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Divided Flagler Beach Commission Agrees To 15% Tax Increase, 2 New Cops, 1 Fire Captain

| August 24, 2017

There's more tax revenue in Flagler Beach, but city commissioners are divided over how or whether to spend it. (© FlaglerLive)

There’s more tax revenue in Flagler Beach, but city commissioners are divided over how or whether to spend it. (© FlaglerLive)

After many years of stagnant budgets and static tax rates, Flagler Beach residents are in for their second year in a row of steep tax increases, as well as a series of rate increases for water, sewer, stormwater and garbage fees.


Flagler Beach City Commissioners today ended their second day-long budget workshop, agreeing to a tax rate that will be 15 percent above the rolled-back rate (the rate the city would have had to adopt to take in close to the same revenue next year as they did this year). That rate will be $5.714 per $1,000 in assessed value, compared to the existing rate of $5.21.

So for a $200,000 house with a $50,000 homestead exemption, the tax bill will be $857, or a $75 increase over the current bill of $782. That’s just Flagler Beach’s portion. County, school, water management and mosquito control taxes are in addition to that. The county’s and mosquito control’s rates are expected to rise as well.

As for services, Flagler Beach residents will see a 35 percent increase in water and sewer rates, a 30 percent increase in the stormwater rate, and a 10 percent increase in the garbage pick-up rate. The new rates are necessary because they have not been raised for many years, the administration argued to commissioners, and because the city is looking to fund a $2 million modernization of its sewer plant.

“I think in dollars it’s not that much,” Commission Chairman Jane Mealy said of the property tax rate after the meeting. “It’s an increase, there’s no question, but my feeling is there were so many years we kind of fell behind in a lot of things, and we have to start catching up with some of the things before it falls apart. We might still change it by the first hearing, I don’t think so.”

The commission has two budget hearings where the budget is adopted, and where the rate can still be tinkered with.

flagler beach city commission jane mealy

Jane Mealy. (© FlaglerLive)

Commissioners were divided over the new budget, splitting 3-2 for the new tax rate, and disagreeing over how to get there until Larry Newsom, the city manager, came back with a set of proposals and a pledge to make the budget fit the new rate. That made some commissioners on both sides of the split grumble about the use of having gone through two days of workshops if that would be the final method of squaring a tax rate with a budget.

“People need to get involved or they’re going to get hammered year after year,” Commissioner Rick Belhumeur, who was on the losing side of the 3-2 split, said. “I mean 20 percent above rollback, and then 15 percent above rollback. It’s a lot of money.” (Last year, he said, the tax rate increased by 20 percent.)

He acknowledged the administration’s point that the city fell behind and needs to catch up. “That’s their argument, I agree with that,” Belhumeur said, referring to the sewer plant. “They say if they’d gone up 10 percent a year all these years it’d be near the same amount, but they didn’t do that. But I don’t think it’s fair to the consumer to hit them 35 percent all at once.”

The sewer, garbage and stormwater rates don’t affect the general fund of the budget. The general fund is financed with revenue from the property tax. But the general fund pays for fire and police services, which account for the lion’s share of the general fund budget. That share is about to grow substantially.

Police Chief Matthew Doughney wants three additional police officers. He is concerned that with just two officers on a shift, cops could be vulnerable and placed in unnecessary danger when responding at times alone to calls. The commission split over that one too. Some thought the force was fine where it was (Belhumeur had been on the side of holding the line on cops), others were supportive of the request, and others not fully supportive, so that by the end there seemed to be agreement for two cops, not three—with each such additional position in the end costing close to $100,000, once the cost of an additional patrol car, equipment, pay and retirement are calculated.

flagler beach larry newsom

Larry Newsom (© FlaglerLive)

Mealy said Flagler Beach remains a small town, but ,more is being asked of its police force beyond crime-fighting.

In the fire department, Chief Bobby Pace asked for a captain—a second in command—and it looks like he will get one.

“I was almost OK with the captain’s position,” Belhumeur said, “because Bobby needs a break, he really needs a second in command. The police chief got that and he has one. So it would be a similar deal. But I thought the consensus was that we didn’t need any more officers at this particular moment.”

Newsom, the city manager, had asked for an administrative assistant, but ended up being then one proposing to cut that proposal out. He also proposed lowering his salary increase: he is in line for a 30 percent raise, to $120,000. But commissioners are adamant that he should stick to that 30 percent raise. They won’t say so out loud, but they’re worried he’ll go elsewhere if they don’t pay him substantially more, and they’ve been happy with him (most of them, anyway). Newsom has been shopping around for other jobs, most recently getting short-listed for the top job in Putnam County. He claims it’s just to test his marketability, but it’s just as clear that he was sending a message to his commissioners. And that the message was received.

