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Sheriff’s Request for 15 New Deputies Adds to Budget “Challenges” as Local Governments Begin to Haggle

| May 23, 2017

Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland and Flagler County Commission Chairman Nate McLaughlin have tough choices ahead as they face budget challenges. (c FlaglerLive)

Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland and Flagler County Commission Chairman Nate McLaughlin have tough choices ahead as they face budget challenges. (c FlaglerLive)

Flagler County and Palm Coast officials have some thinking to do about their budget.

Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly is asking for 15 new deputies, an 8 percent increase in his uniformed ranks that would cost $1.5 million and represent the largest single-year increase in the size of the force since before the Great Recession. That fact also explains in part why the sheriff is making the request: the county’s population has grown by well over 10,000 residents since then, most of them in Palm Coast.

The sheriff is requesting 10 of the new deputies from county government, which covers most of the sheriff’s budget out of the county’s general revenue fund, itself drawn from property tax revenue. The sheriff is requesting five additional deputies, for a traffic unit, from Palm Coast government. The two requests are politically separate: the county commission will make its decision independently of Palm Coast, which contracts for policing services with the sheriff. But both requests are causing the two governments to figure out how, or to what extent, to accommodate what amounts to a big impact on their respective budgets–$1 million for county government, $500,000 for Palm Coast government.

Both governments have signaled that they may not want to accommodate the entire request at once this year, preferring a staggered approach. Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland—who spent part of a shift riding with Staly in a patrol car last week—spoke to that effect last month. County Administrator Craig Coffey told county commissioners during a workshop Monday that negotiations are ongoing with the sheriff to get the budget request down.

The request for additional deputies is only one part of the budget hit on the county’s coffers, with the total request from the sheriff and other constitutional officers amounting to a $3 million increase.

“I’m working with the sheriff right now, I think that $3 million, I’m trying to get down to $2 million,” Coffey said. “Here’s the strategy. If you want 10 new deputies, but you start at mid-year, you can chop that price down by half, but when you walk in the door next year, that’s a half million dollars that’s not in your cash flow, so it’s partly about spreading out things, but there are things that are going to come hit you next year that you’ve got to do eyes wide open.”

County commissioners have not said one way or the other how they see Staly’s request, details of which will not be submitted to the county until next week. Once that budget is submitted, the sheriff or his designate could either appear before commissioners to answer questions, or commissioners could speak to the sheriff independently. In the past, commissioners have preferred to conduct those negotiations in the open. Surprisingly, on Monday, Coffey suggested to commissioners that should they have questions of the sheriff, they should speak to him one-on-one, which will amount to closed-door sessions. The public will not witness the talks.

But the sheriff himself, who hinted that he left an appeal to the governor on the table as an option, should budget negotiations not go well,could request to be heard in open session, if only for political reasons: he has been popular and visible, and so far has been scandal-free, strengthening his hand in this type of negotiations. The county administration may want to keep those negotiations behind closed door possibly to avoid being pushed against the wall in public, where commissioners wouldn’t want to be seen denying the sheriff the sort of request that might resonate with his supporters. Honoring the request, however, would also almost certainly mean that the county commission would not be able to keep its tax rate flat, let alone lower it, this year, given other challenges.

Those challenges are no small matter.

Coffey laid them out in a nearly three-hour workshop Monday, with the bottom line adding up to $9 million in additional needs (the constitutionals’ $3 million included), and a projection of only $3 million in new revenue, assuming the current tax rate stays the same. “Some of the constitutional requests we think are going to be larger than we originally anticipated,” Coffey said, referring to requests from the sheriff, the supervisor of elections, the tax collector, the property appraiser and the clerk of court.

Coffey never used the word “shortfall” in his presentation and said commissioners should not panic at the figures.

“The $9 million is the challenges we’re facing that are in front of us that may or may not be done or prioritized.”

“Historically when we’ve come into budget hearings, you’ve laid that out as a shortfall,” County Commission Chairman Nate McLaughlin said. “The $9 million this year is not shortfall, we’re pretty level, the $9 million is the challenges we’re facing that are in front of us that may or may not be done or prioritized, whereas in the past we’ve come in and said, you’ve used the word shortfall, so this is a little different this year, we’re in a little better financial condition.”

Coffey did not disagree. “Some of those you have to fund regardless, but they’re not quite as bad,” he said. But none of the constitutional officers’ budgets would be turned in until next week.

