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A “Nasty” Government Building Highlights County’s Priorities as Budget Spells Higher Taxes

| May 29, 2013

County government shares the Government Services Building with the school board, but some commissioners are concerned that the place is going to pot for lack of proper maintenance. It's a  publicly emblematic consequence of tight budgets. (© FlaglerLive)

County government shares the Government Services Building with the school board, but some commissioners are concerned that the place is going to pot for lack of proper maintenance. It’s a publicly emblematic consequence of tight budgets. (© FlaglerLive)

The discussion at the very end of the Flagler County Commission’s budget session this morning unintentionally summed up the theme of the previous three hours—that after a half dozen years of budget constraints and cutbacks, the machinery of government is beginning to break down.

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County Administrator had earlier used the not entirely metaphorical image of a lawnmower no longer able to mow. Commissioner Barbara Revels seized on a more visible problem: what she termed the “nasty” look of the Government Services Building. “I just think that it’s dirty, the elevator is always nasty on the floor, and the stairs going up. Carpets are stained. For a very expensive building that people call the Taj Mahal, it just is not kept clean,” Revels said.

The county has just one full-time custodian assigned to clean the building. The school board has a part-timer. Facilities Director Heidi Petito had added a custodian to the coming budget. County Administrator Craig Coffey eliminated it, as the county is facing a $3.3 million budget gap going into next year, and an $8 million shortfall if all its immediate needs are calculated.

The result is a less than impeccable building—a publicly visible smear on government’s quality that’s emblematic of the challenges government is confronting generally. As custodian of public services, safety, insurance and the environment, it can only do so much anymore.

Almost three hours earlier, Coffey had told the commission that running county government as it’s been run for the past several years is no longer sustainable.

“We’re at the point now where we have to start making some adjustments to the way we’re operating,” because departments are running from emergency to emergency, unsustainably, Coffey said. “At some point you’ve got to breathe,” he said. “I’m at a critical stage as a manager, I have already lost employees, I am losing more and more,” with employees having trouble sticking with the county. “We’re at that stage now where we may have to bite that bullet and do something.”

The “something” he is proposing is a set of raises and promotions that amount to raises, as well as reinvestment in some capital and equipment, otherwise the functions of government would break down. Coffey told commissioners that it would be up to them to decide whether to go along with his proposals or start cutting services. So it came down to this: raises and re-investments, though with revenue the commission has yet to find, or program cuts.

Revels cut to the heart of the matter: However you look at it, she said, “we’re looking at a tax increase.”

No one else said a word. Not at this relatively early stage of the budget discussions. But Revels’s conclusion is difficult to evade. This year, there are no reserves to dip into, as in previous years, and what few dollars are in the reserve pot, Coffey has already said should be off limits. There is no new revenue. Tax receipts are about even with last year’s. And there are substantial new costs, especially in retirement expenses the county has no choice but to pay.

Barbara Revels.

Barbara Revels.

One by one, the commission and the administrator went through the county’s various departments, examining their budgets sometimes line item by line item, and finding out that, for the most part, the budgets are going up, even when personnel may be cut. Fleet management is jumping by close to $400,000 as the sheriff’s and the county’s fleets have merged. Presumably, the sheriff’s budget, which is funded by the same county general fund, will show a decrease close to that amount, but Coffey is not promising it: with sheriffs, you never know what comes out of their ledgers when budgets are submitted. The general services administration budget is going up 35 percent. Veterans services, up close to 6 percent (on a tiny budget, however). Human resources and community services would see a decline of more than 14 percent, but the finance department’s budget would jump 6 percent, land management would go up 35 percent (driven in large part by the county’s new and state-required manatee protection plan), the county attorney’s four-person office’s budget would increase by 10 percent, not including an additional attorney Al Hadeed, the county attorney, is seeking. The administration’s budget would increase by close to 6 percent, and the board’s budget by 13 percent.

It was after analyzing those numbers that Revels brought up the matter of the building’s looks to Coffey.


“I just hear you coming forward with reclassification of positions, which are effectively raises, and senior management-level raises, and I’m not disagreeing with any of that, but then we have a building, our most public building, that looks terrible, and is only going to get worse,” Revels said. If the interiors continue to deteriorate, the costs would be much greater in the long run.

