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Council Slams Enterprise Flagler’s Camouflage, Casting Doubt on “Development” Tax

| August 10, 2010

Between a rock and a vague place. (c) FlaglerLive

Most people in Palm Coast and Flagler County have no idea what Enterprise Flagler is. Fewer still know what Enterprise Flagler does—including members of the Palm Coast City Council, even though they’ve been appropriating $110,000 in taxpayer dollars to the agency. And including Jim Landon, the Palm Coast city manager, who’d like to be Palm Coast’s (if not the county’s) economic development guru. He’s not been able to get his hands on reports that might show what Enterprise Flagler does. “I’ve asked for them. I never do get them,” Landon said. “I personally think there’s no reason why they can’t do monthly reports.” (Opacity runs in the Enterprise family: Enterprise Florida, the local agency’s distant parent, hasn’t produced an annual report in three years.)

Yet Enterprise Flagler, ostensibly the county’s private-public economic development agency, is the agency fronting the proposed “economic development” tax appearing on the November ballot (a tax that would raise property taxes by 25 cents for every $1,000 in taxable value. The money would be spent on building commercial and industrial buildings and attracting industry into those buildings.) One of the many reasons the proposed tax is having a difficult time winning converts is its official sponsor: For elected officials in the county, speaking derisively of Enterprise Flagler is minor sport. The reason: Enterprise Flagler keeps devouring taxpayer money without showing what it’s doing with it, the most high-paying jobs it’s bankrolled most consistently being its own.

Landon’s remarks about the agency were mild compared to those of members of the Palm Coast City Council, who ripped into Enterprise Flagler during a half-hour discussion prefacing the city’s second budget workshop this morning. Mary DiStefano prompted the discussion when she asked how much Palm Coast contributed to Enterprise Flagler in the current year ($110,000), how much the agency is set to receive next year (15 percent less, or $93,500) , and whether there’s any interest on the council to reduce that sum further, by $20,000. (Enterprise Flagler did not respond to a request for its budget figures.)

“They’re going to expend a certain amount of money to promote the campaign for the 25 cents per thousand, and the amount of money I hear is $20,000,” DiStefano said of Enterprise Flagler’s campaign behind the proposed tax. She wants the agency to use its own staff to campaign for the tax, and spend the $20,000 in verifiable economic development projects—if it has that money to spend on campaigning. DiStefano severely criticized the agency’s chronic lack of transparency. “I look back over six years and I haven’t seen any report coming out.”

“I share Mary’s concern and disappointment in the Flagler enterprise,” Council member Bill Lewis said. “The way it is right now, it takes taxpayer money and wastes it.” Mayor Jon Netts disagreed about “waste,” but was equally critical of the agency’s inability or unwillingness to lay out its successes—or its failures.  “There have been some failures, and I think we’ve got to hear about those also,” Netts said, since failures may point to the very needs in the county that Enterprise Flagler is campaigning for, or refocus development efforts where they might be more effective. “We, the county, residents of Flagler County, need to know what their successes are, and what their failures are.” Netts and Landon both sit on the Enterprise Flagler board–Netts as a voting member, Landon not, though both are privy to the agency’s numbers and internal workings, including its secret dealings, with prospecting companies.

“If they’ve had successes, nobody knows about it,” council member Frank Meeker said. “And I believe they have some successes. They’ve been small successes.” Meeker said the promised home runs have never materialized, nor are they likely to, but that the conceptual notion of economic development must remain a priority—including through Enterprise Flagler.

Nevertheless, it’s an indication of the agency’s failure to justify the money it spends or the way it spends it that even a supporter like Meeker is withholding support for the “economic development” tax. “I can’t support what they’re doing unless I’ve got a plan,” he said. And he hasn’t seen that plan.

Enterprise Flagler’s executive director, Greg Rawls, has been scrambling to put together a report of successes (not so much of failures) that he will present to a Flagler County Chamber of Commerce committee on Thursday—the chamber committee that’s steering Rawls, and Enterprise Flagler, in so far as it can, regarding the “economic development” tax, which the chamber’s board endorsed unanimously last spring. Rawls, a consultant the agency hired and the committee are also working on a strategy to pre-empt criticism of the tax, though for now criticism is outrunning attempts at pre-emption. Landon said he would have Enterprise Flagler present its report to the council in an open meeting next week.

The council’s discussion Tuesday morning was only part of the story. Lewis, who sums up Enterprise Flagler as “going all over the place and not getting anything done,”  pointed to the real issue in play: “If I were to have a wish, I would wish that we could pull that in house, I think we could do a better job in house and have just one master serving Palm Coast.”