The rank and file in the city is in line for a 4 percent raise. But to keep that raise alive, Newsom is proposing to pay for it half from the general fund, half from its reserves. It is not common—or generally wise—to fund recurring expenses out of reserves, but the bet in Flagler Beach is that next year’s property valuations will improve as they did this year (they increased 8.6 percent), and that the pay increase will then be absorbed by readier revenue.

rick belhumeur

Rick Belhumeur. (© FlaglerLive)

The disagreements in the end were as much about the process of the commission’s budgeting as with the final results.

“Kim is a small government person,” Mealy said, referring to Commissioner Kim Carney. Mealy spoke the words “small government” with the sort of inflection that drew air quotes around the words. “She informed me that she knew that I would not vote for small government, and I think Rick just didn’t want the increase to be as big as it is, but we had sat through two whole days of budget workshops and we cut nothing.” In other words, the commissioners had their chance to pare down the budget in line with the slogan but did not. Then came Newsom’s proposal to have a number he could work with, which seemed to nullify part of the process.

“The process was all followed the way it normally would be, but I’m a very detailed oriented person and I was uncomfortable with just coming up with a number nor knowing what the impact of that number would be,” Mealy said. “So I was asking if we pick the number we ultimately picked, who would we not hire, and what program would not happen, and louder voices said, that’s Larry’s job, give him a number to work with. So I got frustrated.” In that sense she was in agreement with Belhumeur, who wondered why the commission had gone through its two-day budgeting exercise.

So some of those details, including who is hired and who is not, may yet change once Newsom is done squaring his numbers with the round pegs the commission gave him. 

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13 Responses for “Divided Flagler Beach Commission Agrees To 15% Tax Increase, 2 New Cops, 1 Fire Captain”

  1. Rick Belhumeur says:

    I wrote this article 4 years ago. Does everyone realize how much Public Safety and other essential services have cost us, the citizens of Flagler Beach, since then? It’s past time to get involved unless you just don’t care. https://flaglerlive.com/56286/flagler-beach-settle-rb/

  2. Mothersworry says:

    You are so concerned about Public Safety yet you against additional personnel.

    Of course, gotta have some money to pay the city manager.

    You talk about people getting involved, careful what you wish for.

  3. crustyoldsalt says:

    Rick,

    Very good article you wrote 4 years ago. Why don’t we hire a professional to do a parking study to see what revenues can be generated charging for parking for these day trippers? We could look at several options, just to name a few: 1. Free for Flagler Beach residents, who are shouldering this burden, 2. Free parking after 5pm, similar to St. Augustine to help relieve business concerns

    The study that was done a few years back by laypeople that was shelved was easy for naysayers to poke holes in it, regardless if it was accurate or not. Hire professionals and let’s look at the potential revenue that can be generated. Area residents from outside Flagler Beach may not like it, but are they really going to drive somewhere else to save, for instance $.75/hour for parking? It would cost more than that in gas, not to mention their time. Seems like I remember Ms. Mcgrew ran on the platform (pay to play). Therefore, all is needed is one more vote to see what the potential is. There are not many towns where one can go and park for free all day and enjoy such an amenity.

    At some point, if we don’t find a way to raise additional revenue, Flagler Beach will become a town only the upper middle class will be able to afford.

    Yes, politically a hot potato, but it must be done for the benefit of the residents of Flagler Beach who cannot continue to shoulder this burden. Let the flaming begin!

  4. palmcoaster says:

    15% increase…? Wow! and you all elect these people? What about they really pay the services you need with the taxes collected till now? Because I know a house the size of mine in FB will cost me almost double the taxes I pay in PC…

  5. Mark101 says:

    Heck why not 20% increase. It appears FB needs the money to pay the salaries of their Commissioners and Manager and Police Dept, Fire Dept, and all employees get a raise. 35 percent increase in water and sewer rates, a 30 percent increase in the stormwater rate, and a 10 percent increase in the garbage pick-up rate. What we have here is asSmall town with big town salaries. Where do I sign up.

  6. Louie knows says:

    So Commissioner Belhumeur, are you suggesting Flagler Beach consolidates it’s public safety agencies with Flagler County? I can only say that the Commission is elected ( well not in your case), since you “walked” in without ever being on the ballot; but we can save that for another day. Here’s my point….
    The Commission is to act in the best fiducial interests of our citizens. A budget like this is ” fiducial irresponsibility”. You seem to want to play both sides against the middle…. sitting in budget workshops for 2 days, doing nothing to arrive at a millage rate that our residents can stomach, and then come out with a comment like you are against what you just let happen and were a part of. Then to make matters even worse than a 35 % tax hike over the past 2 years, you are allowing the inmates of City Hall to raise all our utility and garbage rates. They could care less for none of them even live in our City. If you keep raising the water rates it will soon be less expensive to drink beer! Come on already. What about our residents that rely only on a small social security pension? They will have to leave Flagler Beach soon for the inability to afford your City services. This is classical government at its best…. as soon as things turn around a bit, our elected officials allow the City staff to spend like there is no tomorrow. Then when things turn down again, and they will, someone will have no choice but to cut, cut, cut and bring the budget back in line with reality.

