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As Flagler Beach Residents Bear Biggest Burdens of Changes, Commissioners Duck

| July 7, 2013

flagler beach pier State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

Those were the days. (State Archives of Florida)

By Rick Belhumeur

On the surface Flagler Beach appears very similar to how it looked during my first visit there over 45 years ago. Of course the biggest physical change is the replacement of the two-lane road and draw bridge with a new four-lane road and a massive bridge for access to town over the Intracoastal Waterway.

Rick Belhumeur

Rick Belhumeur

Most people who visit Flagler Beach probably wouldn’t notice or know of the changes because they are there for what has always been the city’s main attraction: the ocean. People have also always come to town to dine at its  restaurants. Residents weren’t affected much because there weren’t nearly as many restaurants as there are now. There were several bars in town but their patrons were mostly locals. Flagler Beach was self-sustaining and provided the services that it’s residents and visitors required.

Sometime around the turn of the century–the 21st century, that is–things started changing in Flagler Beach.

The city started accommodating more businesses in town. With more businesses came more visitors requiring more services. The taxpayers of Flagler Beach are paying for these additional services–without benefiting from all the visitors who make those greater demands on services. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. Now the residents have to tolerate this influx of people and the problems they cause. Visitors come into town, crowd the streets, use up the parking spaces, leave trash on the beach and break the laws. The taxpayers of Flagler Beach are the losers because more and more of the city resources are being used for visitors and less and less for the residents.

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The majority of those who come to use the beach don’t necessarily spend money while they are in town. They find a place to park along the ocean, carry their cooler with sandwiches and beverages to the beach and leave town when they are exhausted. The people who come to town to shop at the stores, eat at restaurants and party at the bars do spend money. But the sales tax revenue doesn’t stay in town. Taxes collected go to the state and the county. Some of this money does come back to town but not in proportion to the rate in which it’s generated. It is given back in proportion to the population of the city, which means Flagler Beach only gets about 5 percent of the revenues given back to the municipalities by the County.

Flagler County certainly knows the significance of using Flagler Beach to promote the county and attract visitors nationwide. The Tourist Development Council (funded with a county-wide sales surtax on motels, hotels and other short-term rentals) is using Flagler Beach in a promotional video, brochures and advertising in national publications to encourage people to visit Flagler County. Combine that with the city’s own encouragement of day trippers through special events, and it’s easy to see why the services of this tiny city are overwhelmed.

The recession only made things worse. The city’s main source of revenue–property taxes–took a huge hit. The county, which was in the same predicament, chose to modify the formula by which revenue from a local half-penny sales surtax was distributed to the municipalities, keeping more for itself. Flagler Beach had to find ways to support its budget with less money. If you factor in the rapidly escalating costs of providing health care and pension benefits to its own employees, the city had no choice but to make cuts and raise the property tax rate. Flagler County should absorb at least some of the additional cost of providing extra police protection, rescue services and trash collection required to accommodate the flood of visitors to Flagler Beach.

A picture from when the author first visited Flagler Beach, in 1966. click on the image for larger view. (Rick Belhumeur)

A picture from when the author first visited Flagler Beach, in 1966. click on the image for larger view. (Rick Belhumeur)

Last week the Flagler Coounty Commission appeared ready to offer the sort of help that would reduce annual costs to the city by $100,000 or more by combining fire services through a variety of options, some of which would retain Flagler Beach’s ownership of its fire house and equipment. So why was Flagler Beach Commission Chairman Steve Settle so quick to stand before the County Commission and say: “We decided at this particular time we’re not going to go forward with asking for this help.”

Who does Settle mean by “we?” We, meaning the residents of Flagler Beach? We, meaning the City Commission? I believe he meant the City Commission, but how can he speak for the entire group of commissioners? That same commission voted unanimously to ask pointed questions to the county so an informed decision about how to move forward with the Flagler Beach Fire Department could be made by both public and commission.

None of the city commissioners knew the answers to all of the questions asked when Settle made his unilateral declaration to the county, and neither did the taxpayers of Flagler Beach. The county conveyed those answers to Flagler Beach commissioners only late this week.


Settle’s was not an informed decision, as promised it would be previously. Very little (if any) consideration was given to the prospect of the county helping the city with this huge burden to the taxpayers of Flagler Beach. There was no deliberation within the city commission, no negotiations with the county, and most importantly, no feedback from the residents of Flagler Beach. The people of Flagler Beach have been deprived of the opportunity to have a higher level of fire rescue services for less money.

It is going to cost the taxpayers of Flagler Beach many hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars to replace equipment and upgrade its Fire Rescue Services to 21st century standards. It is the City Commission’s responsibility to keep the residents’ best interest in mind and keep the cost of providing this essential service under control. It’s not enough to say that we have always had a Fire Department and we will do whatever it takes(or costs) to keep it here. This way of thinking will only keep the city from providing all of the services its own residents need and wish for.

The Flagler Beach City Commission and its administration should keep in mind that there is life beyond the business district. That life is the homeowners in this town, the voters who still provide the majority of the revenue and should receive the majority of consideration before decisions are made that affect each and every one of them.

Rick Belhumeur is a Flagler Beach property owner. He previously wrote on fire services consolidation. Reach him by email here.

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26 Responses for “As Flagler Beach Residents Bear Biggest Burdens of Changes, Commissioners Duck”

  1. Yellowstone says:

    It’s now time to “pave paradise, and put in a parking lot!”

    Look at your southern neighbor who is about to charge a $30 daily rate just to drive on their beach.

    Yep . . . it’s beginning to look a lot like money, money, money. Whatever happened to Paradise?

  2. Marissa says:

    The consolidation of Fire Services by Flagler County didn’t offer any significant savings to the tax payers of Flagler Beach. The County has an obligation to at least support residents of Flagler Beach during the Summer months when visitors and population swell. Instead of the Flagler County Commission sucking money out of the year round residents it should at least give more than the 5% it gives back. Big deal! How about chipping in for extra police and emergency services during the height of the Summer months.

  3. Laura W. says:

    Gosh it must be nice to have all of Ricks thoughts published on the front page. Let me put my two cents in while we are at it.
    Rick…times are changing now whether you like it or not, Flagler Beach is a growing city and is never going to remain a small town. With its prime real estate at the beach it will draw a popular demand to this region of the county and even the state. This will explain why it does not look the same 45 years ago. The city buisnesses only survive due to its visitors. For you to quote “Now the residents have to tolerate this influx of people and the problems they cause. Visitors come into town, crowd the streets, use up the parking spaces, leave trash on the beach and break the laws.” RIck what are you thinking????? Do you realize how much income the “visitors” brought in this 4th of July?

    Mr. Belhumeur from my understanding YOU DO NOT EVEN LIVE IN THE CITY, you own property so I dont understand on how this burdens you.

    Last week the City Commision went to a meeting to ask questions. And they got answers. Some answers that they did not like to hear from the county. The city commision DID their job. Settle WAS informed. The county would essentially cost more as IT WAS STATED in certain scenarios. The county also even proposed a cutback in service such as removing the Fire Engine from the beach and running a Fire Engine from the Airport or the Hammock thus increasing response times for an emergency. For that I thank the commison for keeping the citizens best interest in mind. You act as if the city Fire Department is in the stone age but in fact is at 21st cenuty standards. They provide the same professional service just as the county and Palm Coast does. As I asked you in your last post to back up the numbers on how the fire department can cost hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars as you just quoted. I still have yet to find out answers you claim to have.

    I will be the first one to step up and say.. I am PROUD of my city commisoners looking out for my best interest.

    Visitors please keep coming to visit Flagler Beach you are always welcome here.

    For the Flagler Beach Fire Department. Keep up the good work!

