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Flagler Government Spent $1 Million on 3 Websites Since 2010, Wants $300,000 More In Next 4 Years

| May 25, 2018

What it looked like in 2012: the website, before one of its reincarnations. (© FlaglerLive)

What it looked like in 2012: the website, before one of its reincarnations. (© FlaglerLive)

Any way you look at it, Flagler County government has been spending a lot of money on its websites.

Since 2010, county government spent just under $1 million between its three websites—county government’s, economic development, and tourism. Tourism is by far the heaviest cost, accounting for 80 percent of the total.

Over the next four years, the three websites are projected to cost $327,600 between them, though that’s a baseline: the tourism website’s costs have been notoriously unpredictable, and more expensive than projections year after year.

The county administration is proposing to switch to a new vendor for its tourism website, the third since 2010. County Administrator Craig Coffey attempted to quietly slip the four-year, $284,000 contract through the county commission’s meeting agenda last Monday, without discussion: the item, never vetted or approved by the Tourist Development Council, was slated on the “consent” portion of the agenda, which commissioners adopt wholesale without discussion, unless one of them pulls the item.

Commissioner Dave Sullivan did, and spoke in strong terms that reflected several commissioners’ displeasure with Coffey and Matt Dunn, the tourism director, over the manner in which the $284,000 contract was placed before them, without prior discussion, and without so much as adequate background material even on Monday.

dave sullivan flagler county commission

County Commissioner Dave Sullivan. (© FlaglerLive)

“What I would like is information from the staff on the cost of all the websites that the county supports so we can make some idea of what is the total cost, first of what it costs to establish the website, and then what it costs on a regular yearly basis,” Sullivan said. “I just like to know how much money is going into website here out of the county budget, no matter which piece of it it is.”

A FlaglerLive tally and analysis of those numbers provides a breakdown of the costs going back to 2010. (See the chart below.)

The costs have risen sharply over that span, peaking at $193,402 in 2016, and dropping only slightly since, to $175,000 the following year and $168,000 this year (assuming the cost includes $30,000 to be spent this year as part of the latest switch-over for the tourism website.)

The bills have all been paid with tax dollars. But the pots from which the bills were paid differ. The county’s and economic development’s website costs are paid out of the county’s general fund, which draws the bulk of its revenue from local property taxes. The tourism website is paid for out of the tourism surtax charge on the sales tax, which has gone from 3 to 5 percent since 2010, and that is overwhelmingly, but not entirely, paid by visitors–and that remains public tax dollars even as local officials often strive to make it sound as if it were not tax revenue like any other.

Contrary to Coffey’s claims, the county’s switch to a different vendor last year for the county’s website has not been less expensive than its predecessor, at least not according to what the county has actually been paying (as opposed to what it projects to pay in its budget).  The county pays $6,400 a year to a company to run that website. The previous five years under a different company, costs had averaged $6,580, not counting the additional dollars it cost the county to switch over. That’s not because the new company charged much to redesign the site: it didn’t. But because the previous company kept getting paid for two years of overlap—just as will happen when the county switches over to a new tourism website.

Coffey defended the proposed contract for the new tourism website as he addressed unhappy commissioners, but also made a series of false or misleading statements.

Flagler Tourism Director Matt Dunn, left, and County Administrator Craig Coffey. (© FlaglerLive)

Flagler Tourism Director Matt Dunn, left, and County Administrator Craig Coffey. (© FlaglerLive)

“First off, I know this number and people like to say oh that’s a shocking number. It’s really not $50,000-something a year for the website. It is actually $33,000 a year for the website,” Coffey said. “There’s some additional services on top of that that get you up to the bigger number, and those additional services are really specific to tourism and tourism activities.”

Actually, it is, at a minimum, $56,000 in annual costs to run the website, according to the new company’s proposal and a Dunn email on Thursday to tourism council members. The “cost for services” for the website is $32,000, but that’s excluding a $24,000 annual cost for search-engine optimization, which is an integral part of those services, a disingenuous exclusion from the base total. Further, the cost excludes thousands of dollars expected to be spent on Google Adwords, because that’s considered “a media buy,” in Dunn’s word—but is still an part of the contract, and of the website’s running: excluding that cost is also disingenuous.

The design of the website will cost $46,475. That’s not a recurring cost. But the $56,000 a year is.

“Also it’s been mentioned that there was no competition for the current program we have, Just Program,” Coffey said of the current tourism website contractor. “That is not correct. That is not correct. That company we use, Just Program LLC is also known as Soledav, and that’s who we competitively bid that, we competitively brought it to the board, it didn’t go to the TDC council.”

Coffey is conflating the matter. He is correct about the initial contract with Soledav seven years ago. He is being misleading about the renewal of the contract in 2016, which went to the commission specifically as a request for a “single-source procurement,” which by-passes the normal procurement process (county policy allows it) while still meaning that additional services would be purchased, but under the umbrella of Soledav. The county decided it was simpler and less disruptive to avoid bidding the contract.

Finally, Coffey in comments to county commissioners was flat wrong about his claim regarding Palm Coast’s website designers.

“It’s been said that Palm Coast paid zero for their website,” Coffey said (obliquely referring to Monday’s FlaglerLive article on the county’s website plans. “But that’s not true, because they have a whole team of staff that they pay, and there’s probably over $100,000-something a year for their website between the professionals they hired to keep up their website.”

No, that’s not true: Palm Coast developed its website with one IT hand, