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The Time Will Come For a New Palm Coast City Hall. This Isn’t It.

| November 18, 2013

The free land for Palm Coast's eventual city hall isn't going anywhere. The building itself can wait. (© FlaglerLive)

The free land for Palm Coast’s eventual city hall in Town Center isn’t going anywhere. The building itself can wait. (© FlaglerLive)

When I was working on a story about Palm Coast’s latest attempt to build a city hall I had a long conversation with John Walsh, the publisher of the Palm Coast Observer, who is backing the idea. He wanted to know, yes or no, whether I supported it. It’s ironic, because some of our conversation centered on whether we should have that very choice at the ballot box, where we residents would get to say yes or no—a choice the city wants to deny voters.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive.com flaglerlive Having that choice is what I favor most. City officials know  that if this went to voters, they would very likely reject it. Not because they rejected it in 2005. That previous project was garish and expensive, but I agree with the city’s perspective on this one: it has little relation to the current proposal, and should have little bearing on it. Residents would still reject the new proposal because they know that while the time will come for a new city hall, this is not it. It’s not urgent. It’s certainly not a public necessity nor a priority. And the reasons to build a city hall are not nearly as convincing as the reasons not to just yet.

City Manager Jim Landon’s narrative is that this is a unique opportunity to build something the city needs without socking it to taxpayers. He makes the claim with a straight face. The city council appears to be buying it, and may vote to approve the scheme Tuesday morning. That’s how far Landon and the council have deluded themselves into thinking that using millions of dollars in taxpayer money for a luxury primarily to the glory of the city bureaucracy isn’t sticking it to taxpayers. As if the only way to defraud taxpayers is to unnecessarily raise taxes. As if squandering $9 million in taxpayer dollars for an indulgence weren’t a swindle. Amazing how our governments can invent rationales to plunder public treasuries. And Palm Coast government is dominated by conservatives who reflexively rail at big, wasteful government–so long as it’s not their big, wasteful, government.

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What I find especially troubling about the city’s approach is its sense of entitlement. City leaders speak as if they are entitled to a new building, to taxpayers’ money, to upending public priorities to suit their own extravagance. Landon and his Amen corner on the council will have you believe that a $9 million city hall is actually a saving for taxpayers, and that the money is the equivalent of a one-time windfall to the city with one best use. They really do take us for idiots.

Two thirds of the money would come from the repayment of a loan to the general fund from the Town Center redevelopment zone. The city is acting as if this were found money. It isn’t. The nearly $6 million owed the general fund is taxpayer money. It isn’t a gift to the council members or the administration to build themselves new digs. It’s money that can be used for anything the council chooses, but it’s also money that can be used to keep the property tax in check. It’s money that can be used on other capital projects that have a far broader public benefit than a city hall (think sidewalks, think park improvements, think swales). It’s money the city can use to pay rent on its current offices for the next 24 years. It’s money the city could use for almost as long if it chose to eliminate red-light cameras without feeling the effects of the lost revenue. Or it’s money that can be stashed in the city’s reserves, which happen to be very, very low.

But even to suggest that the city can build this city hall without raising taxes takes taxpayers for fools. For the past six years at budget time all we’ve heard is that the city has no money to do this or that. Every dollar spent on that city hall will be a dollar subtracted from other needs—actual needs, not wants–that, when they come due, will require that either new revenue be found or that taxes be raised or that the needs be delayed. And that revenue will be needed. Just remember the last time Landon proposed building a city hall. That was in 2010, when he made the exact same arguments. At the time there was an additional $3 million supposedly available from the sale of Palm Coast’s old city hall, a 70,000 square foot building the city sold to Palm Coast Data in a dreadful deal that never paid off. Where is that money now? Spent filling budgetary craters.


Meanwhile the city is playing a shell game, hoping taxpayers don’t notice and throwing out guesswork as dogma, whether it’s the one about owning being better than renting or that planting city hall in the middle of Town Center’s nowhere will spur economic development. These days, with an economy still facing double-digit unemployment and commercial centers like Palm Harbor, City Marketplace and Roma Court still more shuttered than active, the move is more likely to dislocate economic development than spur it. The city’s presence at City Marketplace has been a lifeline for that area. Without the city offices as an anchor, several businesses there might fail, and City Marketplace’s unexpected little renaissance as an art hub might be in jeopardy. The city is willing to take those risks. Why?
In sum there’s a lot more arrogance than prudence in the city’s approach. It’s symbolized by the way it proposes to go about phasing in the building itself: the part of the plan that would include a community center and meeting place would be built last, if at all, because the money for it isn’t available to build now. And when it does become available, it’ll be sucked away from other improvements that may be needed in Town Center. That tells you all you need to know about what this city thinks of its community needs.

