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Bunnell Commissioners Are Excoriated for Doubling Their Salaries While Others Suffer

| September 13, 2010

bill baxley

'They asked for this job, they ran for this job,' Bill Baxley said. (© FlaglerLive)

Bunnell city commissioners chose a strange time to double their own salaries, and a strange way to do it. Monday evening, the commissioners were verbally whipped for their timing during a public hearing on the city’s new budget.

Commissioners enacted the mechanism of their salary leap in the spring of 2009, in the depth of the recession. And they did it by changing the city’s charter (a change they put before voters, who approved it) that enabled them to avoid holding a public hearing every time they’d choose to hike their salaries, as they had to do previously. They could merely take a vote, and that would be that. So they did, in June 2009, enabling the doubled salaries—from $4,800 a year to $9,600 a year—to kick in last spring.

That $9,600 is equal to the pay of a Palm Coast city council member. Palm Coast’s population of 75,000 is more than 30 times that of Bunnell.  Their defense, made for them, even more strangely, by their employee—City Manager Armando Martinez—was that they hadn’t had a raise in seven years.

Bess Wall, a teacher at Flagler Palm Coast High School, having trouble holding her emotions in check, told commissioners she was offended by the raise when her own students have been going without supplies. “I am offended by that because we’re supposed to teach these kids,” Wall said, “and I don’t have the supplies I need and I haven’t had them for years” at the high school. Wall said she ends up spending about $1,000 a year from her own pocket to pay for some supplies, as do other teachers. “So I can’t sit here and feel a tad bit sorry that you haven’t gotten them for the last seven years.”

Richard Agaliotis was more blunt. “I think it’s appalling what you’re doing,” he told the commissioners. “The city manager said we haven’t raise the millage rate. Has anybody heard of maybe lowering the millage rate? This is extraordinary times. In closing I’d like to say, if this was 100 years ago, all of you would be outside, being tarred and feathered.”

Agaliotis isn’t even from Bunnell. He was among the dozen odd Palm Coast residents, many of them wearing the blue and red shirts of the local “tea party,” attending the Bunnell commission’s first of two budget hearings, where it votes to approve next year’s budget and affords the public a chance to speak.

The commission had little room to deflect Agaliotis’ comments based on his home address. Just last week, commissioners tolerated and encouraged a parade of Palm Coast residents who spoke in support of the Bunnell Police Department in a clearly orchestrated display of imported pride in the city’s law enforcement agency. The parade took place during what was supposed to be a workshop between the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office and the commission, discussiing a proposal—put forth by Bunnell Commissioner Elbert Tucker, who said the city’s tax rate could decrease as a consequence—to have the sheriff take over law enforcement in the city. The public rarely speaks during workshops. But commissioners wanted to quickly  bat away the proposal without seriously engaging it.

Monday evening, Palm Coast speakers felt emboldened literally to criticize commissioners’ own pocketbooks. Commissioners remained mostly silent except for a few comments by Tucker and Commissioner Jenny Crain-Brady, both of whom said complaints about schools should be addressed to Tallahassee.  Martinez, however, almost impassioned, went to great lengths defending the raises and advocating for his employers. “I’m going to tell you, they earn their paycheck,” Martinez said.  “I can tell you that these people to the left of me have been underpaid for many years.”

Last year, when the commission voted on the matter, Tucker was in dissent, explaining his opposition as a “moral gesture,” to show that the city recognized the hard times residents were going through.

Tucker was defiantly not in dissent Monday night. “I’m worth every dime that I get paid for this job,” he said, after the hearing. “Here’s the final analysis. The people don’t like us, they need to vote us out and get the salaries back to $4,800.” Tucker, who last year said he wanted to see a lower tax rate before seeing a raise for commissioners, described the city’s new budget as essentially enacting that lower tax rate.

It doesn’t. The city approved maintaining the same property tax rate for another year–$6.0544 per $1,000 in assessed value. By keeping the rate the same, the city will essentially take in more than 22 percent less revenue next year than it did this year, because of falling valuations. That doesn’t mean that property owners in the city will pay 22 percent less in taxes. It only means that the city’s coffers will, overall, take in 22 percent fewer dollars. Most property owners will likely pay less. But some may end up paying more, or the same as they did this year.

