ones who give him the money because they believe his proposal. Where is the line item budget so we can see what costs what. I’ll bet it can be presented in a spreadsheet with about 6 pages or so. Very easy to see what is going on.

    Palm coast and Flagler county should be forced to consolidate. Wise up.

  12. kmedley says:

    Bob S. –

    Doesn’t the buyer/investor pay DOC stamps, fees, and utlimately property taxes? When are enough taxes from enough businesses and people enough?!

  13. just a thought says:

    There are never any winners in budget talks. If you raise taxes to pay for services, people complain. If you cut services to avoid raising taxes, people complain. Politicians, republican or democrat, are in a no-win situation.

  14. Diego Miller says:

    Mr. Coffey, save us all and resign. You are incompetent, verbose, overpaid and obtuse. To the County Commissioners , Sayanora come election time.

  15. Glad I left Palm Coast says:

    Bob S. There are a lot of people who have rental properties who don’t reap huge profits, I myself being one of them. I had to leave this shit hole of a county to find better wages, I still have my home and have to rent it out because 1. I am slightly underwater with my house and can not sell it at a profit. 2. I am not walking away from my home being a responsible homeowner I am and honoring my obligation to pay my loan on my house. The only way the county is going to survive is to bring industry in I lived there 10 years and all I heard was bring business in. Where is it? The frickin morons in office in Palm Coast and Flagler County are out for themselves. Its not going to happen, They want a retirement county where the service sector is the dominant employer paying out minimum wage jobs. Oh and health care jobs too but they don’t pay as much as in other states.
    I do agree that something should be done about those other rentals where the ghetto rats have invaded and making Palm Coast look like Chicago. But as long as the Libtards keep giving our hard earned taxes away to useless people nothing will change and our great country is doomed. I am ready for anarchy.

  16. tulip says:

    Now that 2 commissioners have been replaced and different Chairman, and also Hanns still on board, Coffey now has a good chance to get his “wish list” approved by the BOCC. Maybe Barbara Revels will be able to maintain some financial sense for the board.

    In fairness to the county budget though, 2 items, the tax increase of 870K the state requires from the county for retirement, and the 450k now required by the state for the county to pay in behalf of medicaid. Those two things are beyond the county”s control. However, as the infomercials always say “Wait there’s more” and we are not going to be happy and rest assured our taxes are going up.

  17. Mel- Apparently, you have everything figured out. It’s the damn radical liberals spending all the damn money! These hippie progressive imbeciles want to take our guns. How quickly you forget that the Bush Admin. dug the hole we are currently in by deregulating banks and bailing out crony companies.
    You sir, should run for office. If you spent half as much time ridiculing the authors on this site as well as anyone who doesn’t share the same belief and applied it to something constructively..

  18. confidential says:

    Stop blaming the “leftist” for the mess and the 2000 and 2008 financial disasters and depression caused not by the Nancy’s Pelosi’s, but by El Busho, Chaingrin and their band of bandits at the helmet.
    Also before you point fingers in the wrong direction see the party affiliation of the one’s suggesting a tax increase in the current county commission supporting and their almighty county manager that should have been let go when Milissa Holland wanted back years ago. Find out about the total income of them both and will see then how they justify to further over tax us all. Ask them where the 13 plus millions to buy and repair the Plantation Water Utility will really be coming from….? And top spreading lies please.
    Also we should tell the county manager to stop lay offs cutting the services we pay in advance in our taxes…instead cut the fat and stop buying holes in the ground benefiting developers that swallow our hard earned tax funds. I saw this coming after the secret late nite meeting to buy that failing Plantation utility from Hoseini! Hope if a “task force” will be called will not be another “price consultant” in our pockets as usual, but instead a group of retired professional volunteer residents lift up “the rug”.

    • Glad I left Palm Coast says:

      Hey confidential, Bush may have been president but who controlled the house and senate? The democrats, Bill Clinton started the housing mess Bush said it can’t continue and guess who was in charge of the banking committee Libtard Barney Frank. Get the facts straight before blaming Bush though he was no angel.

  19. James says:

    We need industry in this county, that would create jobs and tax revenue. Same story for years, will some one in office actively persue a large company. I think it was about 12 years ago when Mercedes wanted to open a plant here but of commissioners said no.

  20. wsh302@msn.com says:

    no matter how much water you try to conserve or how less electricity you try to use, the rates keeping on going up because of costs that are mandated. one gentleman stated that when all these expenses rise we can’t go to our employers or pension providers and ask for more money, that is so very true. i have been here 10 years and have seen no major employers come here providing jobs with medical and pension benefits. i was having a conversation the other day with my neighbor who is moving to north carolina where jobs are booming and homes are selling at a reasonable price also texas is another choice. a lot of people that i have talked to are saying that florida has lost it’s appeal and i agree.

    • Glad I left Palm Coast says:

      wsh302 you hit it right, I left last year to go work for CSX RailRoad back in New England, I left because you can’t retire on $12.50 an hour as a heavy equipment operator. My total earnings for 2011 was $27,000. As of April 26th of this year my earnings are $21,000 I am track to making over $60,000 this year that is why I left Palm Coast. Yes cost of living is slightly higher but I am taking home a lot more than $450 a week after taxes while living in Palm Coast. Plus I have money to put into retirement. Yes Florida has lost its appeal.

  21. Anon says:

    @Glad I Left.

    I had to take a temporary job in another state in order to support my family.
    In six months I made over $52,000 and with health care benefits.
    Even if I wanted to move out of this bleak area I am stuck because I am upside down in my home and purchasing another is not an option.

  22. Jojo says:

    If some of the more promising States would defer taxing pensions I’m sure more retirees would leave the swamp. Republicans have ruined this State and you can quote that!

  23. Ron Hubbard says:

    $8 million in the hole but the brain dead politicians keep spending as fast & furiously as they can.

    Is this spending disease controllable? What don’t these dolts understand about the necessity to seriously REDUCE spending.

  24. Ron Hubbard says:

    So if the county is in the red for over $8 million, how are they buying the decrepit, super overpriced HULK of a Bunnell hospital that will cost tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to completely rebuild and remove asbestos contamination?

    HOW???? Why?????

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