That may very well be Palm Coast’s end game, depending on the results of the “economic development” tax referendum, which won’t merely be a referendum about whether to raise $2 million to spend on commercial buildings. It’s a referendum on the viability of Enterprise Flagler.

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25 Responses for “Council Slams Enterprise Flagler’s Camouflage, Casting Doubt on “Development” Tax”

  1. Itchey says:

    So if Enterprize Flagler is a private public business that has not complied with requests for documentation, then why are we considering giving them 1 cent at all.

    Make it simple. If you want to fund them 90,000 for a year then fine.
    When they drop off the monthly requested report hand them the check each month.
    Thats 7500.00 per month. I’d bet the director himself finds time to pick it up himself. (Personally i would issue it at the end of the monthly commission meeting.)
    If Enterprize Flagler is interested in Palm Coasts Money (btw thats double taxation going to them because we also pay probably 80% of the county tax’s also) then he should have the inclination to attend the monthly City Commission meeting and pick up his 7500.00 monthly check.

  2. UJ says:

    Does the county want to be a place for tourist to come too or do they want commercial development?
    Read the article in the July 24th News-Tribune about economic boost. We as tax payers can not afford both, I for one vote for tourism over Enterprise Flagler

  3. H. Peter Stolz says:

    Why is the Palm Coast leadership – or lack thereof – even considering one thin dime for this organization. Spend the money in Palm Coast supporting the population who doesn’t have enough money to put food on the table.

  4. wsh@302msn says:

    when i first heard of their request for 25 cents per 1000 i got this feelling of that somebody wants more money for something they like to do and not for the good of the county. look at the players involved.

  5. Taxman says:

    Why did it take so long for the Town Council to wake up? How long are they going to continue to fund an operation that doesn’t provide any financials?

    Is the Town Council is going to fund this group so the group can turn around and use that money to convince the tax payers to accept a tax increase. And then the funds from any tax increase is going to go to be spent by them.

    Slow down, stop and think about what is happening. They are using our money to try and convince us to acquiesce to their point of view. That being a tax increase.

    The Town Council voted to put this on the ballot. What were they thinking? Obviously nothing at all.

    There shouldn’t be as much as one dime appropriated.

    I have gotten past the point of being outraged with this Town Council and their after the fact mindset.
    I have become amused with the let’s lock the gate after the horses have run out mentality.

    Although there is one and sometimes two who set themselves apart from the rest, as a group there is a lack of vision/ futuring perspective.

  6. Taxman says:

    Pardon the typos I was typing in haste.

  7. Chris says:

    Reading this makes me physically ill. No accountability what so ever & for 6 years. Can I come & pick up a check too?

  8. Devrie says:

    Does the city get at least financial reports? It does seem that in order to get public funds, Enterprise would be responsible for furnishe reports before receiving any sort of budget from the city.

  9. George says:

    Mayor Netts is on the Board of Directors you can’t tell me he doesn’t know their financials, that’s info the Board is privy to.

  10. Tom G says:

    Netts and Landon both sit on the enterprise’s board. this is just a ploy to break off working with the other cities and county in economic develop. and boy does the city have a great track record in attracting businesses: they ran off Walmart and Target distribution center about 800 jobs a piece and their crowning achievement is palm coast data that pays $7.80hr.

    oh boy this should be great….

  11. George says:

    Well then, since Landon sits on the board too, this smells of backroom sweetheart deals, the board of directors are Greg Rawls’ bosses after all, it’s still unbelievable that Netts and Landon are unaware of Enterprise Flagler’s financials

  12. Jim Guines says:

    It just seems to me to be a lot of opportunity for conflicts of interest on the part of all the player who should know better. I guess I worked in Washington, D C. too long,

  13. Palmtree says:

    The only thing Enterprise Flagler has produced is paying for a former director to go to school and get a higher degree. I feel it is a failure and should not be funded. Another place to cut money from the county is by eliminating the pr flack’s position.

  14. kmedley says:

    This is absolutely amazing! Folks in this town and throughout this county are losing jobs and having to pinch every penny they have; yet, our city council continues to pay an organization our taxpayer dollars to fund……
    just exactly what does Enterprise Flagler do again??!! And noone knows what Enterprise Flagler does and how much money they have?? So the answer is to look back over the past 6 years, whine about there not being any report and reduce their budgeted amount by $20,000 and oh by the way you campaign for the tax hike on the November ballot!! Beam me up, Mr. Scott!

