650 Names, or 13% of Flagler Beach Population, On Petition Opposing $600,000 Fire Truck
FlaglerLive | August 15, 2014
If authentic–and for now, nothing suggests they aren’t–the 650 names on a petition turned in to the Flagler Beach city administration this week may make it difficult for city commissioners to ignore its call: don’t buy the $600,000 fire truck currently in the proposed budget for next year.
“If you do not consider this action,” the petition organizers warned city commissioners and the mayor in an Aug. 13 memo, “we will have no other recourse but to put the issue on the ballot in March. If not as a binding vote (we are still considering the legalities of that), we will definitely put it on the ballot as a straw vote.”
If all the names on the petition are authentic, however, the petition itself would bear the weight of a straw vote.
[The petition document is published in full below, for public examination and verification. If discrepancies, inaccuracies or redundancies appear, please feel free to note them in the comment section.]
The petition drive was principally the work of four Flagler Beach residents who have opposed the purchase of the so-called “quint” fire truck: Rick Belhumeur, Jim Carney, Fran Moore and Art Woosley.
Woosley has “always had it in” for the Flagler Beach fire department, City Commissioner Jane Mealy claimed in a brief interview last week, as fellow-commissioner Steve Settle was conducting the second town hall meeting in support of the purchase, with firefighters at his side again to make the case for the quint. (Woosley did not return a call to hims home Friday.)
Whether Mealy’s claim is right or not, Woosley’s effort behind the petition drive doesn’t diminish the petition’s results: 650 names, presumably adults, represents roughly one in six adult residents of the 5,000-population town. It also represents an overwhelming counterweight to the comparatively scarce crowds that turned up at two town hall meetings carefully choreographed by Settle, with fire department assists, to lend legitimacy to the truck purchase–or to the majority of commissioners currently in favor of the purchase.
The petition, as petitions often do, makes a few leading assertions. The first is that the city “has three fire trucks available to combat fires including a perfectly capable tower/aerial truck.”
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The description of the truck as “perfectly capable” may stretch the truth somewhat: the city’s tower truck has been a recurring problem, requiring various repairs that a presentation by Fire Captain Bobby Pace said cost $5,000 this year, with “future concerns” that may cost upward of $3,000. The city has not used the truck at some serious fires, letting Palm Coast’s or Flagler County’s tower trucks do the aerial work instead. But the petition makes that very point: that in such emergencies, “the city has agreements with both Flagler County and Palm Coast to provide additional equipment and manpower in the event there is a fire in Flagler Beach.” And in fact on any fire of note in the city, the two agencies are there.
Finally, the petition notes that the city has a plan in place, “putting money aside to purchase a new ‘pumper’; fire engine a little over two years from now.'” Taking a page from Palm Coast’s financial planning, the city started saving $50,000 a year three years ago, to enable the fire department to buy a new fire truck. The fund is at $150,000. The new fiscal year would add $50,000 more–but still leave the city $400,000 short of the money necessary to buy a quint. Fore that, City Manager Bruce Campbell proposes to dip into the city’s infrastructure fund, fed by the city’s share of a half-cent sales tax in effect ion the county. The detail about the infrastructure fund does not appear on the petition.
“It is therefore my conclusion,” the petition reads, “that it is premature and unnecessary for the City of Flagler Beach to purchase a $600,000 aerial fire truck, or any fire truck, during the 2014-15 fiscal year.”
Pace first requested the quint truck at a commission strategy session in May, under the guise of a request of new “fire safety equipment.” The request took Commission Chairman Kim Carney by surprise. She has opposed the truck, considering it an unnecessary expense at the moment, and disputing the way the administration proposes to pay for it: she disagrees with taking money out of the infrastructure tax fund which serves numerous needs in the city, has just $1.2 million, and is not being replenished as much as it was in the past since the county lessened the amount of money it is distributing to cities out of the sales tax.
Since then, Settle has turned lobbying for the quint into a personal issue, scheduling two town meetings that featured fire department personnel and Campbell, and using his city-issued email account to send out an email to residents arguing for the truck. The matter has created tensions: in one commission meeting, Belhumeur was merely speaking about the truck proposal during his allotted public-comment period when Settle dressed him down, inappropriately in Belhumeur’s and other city commissioners’ eyes, as Settle went as far as challenging Belhumeur’s right to speak on the issue.
The two men briefly spoke after the town hall meeting last week, but inconclusively. “As far as us having made up,” Belhumeur said, “I don’t think so. He still said my public comments were inappropriate and has not apologized for trying to belittle me at a public forum.”
Later this month, Carney, the commission chairman, is preparing an extensive presentation on the truck. She has vowed not to vote for the budget should the proposed truck purchase not be removed.
Woosley, who can be irascible and unpredictable, briefly put the credibility of the petition in question when he first turned in it earlier this week: Penny Overstreet, the city clerk, signed receipt of the petition, but Woosley then refused to let the city keep a copy, or let Overstreet copy or scan the document. “Petition signatures may be reviewed upon request, but may not be removed or copied.”
The prohibition applied even though, right after the transaction at the city, Woosley and the three other signatories to the petition posed outside City Hall for an image of them holding a banner that read, “600 SAY NO TO $600,000.00.”
Asked why the petitions were not left at the city for public inspection and copying, Belhumeur the same day wrote in an email on Thursday: “I have been assured that [Woosley] will meet me at City Hall this afternoon and allow Penny to make copies of all the petition pages. I apologize for the misunderstanding. My understanding was that he was going to keep the originals but was unaware that he wasn’t going to allow copies to be made.”
The petitions were turned in that day, to Bob Smith, city engineer and acting city manager, as the city manager and the city clerk were at a conference of the League of Cities, and the assistant city clerk was off. Smith made the petitions available to FlaglerLive within 10 minutes of a request. The full set appears below.