“I think we can improve in some areas. I wouldn’t say terrible,” Coffey said.

“Again, are we cutting off our noses to spite our faces on some of these things?” Commission Chairman Nate McLaughlin asked, referring to the custodian’s cut. “We need to be realistic and not depreciate an asset before its time. And low maintenance will depreciate an asset.”

Coffey reminded them of the earlier discussion. “We talked about a $3.3 [million gap] start, and then you start adding on all those other things,” he said. Then he spoke numbers: a tax increase of 50 cent per $1,000 in valuation (precisely what the school board is seeking in a  June 7 referendum) would raise $3 million for the county. A $1 increase would raise $6 million. “That’s the challenges you’re going to have.”

Commissioner George Hanns was on Revels’s side. “When I meet a person, I judge them by personal hygene. If someone looks like a slob, it’s pretty obvious. This is our showcase, and when people come to your home you want to make an impression, and this is our home, and I would judge the occupants by the condition of the first impression I get when I walk in the building.”

The extra custodian was added back in. But that did not address the larger issue. The commission agreed only to break for lunch.

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23 Responses for “A “Nasty” Government Building Highlights County’s Priorities as Budget Spells Higher Taxes”

  1. Anon1 says:

    Wait until the city of Palm Coast piles on with their real estate tax increase.

    Two governments are one two many. Those who were sold on home rule bought a bridge. And those who sold it were full of hot air.

  2. Think About it says:

    The budget wouldn’t be in such a turmoil if the county commissioners took a cut in their pay… They care so much about the county, why don’t they sacrafice a CUT in their pay….?

  3. country Mama says:

    Why is Commissioner Revels so worried about the condition of the Taj Mahal or Tater Palace (as some folks call it) when the library has been needing new carpet and a new roof for years? No one seem upset about the condition of that building even when garbage cans have to be placed under the leaks and ceiling tiles fall on staff members.Is this really the time to hire another attorney when staff doesn’t make enough to pay their bills each week? More spending for new things without taking care of things that are already established or your employees. Why is that? When is the next election?

  4. Truth of the matter says:

    If you squander money, taxes will go up not that difficult to understand, have you learned nothing from the national debt ? None of this is as they say brain surgery, there are so many ways to cut.

    For example on Rt.100 yesterday, I passed several huge SUV’s all bearing county decals just cruising along carrying one person. Why not down size the gas guzzlers / and maintenance hogs in your fleet to compact cars, this can certainly be done if they are not emergency vehicles ?

    As far as custodial care that’s laughable, you probably have a hundred or more people in our now over crowded jail cells, a labor source that could be put out to work each day doing both interior and exterior work on county and city buildings. They could even build that new prison you want so badly with the right supervision, and do so at minimum cost to tax payers.

    Then again maybe we should give serious consideration to hiring Sheriff Arpaio of Maricopa County Arizona, he would could cut your budget in a heart beat. His inmates currently live in tents, wear pink jump suits, listen to classical music, and are served bologna sandwiches.

    Of course Maricopa county would not be nuts enough to let him leave.

  5. Luvs2swim says:

    to Truth in the matter… I like your idea about inmates building the new facility. Not only would they be able to earn a little $, but the would also be able to learn NEW skills.

  6. Diego Miller says:

    Mr.Coffey, Joe Mayer and the County Commission opted to lay off custodians and other essential personnel, while they kept their big checks intact. Let Mrs. Coffey and friends change from Dockers to Dickies and start earning those big checks.

  7. Ron Hubbard says:

    This is the dirty secret of the socialist progressive liberals and little potus obama. Big government and unlimited spending ultimately FAIL and fail big time.

    Why?

    As the iron lady of Britain said, the trouble with big govenemnt (socialism) si that sooner or later, they run out of OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY.

    Of course air heads like Pierre Tristam will tell you that endless spending is great and that huge all controlling government is what the stupid, ignorant, gullible little people need since only the government knows best and knows how to spend YOUR money. Tristam supports removing all weapons from private ownership so that the public is powerless and can be fully manipulated and controlled by the sanctimonious all knowing BIG government. Legal licensed guns create FREEDOM.
    When the public fears the government as now, TRYANNY results.