  15. LisaFLA says:

    Appreciate this article and its timing. Clearly defined goals and timelines are essential for any organization or business to be successful. Requiring accountability is fundamental. We have to hold each other to task not only so that we can achieve the goals we set out to meet but so that we might reach beyond them.

  16. Dorothea says:

    TomG says the following:

    “Netts and Landon both sit on the enterprise’s board. this is just a ploy to break off working with the other cities and county in economic develop. and boy does the city have a great track record in attracting businesses: they ran off Walmart and Target distribution center about 800 jobs a piece and their crowning achievement is palm coast data that pays $7.80hr. ”

    It would be a conflict of interest on the part of Landon and Netts if they both sit on the board of Enterprise Flagler to turn around and vote to fund EF while sitting on the city council, but I’m not sure what you mean about the ploy. I chalk it up to the good old boys at work again in Flagler County and now in the city council. I hope that Landon and Netts reply to this, but I’m not holding my breath waiting.

    When and how did the Palm Coast council run off Walmart and Target distribution centers? Could you be more specific. Just curious.

  17. Dorothea says:

    Correction: Landon is the City Manager and does not sit on the council. However, Landon is in a position to make recommendations to the council regarding the funds. I’m wondering what his recommendation was.

  18. I’ll do it for $75,000 a year and no documentation! What a deal! As a matter of fact, if they push me hard, I’d probably do it for $50,000 but not a penny less.

  19. Debra L says:

    I am totally confused regarding all of the money we are paying to people with very high paying positions and not really knowing their funtions. How could people we entrust to handle our money responsibly not even know what they are paying for. They don’t even know his salary! We have so many hidden positions in this town that it boggles the mind. We need transparency for everyone. Did you know that James Gardner (property appraiser) his wife works for something regarding tourism, not clear about that either..When was that job posted? I am just starting to open my eyes living here and I know, like everyone else we would appreciate a list of positions, functions and salaries as everyday we discover something else. I am trying to learn how everything operates so I can vote intelligently. So glad I found this site, finally the truth exposed…Is anyone else frustrated living here?

  20. Dorothea says:

    Debra, welcome to Flagler County where nepotism runs rampant. You can request any list about county employees from the Human Resources department at the county building. However, don’t confuse the city of Palm Coast with Flagler County. Two different entities. For information about city employees, head for city hall.

  21. Katrina says:

    The thing that strikes me as so irresponsible is that they are raising money to build MORE buildings that will stand empty. How about attracting businesses that are willing to fill all the properties we already have available. Let’s analyze their successes before we as tax payers allow any more of our money to go towards what has thus far proved to be unsuccessful. Gone are the days of the Committee of 100 where passion for the growth of the area was pure and Committee Members donated their time and resources to make things happen. All I have witnessed of this organization is a lot of local social networking and partying after hours on the tax payers dime.

  22. Michelle says:

    Katrina, I would not call the days of the Committee of 100 having ‘pure’ passion – there was a lot of ‘good ole’ boys’ stuff going around too, maybe even more then – and I had a front row seat…..

  23. Heather says:

    Back when Eterprise Flagler was hiring, I applied for the position. I have more than what was needed to work in capacity of the position, but was told another candidate was selected.

    Knowing many business owners in Flagler County, I started to tell them about Enterprise Flagler and what they do to help the businesses hire employees, during the hard downturn. Mr. Rawls told me the working budget when I was being interviewed, because I asked.

    One business was told that no funds were available, while another (smaller business) was given funds to hire a new employee. The process worked like this: A business wants to hire a new employee, but lacks the funds. They send the potetntial employee to Enterprise Flager to be interviewed. After they approve the new hire, they release funds to the hiring company.

    I find is very very strange that they run out of money so fast. Mr. Rawls and one employee…how much is payroll?

    Just so you know, some of the heavy hitters and deep pockets in this county fund Enterprise Flagler…..

    I want to make sure I have this right? The taxpayers of Flagler pay a tax, to fund Enterprise Flagler, but more than half of the taxpayers don’t have jobs? This means you are paying for someone else to get a job? HUH????

  24. Rudy Smith says:

    Parasites not only want to remain unnoticed while wanting more nourishment . They die when you stop feeding them. Time to expose Enterprise Flagler for the parasitic creatures they are.

  25. Julius Marek says:

    Fantastic site you have going here. Just wanted to say that we throughly enjoyed your post. Any chance of getting a copy of the theme? Hehe

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