    • Rick Belhumeur says:

      Laura, You missed the whole point. Yes I do realize that massive amounts of money were spent within the city over the 4th but it all went into the pockets of the business owners. This DOES NOT benefit the the residents and taxpayers of Flagler Beach. The City did make some money selling vender spaces and sponsorships for the event but ended up spending it to cover expenses.

    • FB Insider says:

      Laura,

      With all due respect, your wrong. The City Commission went to the meeting and did not review the answers, nor the proposal in full, prior to the visit. They simply showed up, declined help and left. Let me refresh your memory:

      “At our last budget workshop a week and a half ago we decided at this particular time we’re not going to go forward with asking for this help,” he said. But no such decision has formally been reached by Flagler Beach, and no such decision was reached during the workshop.

      With that being said, CLEARLY you didn’t read all 47 pages of the report in the previous article. You stated ” removing the Fire Engine from the beach and running a Fire Engine from the Airport or the Hammock thus increasing response times for an emergency”. There also MULTIPLE other options proposed, however you conveniently only remember the one removing an engine from the barrier island?

      Lastly, you also state “They provide the same professional service just as the county and Palm Coast does”. This couldn’t be more inaccurate. The City of Palm Coast AND Flagler County both provide ADVANCED LIFE SUPPORT on their engines. They both provide LIEUTENANTS on their engines. Their officers all have more than 3 years on the job. They carry advanced airway interventions, cardiac monitors and medications to assist you in your time of need. They also all have 3 members MINIMUM on an engine. On any given day, Flagler Beach only employs TWO on an engine, unless a volunteer decides to “ride” for the day. In addition, Flagler County has CERTIFIED water rescue members. Flagler Beach Fire Department swimming to the end of the pier and back once a year doesn’t mean “ocean rescue certified”.

      At the end of the day, there were multiple options, as much as $265k a year savings, with the average of $100k a year. At the end of the day, savings is savings. After all, Mr. Campbell cut the Parks & Recreation Department and awarded a contract to Favoretta Landscaping for the city’s work. Oh, that’s right, that’s who does his PERSONAL work too.

  4. Kip Durocher says:

    Mr. Belhumeur when are you going to announce your candidacy for the next elections for a seat on the Board of City Commissioners of Flagler Beach?

    • Rick Belhumeur says:

      At this time I am a property owner and tax payer in Flagler Beach but don’t live within the city limits. Currently I pay six tax bills for properties in the city. I am having a home built in Flagler Beach and should be homesteaded there before the end of this year. You must be a resident for one full year to qualify for the position of commissioner.

    • Dusty says:

      Some of us hope never.

  5. Popo3984 says:

    Another Anti public employee artical how about you look at the personal service that would be lost if that happend the county employees wouldn’t know the city as well as the city firefighters or police officers but hey I guess you think the county won’t just raise the rate of how much they would charge either right

  6. Beachlvr84 says:

    As a fellow FB owner/full-time resident, I whole-heartedly agree. The problem us, we have an inept commission that doesn’t care about the residents they work for.

  7. MSFB says:

    Bye-bye…Steve

  8. Magnolia says:

    You are either going to have to put in parking lots for the beach crowds or put up “No Parking” signs along the beach road. However, doing this or putting in parking meters will only drive the cars into the neighborhoods.

  9. TRUTH OF THE MATTER says:

    Good job Rick, we are now living in a party town, a town in which only a certain few profit. A town were the costs associated with these never ending parties is being carried on the backs of a few home owners. Wake up F.B.