    The truth is that if government gets involved in ANYTHING, extreme waste, mismanagement, inefficiency and misguided results will occur. If you want anything screwed up big time, call in the government.

    Ronald Reagan’s famous statement rings truer than ever today.
    President Reagan said, “The 10 most feared words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.”

    • Bunnell Resident says:

      Ron,

      Look at the facts, county spending has gone down not up for five years. This small little county of ours actually has some cash reserves and they balance their budget every year. Not bad! I wish the federal government were run as well as Flagler County. I am proud of our county and I believe they have done a good job over the last five years of economic uncertainty. Pretty much everyone’s property taxes have gone down over the last 5 years. Even an increase in the millage rate as being proposed would still result in most people paying less than they did 5 years ago because their assessed value is lower. Government is not free but it is a necessary evil. I don’t agree with Pierre on almost anything but calling him an air head for having his own opinion is not productive. At least he doesn’t filter your postings or anyone else’s. Thank you Pierre for letting us have a forum to speak our minds even against you. I hate your politics but admire your respect for this open forum.

  8. Gia says:

    Generally speaking American people have no respect for somebody else property & need to clean up after their own mess, like every where there is trash, automobile throwing thing out the windows, smokers with cigarette butt, restrooms, filthy beaches etc. You do not see this in Europe.

  9. confidential says:

    Do any of our commissioners have the courage to question the budget of the county legal team as I read here with Attorney Hadded at the helm? He needs a ten percent increase and one more attorney when the county budget is shrinking as the economy does and the unemployment in this county is pathetic? County attorney ask to increase his legal team pay by 10 percent and one more attorney for what?, where is the extra work? Are we going back to the outrageous legal bills of 1996-1998 with the same team?
    Sorry, but I don’t believe half of the county budget needs, presented by the county manager. Coffey now cries wolf, after demanding and buying a useless water utility, and planning we buy the old hospital then of course he ask to raise our taxes. County can’t afford to maintain the Taj-Mahal of course, as should have never been built in our dime. We never did or have now the tax basis to sustain such a frivolous grandeur! County needs to tighten its belt like we all do and not cutting our services or employees. Just cut the real pork.

  10. Will says:

    Would there be any logic to hiring some of the people who clean office buildings – from time to time – to fill in and supplement cleaning staff – without the cost of a new employee with benefits? These small businesses need work too – and a few extra days for them might have good results for the county, if the economics were right.

  11. fla native says:

    Ask a Flagler County commissioner to take a cut in pay and watch what happens.

  12. Sherry Epley says:

    Again, it appears there will be a raise is taxes for promotions/raises for management/administrators, but cuts in basic services/maintenance. . . similar to the school board situation. There are many things wrong with this entire governmental situation! We voters need to pay very close attention and elect those that are judicious with the tax payers’ money, while keeping our services at the highest level possible.

    This whole thing is a result of pushing those costs and responsibilities down to the lowest level possible (cutting taxes at the federal and state levels) and creating more (expensive) bureaucracies along the way. Unfortunately the elected people in those positions are the ones who control the purse strings to their own pay check. The entire system is basically flawed and is consuming itself. . . VOTE and create fundamental change, or suffer the consequences by continuing to pay more and more for the top heavy political “administrators.” WE can and should step up and make the needed changes.

  13. there are three sides to every story says:

    Just leave the custodian a weekly to do list outlining what has to be done each day plus special area’s
    like the elevator floor and the stains on the carpets on the stairs and then go back and followup…it all can be done in 35-40 hours per week by one person…who does the custodian report to?
    put the lines on the page rather then just complaining about it!

  14. Brad W says:

    Pile on top of that the fact the taxable home values are going up this year with the real estate market recovery. This is another reason why it’s imperative to vote no on the school tax referendum. The schools are already getting the most. Substantial tax increases that are unnecessary will hurt the local real estate recovery. If that recovery is crippled at this point in time with values where they are, we will all be worrying about a whole lot more than just schools.