There was good news. Property values are expected to rise between 5 and 6 percent again this year, as they did last year. That means new revenue, if the tax rate stays flat, and even greater revenue if the tax rate is increased modestly. Fuel costs have remained flat, so the county’s spending on 6,000 gallons of fuel annually won’t increase. Even health care costs have been flatter than not, except for medical costs at the jail. The county-owned airport, an economic development zone where the county is essentially a landlord, is full up, with all but one space leased. There have been major capital improvements in the county’s (and the sheriff’s) information technology infrastructure, with more needed.

But there are also burdens. The county continues to lose $1.25 million a year in revenue because of the Town Center Community Redevelopment Agency in Palm Coast. A Community Redevelopment Agency is an enterprise zone where all tax revenue that would normally go to the county (beyond a baseline) remains within the CRA, to be spent there exclusively. The idea is to spur economic redevelopment—not that the Town Center CRA was ever under-developed in the traditional sense: it simply was not developed. But, to the county’s perennial chagrin (and lost revenue), that’s another story. Every year, it must remit that tax revenue back to Palm Coast. Flagler Beach has a CRA too, but the amount remitted to the city is less than $100,000.

craig coffey

Craig Coffey. (© FlaglerLive)

Medicaid costs are increasing for the county, so are inmate health costs. The way Medicaid is billed to counties has also changed. It’s no longer based on billing per patient, but on the net number of Medicaid patients in the county, whether they are using services or not. That could potentially increase the burden on the county (just as the state is diminishing its spending on Medicaid: the current budget slashes Medicaid significantly.)

“At the end of the day, service is our business,” Coffey said, listing the numerous services many taxpayers don’t know are provided by the county exclusively—not by cities. Those include the 911 center, ambulance and emergency helicopter services, meals on wheels for the elderly or disabled, adult day care, the public library system, agriculture extension services, veteran services, the jail, even burials for the poor, and so on.

“Use of reserves is not an option for us anymore,” those having been wiped out by spending on Hurricane Matthew related expenses. Just to get the reserves back up to the necessary 7 percent minimum of the budget would require an additional $1 million.

A cost of living adjustment and retirement responsibilities toward all county employees would cost $700,000. Increased costs of running the sheriff’s facilities such as the new jail and the operations center are adding $20,000. Software replacement—some of that equipment dates back to 1999 and isn’t even Windows based–would cost $1.8 million.

That doesn’t address long-term challenges. Those include continuing to rebuild the reserves, building a better fire station at the airport, modernizing the countywide emergency communications system (known as the 800 megahertz system, on which all emergency personnel and many government workers depend, whether in the county or in the municipalities), establishing a fixed-route transit system, and, not least, beach renourishment.

There may be steeper challengers ahead, courtesy of the Legislature, if voters go along. One of those is a proposed extra $25,000 homestead exemption, which would increase the current exemption to $75,000 (not including school taxes). That proposal goes to voters in November 2018. If it passes, it will mean an inevitable reduction of close to $4 million in revenue for Flagler County government alone, though all local governments but schools will be affected. That would affect policy discussions in coming years.

Coffey wants to know what commissioners are prepared to do—raise taxes or keep them flat—as he continues to refine the budget. Those answers were not apparent Monday as each commissioner did more listening than talking, and with three commissioners going through their first budget season on the board (Greg Hansen, Donald O’Brien and Dave Sullivan).

For the next three months, the agenda will be dominated by budget discussions on every local government board, culminating in hearings setting next year’s tax rates.

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23 Responses for “Sheriff’s Request for 15 New Deputies Adds to Budget “Challenges” as Local Governments Begin to Haggle”

  1. Robert Lewis says:

    Mr. McLaughlin and Mr. coffee playing politics with public safety. They are more concerned about taking my tax dollars for corporate welfare incentives, volley ball tournaments and poetry readings in the hammock. I think a serious look at where the tourism money is going needs to happen. You can’t have a shortfall of you carefully watch the money.

  2. David S. says:

    This city wastes too much money on projects such as landscaping,sr center etc… we need more deputy’s for this city.This should be priority # 1…

  3. Thomas says:

    Perhaps if the City had not spent so lavishly on their City Hall, on th new Community Center, and the County on the ridiculous County Building and the Judicial Center, they would have money for vital needs. such as police

  4. Jack Howell says:

    Sheriff Staly and his team know exactly what is needed to handle the law enforcement needs of the county and the city of Palm Coast. I am positive, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Rick is not fudging the numbers. I applaud his strategy in educating not only our politicians but, the public as well with his ride along program. He is big on proactive programs such as community policing and outreach programs to battle domestic abuse. I trust the leaders of the county and cities will find a way to support our sheriff. I will be talking it up with all of my contacts. The sheriff need to be supported.