Landon and the council want their city hall the way petulant children want a new toy. Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts seemed to understand that a couple of years ago. He was fond of saying that the city should focus on its needs, not its wants. A new city hall is as close to the definition of a want, not a need. He’d finally pledged not to build the thing without a referendum back then. But he was running for re-election at the time. Let’s see whether Netts’s convictions are made of courage or opportunism.

Whether a referendum is required on the matter or not (and in fact it isn’t), it’s a good idea to hold one, not just because it’s too controversial an issue to ram down residents’ throats, but because residents should have a say on whether they want $9 million of their money to be devoured by a luxury that will not change the delivery of services one whit. So it’s pretty simple. If the city is convinced that this is a good thing for itself and for residents, just ask residents what they think. That’s a yes or no question all of us would welcome.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here. A version of this commentary was broadcast on WNZF and syndicated by ContextFlorida.

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40 Responses for “The Time Will Come For a New Palm Coast City Hall. This Isn’t It.”

  1. Genie says:

    Good article. Hope all will attend that Council meeting tomorrow, 9am, Community Center. Landon stole $8 million out of our water fund to give to developers and we won’t get it all back.

    This man needs to go; this Council needs to be voted out. They are not our friends and they are not putting the voters first.

    There will be a time to build it, but not now.

  2. orphan says:

    Oh yeah! I like this one, Pierre!
    You’ve outdone yourself. I was thinking that no matter what PC people wanted-they would get what city hall SAID they would get. Maybe now, with your STRONG and perfectly logical reasoning, voters (if given a chance) will see a bit clearer and stop the madness which is Palm Coast Government!

  3. A.S.F. says:

    A good article that will make not one bit of difference to narcissistic minds that only see what they want to see and would force what they believe down the throats of anyone who disagrees with them. My question is: What would it take, legally, to remove Landon from office? He seems to be at the center of every controversy that pisses off the citizenry of Palm Coast, big time.

    • Rob says:

      @A.S.F.
      Keep in mind that the Mayor has repeatedly said that the Town Manager does exactly what the Town Council directs him to do. He is merely a $220,000 a year messenger.

  4. Linda says:

    Oh come on…….Let’s build a 50 million dollar City Hall, put the same incompetent trolls in it and tell the citizens of Palm Coast, its for their own good. And then, after that’s completed, let’s buy 1000 more traffic camera’s and install them on all the residential street “hot spots” and make the citizens pay MORE, AND MORE, AND MORE, AND MORE, AND MORE !

  5. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    The author makes some valid points, however I disagree with his final verdict. I think now is the time to build a city hall, and this is a reasonable plan. The City will need a city hall sooner or later, there is no question, the storefront always was a temporary solution. Every year the city remains there not only wastes money in rent, but also tacks on opportunity costs. Building costs are significantly cheaper today than they’ve been in years, or will be in the years to come, as are interest rates. Having a vacant town center does nothing to bolster our property values, a reasonable city hall built in there would generate guaranteed foot traffic and could jump start that development.

    • Johnny Taxpayer says:

      And to follow up… the Palm Coast Data deal ended up not working out, but it was a good deal at the time, and one the CIty had to make. The city didn’t loose money, they got a fair price for an industrial building that wasn’t well suited as a City Hall in the first place. It’s more than just the individual deal, the city had (and to a great extent still has) a bad reputation for being unfriendly to business. The PCD deal went along way towards changing that perception. It shouldn’t be used to as a case in point not to do it again.

  6. The Truth says:

    I agree with you on many things but I disagree on this one. This city is in need of a new city hall. We need an identity and we need to start building town center. I realize that city hall should not be the centerpiece of town center and it won’t be, but it will help spur companies coming into city hall. I am not in support of an over the top city hall, but I do believe we need a nice facility that will be able to house our needs for today and for many years to come. Let’s do this right, from the beginning for a reasonable price. Building costs are low right now and as the economy grows so will building costs. The current facility is a disaster. It’s filled with mold, it looks tacky and it’s very small. We are throwing away $22,000 a month for absolutely nothing.

    If not now then when?

  7. Anonymous says:

    We need a street light at US1 an Matanzas woods intersection before we need a new city hall. We need a plethera of things in this city before a new city hall. How about hire more Police officers, fire dept, ems, etc. Or even better, pay the existing emergency personnel what they should be paid, try put their lives on the line everyday for a salary that can’t support a household.