Commissioners unanimously approved the city’s $9 million budget. It was the first of two legally required hearings. They’ll hold their next and final budget hearing on Sept. 27.

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13 Responses for “Bunnell Commissioners Are Excoriated for Doubling Their Salaries While Others Suffer”

  1. Confused says:

    What do school supplies have anything to do with this?

  2. kmedley says:

    This is the same group of folks that can’t find a way to keep Carver Gym financed. Maybe their increases should be contributed to the gym rather than expecting the County to foot the bill. They also sound a bit like Bell, California.

  3. Ralph Belcher says:

    While the timing is indeed during a bad period for finances, I think getting under $10k annually is OK.

  4. James says:

    @kmedley – That was my first thought when I started reading this. They shuffled around stating there wasn’t any money that could be found to help the Carver Gym – and now this. They have no shame.

  5. Rock Hartley says:

    Sounds like to me that between the towing service rip off scandle and the city commissioners happy pay somebody has been asleep at the wheel. But what would I know? I get my information right here at Flagler Live.. just kiddin.. :>)

  6. Charlie says:

    It seems that everytime a politician votes on a financial matter before the Council, they forget, what decision they would have made, if this were their own money. Almost as if, thye leave home and say, “let’s spend some money today” ..They also develope a hearing problem when residents get up in front of them and speak. They seem to allow the residents to speak, but it falls on deaf ears. I was told, that only AFTER all the testimony was given, should a Council/Commissioner make up theur mind, and then vote. Yes, Mr. Tucker, we can only vote you out next time. Too long a wait

  7. Kip Durocher says:

    What ever happened to service to your community? Tucker’s attitude is the new mantra of politics.
    What is in this for me and my wallet.. This interesting thing is that the culture of greed has spread so quickly down to small town America. Now that the egos are on par with palm coast it will make Bunnell a better place to live.
    Tucker was defiantly not in dissent Monday night. “I’m worth every dime that I get paid for this job,” he said, after the hearing.
    No, Sir, you are not. You are now offically just another local pol rolling around in the sty.

  8. Law Dawg says:

    This council couldn’t care less about “service” to the citizens of Bunnell. Enjoy cashing those paychecks while you can hypocrites. Good ole boy politics is alive and well in Bunnell. Think it’s time to give FDLE a call. We’ve been robbed. This so called council will be voted out of office and they can take their “brown-nosing” city manager with them.

  9. UJ says:

    Where does grant money come from? The way the commissioners go after the grants it must be free and comes with no strings attached. Who is going to pay for the up keep of the baseball fields?
    What happen to the ball fields behind the so called city hall?

  10. tulip says:

    K Medley already posted my thoughts on the subject. The City of Bunnell cried “poormouth” duringthe BOCC discussion on the Carver gym, in essence stating Bunnell had no money to help pay for some of the expenses, but all of a sudden the city has the money for pay increases? When the Carver gym subject comes up before the BOCC next year, the discussion should be real interesting. I have nothing against a small pay increase, but don’t lie and say there is no money for anything.

  11. JR says:

    Shouldn’t the commision seats be voluntary positions? What happened to serving the community, these politicians are just in it for the cash.

  12. BW says:

    I read this story as well in the News journal and thought it was a great example of absurdity by people and the Tea Party itself. First of all it’s Bunnell so why are Palm Coast residents making an issue out of it? Secondly what does the Commisioners’ salaries have to do with county school budgets? I especially like the ‘tarred and feathered’ comment since it is another great example of the craziness that exists in the minds of Tea Party people. I say they should keep showing up in those red and blue t-shirts making ridiculous comments like that giving people more and more reason to vote the exact opposite of whatever and whoever they are in support of.

  13. Setting it straight says:

    Most of you just aren’t getting it. You’re commenting before you know the facts and you’re not reading everything in the article. Here are the facts, again. The Commission voted their raise 17 months ago, on 4/21/2009. That’s 2 budget years ago. Why are you giving them a hard time now? Where were you on 4/21/2009? Most people at the meeting Monday night (including the entire tea party) were very misinformed on what the commission was voting on. They were not voting on their saleries. They were voting on the upcoming year’s budget, which has nothing to do with their current saleries. Again, all of that was put in place almost a year and a half ago.

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