  10. confidential says:

    Flagler County and BOCC keep too much money from its cities tax revenue for the services they provide to them…that is why they were able to waste our funds in that Taj Mahal, King’s Hammond Justice Palace, EMS building, the Oversize Bobby Ginn Hangar that we got stuck paying for, The Cakes Across our Pockets loan for over half million that we are also paying for and now that decrepit old hospital. The VIP’s EMS and other administrators salaries that go around with nothing to but hands in their pockets in the county payroll funded by all our cities. Don’t even look at the costly luxurious EMS installations and band radio communications equipment and costly 300,000 a year plus connection that for example Palm Coast is paying for, but denied the band use on emergencies, last I knew. Besides the fact that when emergencies arouse, the County EMS system is a communications joke….while totally silenced to its residents, that have to resort to TV for the local developments during hurricanes, storms or fires.
    For those in FB supporting its own services of Fire Dept. and Police in FB…as far is my experience since 1991 in this county they are totally correct! Why do you all think we Palm Coasters decided to become a city in 1999…? Simply because the county services to us were NONE. They used to take the maintenance of our Palm Coast Parkway and other main roads “in kind used instead for Princess Place” while overgrown weeds and litter were eyesores for us residents, that hardly visited Princess Place. Never mind calling county code enforcement or law enforcement, as that was a joke, for Palm Coast residents, after ITT left and before 1999 when 80% of Palm Coast unincorporated area residents voted YES to incorporate. We didn’t do it over being cocky, we did it over necessity. Meanwhile the Palm Coast residents tax revenue was who put Flagler County on the map and lined their pockets! Unfortunately we are still doing it, by charter..
    Take a look at the taxes paid in Daytona Beach and other cities and how much in comparison is paid to their county versus city…and even how much is paid to the schools versus what we pay here in school taxes. Is up to ya’ll in FB to fund and maintain your own services …or gamble them. But before changing better make an in depth research, politics aside.

  11. FRANK DILIBERTO says:

    Time for consolidation is here. Do it now and you will be glad you did. The county offers much, much more in equipment, training, service, reduced costs, management, and long term benifits. Time to forget about what the police and fire departments “could be” and move towards consolidation. This not only applies to Flagler beach but all small communities, it will become tougher and tougher in the not to distant future to provide the service,equipment, health care and pensions etc. without large volume purchases.

  12. News? says:

    IF the county could save FB $100,000 it would be about $3 a month per resident. Really, that’s where you are looking to save? There are bigger budgets in the city that can be cut. Hey fire “haters” lets keep looking.

  13. one who knows says:

    Flagler beach is unique. We must not be intimidated by lousy politicos. The County needs to fork it over. Palm Cost just uses us

  14. Anonymous says:

    Rick Drop the whole fire dept consolidation issue you can’t face it that the city doesn’t wanna do it and you think you can keep on bringing it up and act like you know everything, not sayin I do either. Their are plenty of other ways the city can save money besides consolidation and not to mention even that won’t save the city hardly any money. Good job Flagler Beach city commssion on not consolidating the fire dept don’t listen to Rick!!he’s just another Kim Carney

  15. Popo3984 says:

    The county services are horrible compared to the services provided by all three cities I mean crime is out of control in palm coast because the sheriffs office does such a great job right what a joke

  16. Magicone says:

    All residents and visitors to Flagler Beach had better enjoy what they have while they still have it. With Global warming and the weather patterns for the past few decades; in another 20 to 30 years A1A will be washed away and you will have to take a boat to get to the pier.

  17. John Smith says:

    Well since Campbells TRUTHFULNESS is in question. He says there is other cities in Florida that have captains in charge instead of a fire chief or police chief. Our question should be as to WHERE are they Bruce? Prove it because your word is NO good.

  18. tom dooly says:

    Well like someone on one of these other articles said; Fb Cannot grow thanks to the previous commissioners/voters who choose not to annex years ago and start bringing in revenue like bunnell started doing about 5 years ago for future develpoment. Wanna know how close pc is? Take a look at the publix north of state road 100 all palm coast; now turn around and look south at the vacant food lion plaza; all fb. What a great place for city hall; fd; pd; plenty of room for meetings and parking, Just a thought. Palm coast is getting closer,closer and closer.Bring in revenue or raise taxes? By the way Rick I like those old pic’s of fb; got anymore to share?