  5. Steven says:

    I just can justify giving this to Staly as I don’t see that he can or has earned it. I don’t see the need for more police when I don’t see crime at an all time high right now in Flagler County. I just don’t know what he is up to and we don’t need to waste our money this way right now. He already deputized Bunnell and Flagler Beach police officers, let him call on them :D

  6. Mark says:

    A reduction in Landon’s pay would probably cover one.

  7. Since 1987 says:

    I agree with more police, but they need to be multi disiplanery, not just traffic. Traffic has an overtone of money generator.

  8. Lazaruis says:

    Oy Vey !!
    Not more cops !!

  9. Flatsflyer says:

    Empire buildin? How about tackling work ethics and slacking off on the job. Why do we see such a large response to each and every call for service? This is a national problem, just watch the news on TV. If his numbers and crime analysis supports his request, then maybe it’s valid?

  10. Shark says:

    We need more enforcement on Florida Park Drive !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. Old Hammock says:

    Sadly the elected officials often fail to recognize that when the population increases, so do the crime rates. The old motto, “Do more with less” doesn’t cut it with the crime patterns we are seeing throughout the country and world. The priority is keeping the taxpaying citizens of Flagler County safe and if it takes cutting unnecessary programs from the budget, then cut them. Persistency will pay off Sheriff Staly. Keep up the great work.

  12. Shark says:

    Simple solution – Stop throwing away hundreds of thousands of dollars on unnecessary plantings !!!!!!!!!

  13. Layla says:

    Just wondering if anyone has seen the very large section of the News Journal this morning which lists those delinquent in their property taxes. I have never seen a list so long.

  14. Mark101 says:

    They can haggle but the facts are Flagler County is growing. and that’s what the EDC and all the commissioners wanted. In 2000 there was 50K living in Flagler County. 2010 that number rose to 95,696 and in 2014 the last official count 102,408. The fact that Flagler County has 485 sq miles of dry land, the population density is about 211 people per sq mile, that’s high, The Flagler County leaders wanted growth and they got it along with the crime that goes with it and that means you need more Deputies.. So if the county is balking the way for the county is save is Palm Coast can just dream up their own police force and spare the county the expense from doing their work for them. yep, now that brings up a whole new set of budget issues for Palm Coast. And PS, Flagler County is not going to stop growing this little county is going to bust at the seams and yes Mr Coffey that means more budget issues.

  15. good job says:

    as long as the medians look good who cares about crime palm coast is beautiful sheeple being led astray

  16. good job says:

    dont forget the still not finished 4.3 million dollar holland park lol theres ur money for 30 deputies

  17. wishful thinking says:

    Stop arresting and jailing pot users; that will save a ton of money for starters.

    Secondly , I would like an answer as to why are there always at lest 10 or more empty sheriff patrol cars at the parking lot in City Marketplace???

    Thirdly: enough of our budget – I believe it is over 28% of County budget for sheriff…

    Fourthly, lease or ‘sell’ the big waste of a huge partially used old hospital lousy purchase and put that money back in the budget.

    Sheriff makes it sound like we are the criminal capitol of Florida – not good for tourism Matt – and Nate is it????????????????

  18. Dave says:

    Stop over policing, last thing we need is more cops. There are plenty of cops in this county. If they werent all so worried about minor infractions and generating money they wouldn’t feel understaffed

  19. woody says:

    If ever the bleeding golf coarses and tennis complex would end ther would be tax dollars left for more important thigs like cops

  20. Sw says:

    More Police now

  21. Anonymous says:

    How about make Palm Coast pay their fair share for the service they receive and then it should all balance out where everyone is not paying for the city’s services. All of the other municipalities pay for and have their own police services, and Palm Coast should too.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Local government needs to get out of the real estate business and sell the real estate they have acquired that is now a cost to the tax payers instead of a revenue source and use this money for law enforcement.

    I also don’t think Staly has been in office long enough to know what is needed….if he was in tune to what is going on there wouldn’t be two and three cruisers huddled together visitingns with one another.

    It also needs to be known why Staly is asking for more law enforcement and where he intends to put the new hires. If they are going to be in our city (Palm Coast) then we need to make some cuts in the city spending and pay our share; the City of Bunnell and City of Flagler Beach pay their way.

    Staly, utilize what you have before you ask for more. There are too many chiefs and not enough indians. It’s time to stop with the petty shit and arrest the real criminals.

  23. Steven says:

    Could not have said it better myself @ Anonymous…………. THUMBS-UP!

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