    Come on Palm Coast open your eyes…. Vote no to a new city hall

    • Frank Diliberto says:

      First off we have excelent police protection . Second we have 5 fire stations that average less than 8 calls Each a day. Now is the best time for this project . Let’s do it

  8. Mario says:

    This MUST go to a vote. If these arrogant self-serving egomaniacal antagonists want to push this down our throats, we shall make sure none of them ever get a chance to use this unneeded castle. We shall vote them all out of office!

  9. Anonymous says:

    This sitting council is going to build a city hall whether the citizens of Palm approve it or not. That is why they don’t want to put in before the voting public. Get out to the polls people this whole city council needs to go. The circus headquarters are in Sarasota not here in our fair city !!!!

  10. Steve Wolfe says:

    Well said, Mr. Tristam. I think that politicians like to build monuments to themselves at taxpayer expense, the way NFL owners coerce their home city to build them a new stadium under the constant threat that “I’ll take my ball (club) and leave.” I am for keeping our politicians humble, as servants to the taxpayers, not lords over us. Rented space serves the public’s needs just fine. I haven’t heard any complaints from citizens about getting their needs met on account of the location of the city government. I fail to see how it makes sense for the taxpayer to have an exclusive building erected simply so Landon, Netts, or any others who are interested in this project, can be remembered as the ones who “got it done.” If they want a fancy monument to be remembered by, which will forever be in the public eye, let them build something at their personal expense. May I suggest one of those bronze statues in a park that attracts lots of pigeons.

    We need to keep our local government in check. Good government starts at home. We certainly have plenty of examples of the abuse of power and resources at the national level. Let’s not have our own local version of the same.

  11. Magicone says:

    This sitting council is going to build a new city hall whether the voting public wants to or not. That is why they don’t want to put in before the citizens of Palm Coast. Get to the polls people, this whole sitting council needs to go ASAP!!!! The circus headquarters are in Sarasota; not here in Palm Coast. This city council needs to go to Sarasota; I heard they are hiring clowns.

  12. fruitcake says:

    Thank you Pierre..it could not have been stated any better!

  13. Marissa says:

    Let the people vote on it not 6 people. These people that run this City are not thinking of you and I. We need jobs and it’s always the same bs like it will bring in more companies. They snooker us with this cow manure every time and it falls flat every time. Time to vote all these people out and to get rid of high priced Landon too. If they’re so concerned about bringing in companies to Town Center what makes them think companies will want to stay here with the likes of Red Light cameras. They have their priorities axx backwards. You notice how our water bills have been increasing slightly since they put in those meters. They hired a crook in Landon who has done nothing but brought misery to our beloved Palm Coast. We need people who will do what is best for this City and it ain’t Red Light Cameras or a new City Hall. Put this referendum to the voters once and for all.

  14. Mario says:

    It is astonishing to me that we are even having this conversation. To think that a small group of people could make such a significant decision on their own is absurd. What kind of place is this that would allow such a travesty to occur right underneath the tax payers noses? How can this even be legal? This cannot possibly be allowed without recourse?! These people do not have any right to make a $9M + decision without taking this to a vote, or do they? If they do, then we are in worst shape then I could ever have imagined.

  15. James says:

    Great article, valid points. What our city needs to do is get industry into this county. People need jobs that pay a living wage, people need to feel good about their future. I only see those in power either political or economic as the one’s who will make out on this deal. I think Palm Coast is a great place to live and can have a bright future. Business draws in people, people spend money, taxes raised by a growing population allows funds for a city hall.

  16. Rob says:

    My goodness. I thought that I had good insight and was able to expose these people for who and what they are.

    But this has to be one of your best exposés of the self centered governing style of the people who were elected and appointed to serve the citizens of Palm Coast .

  17. ken says:

    We voted down a school referendum last summer–which I was in favor of. Why not allow the citizens to speak on this? How about a community center/rec center! Does anyone remember when we voted for rec center and city hall many years agao? Had the city hall not been on the ballot we would have had wonderful community/rec center for our kids.

    I don’t think we are throwing away $22,000 a month. We have business that are able to profit with the presence of town hall at City Walk. Use the available funds for other projects in the community.

    Why not have the City Hall on a 5 year or 10 year plan—just feel like this is being done without support of majority of community.

  18. TJ says:

    When will CIMMARON Drive ever get a Sidewalk or at least widen the roadway so my fellow neighbors can walk safely in the neighborhood? People are putting there lives on the line walking down this busy road. Safety concerns FIRST for Citizens of Palm Coast prior to constructing a waste less and useless City Hall.