  19. AMOS says:

    Its Obvious Our City Officials have Made up Their Minds What is Going to Happen, Regarding Our Police & Fire Dept’s!!! (Regardless of What We Residents Think or Want) !!! Stop Beating a Dead Horse and Start Thinking About Election Time !!!!! Marissa, We Agree with You 100 % !!!! Sorry Laura W., If Someone Does the Math, The Costs of All the Extra Public Services Needed to Maintain This 4 Day Flagler Beach 4th of July Fiesta, Far Out Weighs the ” INCOME” You Speak Of !!!! Yes Our Beach was Over Crowded with People, But They Brought Their Own Food ( Just ask the Vendors, Who Stated they Would not Return, Was not worth the $ they Paid to Even Set Up According to them.) Our Allowing “DRINKING’ on the Beach was” VERY EVIDENT”, It was Trashed with Beer Bottles Cans, Liqueur Bottles Etc. That took its Toll on Having to Be Picked Up,( 4 Days of it Mind You!!) Not To Mention if We are really trying to Promote Our Local Establishments, Just Think of The Revenue That was Lost Allowing What We Do Here on Our Beach!!! Some Call it “UNIQUE” we call it “SAD” Go To any of Our Neighbors Beaches, Not Gonna See “ANYTHING” Like We All Saw Here this Past Weekend !!!!! Hey BeachLVR.84 Your Right on the $ !!! We are Sure Some of the Visitors Stayed Here & Paid Here, But as Rick Stated, The traffic Heading North and West Over the Bridge was Backed up for “HOURS”, They Came They Ate & Drank What they Brought, Left the Mess & Headed Out !!! Profit to Our City, We Think “NOT” !!!!

  20. Amazed says:

    This WILL NEVER be a small retirement town. It will grow into a busy city in order to survive. If you cannot face reality better start packing up now.

  21. Sherry Epley says:

    Our town (every town) must grow to survive. The question is, how do we want it to grow? Would we like to attract resident and tourist serving businesses of high quality? Should we be the freedom loving at all costs town. . . bring your beer, guns, dogs, noise, fires on the beach?

    The commissioners are doing their best to help guide and shape our community according to our desires. . . it is a huge, difficult job. . . especially since there are so many differing opinions reflected here.

  22. Roy Johnson says:

    This is called Circular Cause and Consequence or “when the consequence is claimed to be the root cause.” More formally it’s probably known to many as the adage “Correlation does not imply causation”. It is an error in logic.

    1. These special events have a small budgetary impact to our Fire Dept. It doesn’t cost us much money at all for the increased Fire Dept presence to cover these events. Want to know why? Because most of the Fire personnel working those events are volunteers from Flagler Beach Fire, Bunnell’s Volunteers, and City of Palm Coast Volunteers.

    2. Look at how much it cost a couple years ago when FB Fire was needed by the County to help with their wildfires. Fires no where near our city that cost our residents far more than these events ever have. If the County controlled the FB department, what do you think will be more important to them… the County’s needs or the City of Flagler Beach’s needs?

    3. Look at the call or “run” distribution for the Fire Dept in Flagler Beach. We responded to roughly 1200 calls in 2012. In my experience these special events (4th of July particularly) accounts for about 8 – 10 of those calls for service. Less than 1%. These events and the harm they do to our City and Business in the opinion of the author have nothing to do with our Fire Department in a financial sense as implied.

    We run most of our calls to people’s homes in our City who call us for help. This has no connection to big events like 4th of July in any significant way or the costs of having a City FD.

    4. The annual cost savings are negligible under the best proposals from the County. Nobody is talking about the one-time costs involved to make our Engine (regardless of which proposal you pick) an ALS engine to provide all the extra services promised. The City still gets that bill and the county will get to decide when and where that Engine is “most needed”.

    We have paramedics working at Flagler Beach today. If the extra service of ALS is in such high demand, the City could do this on its own just like Palm Coast does with their Engines. Either way you are not going to get there without significant fixed costs that are conveniently not being discussed.

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