  15. Pete says:

    The more I read articles like this the more it reminds me of the incompetence of the County Commissioners, the School Board and the School Superintendent’s Office.

    How about the eye sores in our community that the City ignores. And they want to relax the color scheme of homes. The color purple coming to a house near you.

    Time to move.

  16. pete says:

    Build more fancy buildings and waste more money, the worst thing that happened was the boom. All the I think im so smart people had to spend money thinking it was never going to end. And the trust of it all the big buildings really were a waste of money..Now we want a new sheriffs office and cant take care of what they have now. ITS EASY TO SPEND MONEY THATS NOT YOURS ..

  17. Initialjoe says:

    The Taj Mahal needs cleaned? It’s spotless compared to other county buildings. The library…yeah…I wouldn’t even let my dog onto those carpets.

    The price of everything is rising. The cost of taxes will rise with the cost of everything else. Inflation is a fact. If you think you are going to pay the same taxes you did in 1984…you are living in a fantasy world.

  18. James says:

    Why not just increase the Red Light Traffic Camera fines to $1,000, there’s your $3M shortfall. If all the Commissioners have to talk about is cleanliness in that monstrocity, then they should be fired and get someone in there that knows how to run local government. C’mon people, get serious!

  19. Realty Check says:

    You cannot afford something than you sell it, Revels & McLaughlin are a disgrace to our community and need to go next election. Sell the building (if possible) and move into the old courthouse, its simple you cannot spend more than you make.

  20. Edith Campins says:

    We don’t have enough money to clean the buildings we have but we are considering buying the old hospital for four times its appraised value and spending five million to refurbish half of it?

    How are going to pay for cleaning that building?

  21. Magnolia says:

    I’d like to remind everyone that it was Coffey and the Commissioners who HAD TO HAVE this monument built to themselves. And I believe the Chamber also played a role in it.

    If I were you, Commissioner Revels and Commissioner McLaughlin, I’d roll up my sleeves and start cleaning. Either that, or take a pay cut so that we can afford to pay someone who needs a job to do it.

    There are a lot of disgraceful politicians in this community. In the two decades I’ve lived here, I’ve seen them destroy many things with their decisions and have yet to see something positive for the people, unless you want to talk about bike trails. We have to be the bike trail capitol of the US. Is there major money to be made from bike trails? Must be.

    I agree with Reality Check on this one. If you can’t afford it, sell it. Or move the Sheriff’s Dept. and the jail in there with you.

    No more realtors, developers, or builders lobbyists on our governing bodies here. They are in it for THEM, despite what they tell you.

  22. HMMMM..... says:

    A County Commissioner that takes a pay cut…..

    McLaughlin and Meeker are both up for reelection in 2014. McLaughlin is in District 4, my district and I have thought about running against him.

    But you see we need a manned fire station out in St Johns Park, so I would take that pay cut as a commissioner, from the just over $48.000 to $20,000 and give up all the benefits if any, and all will go to the fire fighter position at St Johns Park. I’m sure it’s not enough but I would hope the commissioners would be able to fine the rest of the salary in their budget.

    There have always been issues in our district and we’ve had commissioners, except Hutch King, that have taken our money and done nothing for us. McLaughlin has done some things for us but are they the right things at the right time? Take for example the current bridge being built on 305. It’s going to take 3 months…RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF HARVEST TIME!!! Had our commissioner actually lived out here and knew the people and the businesses that find 305 so essential in their daily lives, then he would have chosen a different time of year to schedule the rebuilding of the bridge. And why does it take in our district, 3 months, a complete road closure, a road detour…… through Bunnell, down Rt 11 to Cody’s Corner, down 304, to 305 and back north….. I mean really, did the commissioners, including our own District 4 Commissioner even think about the extra added cost on gas and time this would be for all the farmers, workers and truckers in the food industry? Not to mention any other businesses that depend on 305? The sod companies, the ranchers, etc… and the county trucks that frequently use 305 as well. Having to use that detour is going to be a huge drain in resources that I’m sure the county doesn’t have.

    If it was any where else in the county, it would have been done differently.

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