  19. Raul Troche says:

    That Taj Mahal on 100 hasn’t done anything to stimulate our local economy and neither will a Palm Coast city hall. Instead it will be a burden on the taxpayers and put us further in debt. Municipal debt is counter inducive. The Taj Mahal won’t be paid off for over 20 years. We don’t need more debt!

  20. Ben Dover says:

    When these lying thieves take down their rigged red camera lights , get some jobs in the area to fill up all the empty strip malls, and other buildings , bring in some decent places to eat I mean 4 McDonalds and 3 Wendy`s what kind of kickbacks are they getting there , how bout a Sonics , Five Guys Burgers , and fill up our two empty business parks with companies offering jobs and build a new one , I love how they built this building calling it some stupid name like Palm Coasts Business Enterprizes m, their job is to go out and find companies to come open plants in Palm Coast , but all Ive read is they keep giving these women that work there made up positions with raises and hiring more women who Im sure know many positions and how to move up in that company, until all this garbage goes away , no new building use one of the many empty ones in town , pay some of the mortgages on them em[pty mistakes they seem to keep making to keep their favorite contractors working and kicking back appreciation funds, how bout we wait till we get these lying ,booze hawking, utility fund stealing, 44 rigged red light dirt bags out of office , they`ve turned our town into a ghetto in 5 yrs and try to hide it with tree`s that block your vision all over medians, all over town, giving their grateful friends more useless work, they cause more accidents with these over planted , over watered,road jungles, its like putting a dress on a pig, when we get them out of office and the people they made move into the woods with their lack of bringing in jobs thern maybe , just maybe they can build their little pig sty

  21. tom jack says:

    I heard that the Public Works buildings were full of mold, yet the employees were still required to work out of them. Won’t this lead to health problems and possible lawsuits in the future? If we need to build a new building then why not replace these? Oh yeah I forget his royal assness landon doesn’t work out of these buildings so he doesn’t care if his employees are exposed to mold causing disease’s, after all its not affecting him.

  22. Brad West says:

    I don’t agree and see the City Hall project with the current plan as a good thing. There’s a lot of talk of the “the money should be used for . . . ” in the argument against. What people tend to be forgetting is that growth and economic improvement is what will provide for them in the long-term. When it comes to things that are flat out expenses and you have $X. It’s better to take the $X and invest them in something which will generate the money for the expenses and then some long-term. Else you just spend the $X and it is gone forever.

    The “investment” I’m talking about is Town Center and I think many are missing it’s significance. A lot of the proposed development there has been held up because of waiting for something like the City Hall which brings traffic. It’s much the same reason that many are arguing that to leave City Walk will hurt the business there. The development of that area is also an opportunity for Palm Coast and the surrounding County to all benefit as the area can begin to establishing itself as a destination area (where people outside the area want to come for various things). There’s a void between Daytona and St. Augustine/Jacksonville and we have the opportunity to fill it. Couple that with continued focus on youth sports tournaments and the flow of tax dollars will yield far more than that $9 million for all of the expense items people are talking about (parks already has several million dollars slated by the way).

  23. confidential says:

    They never give up on by passing us to spend 9 million plus of funds that we do not have!

  24. JOG says:

    Pierre uses the 6 million construction figure. I like to use the 9 million also published (or 11 million when walk through and punch lists are completed) that includes the new building AND parking, grounds, structural maintenance crews, cleaning crews, utility bills, parking for city officials only signs, etc. The City Hall building should not be thought of as a home we are buying that may appreciate in the future. It must be thought of like a personal vehicle, the price of doing personal business, that will eventually wind up like the Bunnell City Hall. Why pay out 9 million in one year. We can spread the 9 million over 36 years paying out 250,000 the first year and having $8,750,000 (whether actual or in theory) available for the next hurricane crisis, then another 250,000 the next year and have $8,500,000 available and so on and so on for 34 more years. And when the actual or theoretical bank runs out we go get another new building and new lease and will not be stuck with a run down unsellable heap of bricks and mortar (like Bunnell). If the officials can tell me how the new building will make a significant difference in efficiency or increase worker productivity I would appreciate that and reconsider. Give us hard evidence, but “unique opportunity” and other overly generalized words, or phrases won’t by its self convince a more than ever engaged and informed public.

  25. Anonymous says:

    I agree but I have a question:

    Why is the author not in favor of “entitlements” in this case while favoring them everyplace else?

  26. John Boy says:

    Our City Manager has lost all credibility, from the golf course to the tennis complex to the PC Data disaster, everything he touches seems to turn to shit and ends up being a drain on the taxpayers. Maybe it’s time for him to head back to Texas and get a job with his hero, Rick Perry.