    Here’s the bottom line Commissioner Belhumeur…. What this Commission is allowing to happen is going to end in a consolidation of services with the County, for if this continues, Flagler Beach won’t be able to afford to provide public safety to our resident’s. As one of you said at a County meeting a couple years back….. “Flagler Beach is fiercely independent”. Yes, fiercely independent building fiefdoms, while your citizen’s are paying the bills and slowly going broke. It’s a lot more economically responsible to work police officers on overtime when the City swells in population on weekends, special events, etc…. than to hire new officers and place them in their own police cars, uniforms, guns, ammo, retirement, health benefits, etc…. Finally, do we need all these ranks in our small agencies? Pretty soon, there will be all chiefs and no Indians ! I guess they will look nice in our Holiday parades. We’ll look like the Macy Day parade in Mayberry!!!! Think about it please. This Commission needs to force staff to be responsible with our tax payers dollars. This is not the game of monopoly with play money.

  7. Rick Belhumeur says:

    Louie, No I am not suggesting consolidation at this point, but as you suggest it’s heading in that direction. It is extremely expensive to operate a 21st century fire department to start with and they keep asking for more. The point that I wanted to reiterate is that the County should be helping Flagler Beach pay for the additional services(police, fire, sanitation) provided because of the visitors that come to town..

    I didn’t just let anything happen. I do not approve of this budget and will not vote for it during the budget hearings. The problem is that I am only 1 of 5 voting members of the commission and if any 3 of the remaining commissioners vote yes, my no vote doesn’t help anyone.

    You’re doing just what you need to do. Get mad, gather others and show up at meetings to be heard, because Joy says no one is complaining. I will fight this with you, but Kim and I are not the ones you need to convince.

    Yes, I did get my seat on the commission unopposed because no one else wants to get involved. I’ve been blue collar all my life and have a different perspective than my colleagues. I will always fight for those that are paying the bills… the taxpayers of Flagler Beach.

  8. tom dooley says:

    Sorry but most fb residents i know are retirees from up north; yes they live on a “limited income” and most of that income goes to healthcare which isn’t part of this. for those who want to be employed by the city the last i checked there we’re 3 opening’s so apply or quit bitching. As you can see the city doesn’t pay squat! 99% of the employees can’t afford to live in the city. So who lives there? retirees from up north who spend their money at the local bars (i know who you are; yes i hang out there and don’t “bitch”) or on lottery tickets? quit drinking!!! or quit bitching!!! or run for office!!! Or better yet let palm coast take over??

  9. Smarterthanmost says:

    Small minds making big decisions. Let the county run the police & fire, small town departments are too expensive.

  10. Truman says:

    Raise the tax. Improve the city services. If you don’t like it, move inland. If you have prime property you are going to pay for it. You do realize Bunnell and Flagler County still have a higher tax rate even after this proposed tax increase!

  11. Louie knows says:

    Commissioner Belhumeur…. I appreciate and respect your comments. Thank you for that. Yes, by allowing the cost / price of public service to escalate, the Commission is setting up the police and fire agencies to be a potential for Flagler County consolidation. I am for having our own City agencies, but the cost increases make the argument for consolidation. Pace and Doughney are both astute enough or should be to recognize this as a future possibility and real threat. The key to independent agencies is to manage the cost while striving to add value to our citizen’s as to the level of service they receive from both our fire and police departments. As for utilities, do not increase the base fees, but rather the tiered cost as usage increases. The bloc rates, based on usage, will serve as a motivation to conserve usage of water and the subsequent sewer charges. Rather than just increasing the garbage rate, establish an incentive system for residents that drives more recycling rather than haphazardly tossing all household items into solid waste containers. The City, by increasing the recycle percentage, would avoid the cost of solid waste dumping at the tip. This is where the cost advantage to the City is realized for more recycled materials versus solid waste. Let’s think outside the box instead of just passing along a price increase to the residents. Ask the City Manager to compare notes with other Cities who are offering such an incentive toward more recycling. It is well documented and available. We should be able to just copy what “others” are already doing. Lastly, the easiest thing for Government to do is raise taxes and pass along price increases to the tax payers. Anyone can do that when it’s not costing them personally realizing the City employees making these recommendations either do not live here or are not tax payers. You and I are however and must bare the cost. Please do not let them get away with this. Challenge all of them to become a bit more creative in their thinking and recommendations for a solution.

  12. Rick Belhumeur says:

    Crustyoldsalt, I’m in total agreement, it’s time to pursue additional revenue to take the burden off the taxpayers. Parking is certainly an option. It’s also time to take better care of what we have before asking for more.

  13. Ramone says:

    As a resident of Flagler Beach, I’m all for small increases to keep up with spiraling employee costs, but to try and gain it all in one year is absurd. A 15% tax increase coupled with a 35% utility increase is insane. Thanks Rick and Kim for trying to keep the increases reasonable. Hopefully the other commissioners will reconsider during the budget hearings. Most households cannot absorb this kind of hit right now.

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