  27. Mario says:

    I work, so cannot attend this meeting and believe that everyone else in this City who needs to earn a living, will not be able to attend either. This in itself is an intentional belligerent insult against the tax payers. But my answer to these arrogant people who were elected or hired to be our servants, is NO.

    There are 60,000 + taxpayers here in Palm Coast. We are the voice of our City and we shall be heard. We shall not allow 6 people to spend $9M + of our hard earned money on something we do not need. To make matters worse, we don’t have any idea how much it would cost us to operate and maintain this ridiculous structure. But we do know from past experiences with City projects, that that the $9M quoted today, will increase substantially by the time it is built.

    We do NOT have this kind of money to be throwing at a place for City employees to work. City employees that we pay for. A City that was voted in by tax payers at the time, with the promise of a cost- controlled government for the people, by the people.

    We will do everything in our power to stop this from happening. So to all the 6 or so individuals who feel compelled to make a $9M + decision on behalf of 60,000 + taxpayers, hear us loud and clear … either table this idea, or put it on a ballot for all of us to vote on.

  28. I say says:

    Put it on the ballot the next election and let the people decide. It is our money, and we should decide how it is to be spent.

  29. ken says:

    Can we get a true comparison of costs of renting vs. owning? Are there expenses we would have as owners that we don’t have as tenants?

  30. BOB S. says:

    PEOPLE PLEASE COME OUT TO VOTE AND VOTE ALL THE INCUMBENTS OUT DON’T KEEP JUST SAYING IT PLEASE PLEASE VOTE IN EVERY LOCAL ELECTION THATS WHAT REALLY CIOUNTS.

    I’M SORRY PIEERE GREAT GREAT ARTICLE.

  31. Zealot says:

    Decent article, I disagree with the author though. I think a new city hall will save money in the long run by creating a building the city own instead of leases. And if it is built in town center it likely will attract business to that area. The part of the article that I disagree with the most is the idea that this should be put to a vote. We have a representative form of government not a direct democracy. Policy makers are supposed to be able to make intelligent, informed decisions on our behalf and the repercussions of making poor decisions is the loss of office when re-election comes around. If we voted on every expenditure nothing would ever get done. We would not have any roads, schools, or emergency services because nobody ever votes to spend tax dollars or to increase taxes but these things need to get done. If you think that is a falsehood than I would challenge anyone to name one item of expenditure that has gone to a referendum and it been voted in. The only people who ever vote FOR and expenditure are those that are directly affect by it. Everyone else fails to see the big picture of what is best for the community and only see it as “their tax dollars” being spent. The citizens of this county constantly complain about wastes of tax dollars, but Flagler County has one of the lowest tax rates in the nation. We are one of very few states that have no state income tax and the average $100,000 home owner pays less than $1000 in taxes a year. For roads, schools and emergency services that is about as cheap as it gets. no one sees the big picture. If you put it to referendum that said “there will be no taxes.” it would pass because no one has any commitment to their community.

  32. Anonymous says:

    A new City Hall? Like putting chrome on a dumptruck.

  33. confidential says:

    City Council approved the new city hall construction today in favor 5 to 0.

  34. PCresident says:

    Frank,

    You are horribly wrong about police protection. We have 90,000 residents and 6-9 police officers for this per shift. There are 26-28 open burgluary cases in PC/Flagler County right now, with a string occurring in the C/F sections UNSOLVED or even cared for by the FCSO. The PC FD is one of the lowest paid departments in this region and they have the LOWEST retirement in Florida and one of the lowest pension in the USA. The Chief PCFD has FRS (Florida Retirement System) and the rank and file FF’s (the one who risk their lives and health day in and day out) have a very poor 175 plan that gives them less than a secretary working at the DMV (those hazards at the DMV are not equal to what a FF sees day in and day out and the carcinogens they are exposed to). You get what you pay for and this creates turnover that the taxpayers are paying for every time another department hires around us and the people leave to get compensated for what they are worth and the risks they take day in and day out at work.

    Again, Frank, you are living in a bubble if you think for a minute there is enough police coverage for this completely crime ridden town we live in, and worse yet, we allow it to happen. Look at the unsolved homicides we have in the county. Just down right ridiculous when you have the detectives who are immune and carefree towards a resident’s home being burglarized. When they don’t care the criminals win.

  35. suewho1010 says:

    What about the upgrades needed for the James Holland Park. We spent 100,00.00 for a outside company to do a master plan for improvements to our delapated parks , what a waste as no funds have done any improvements. Our children need places to go and things to do before these over paid morons need a new city hall to spend our tax dollars more friviously. I bet the people of Palm coast could spend the money in more worthy projects. Then the Taj mahal landon wants. can’t wait till the next election

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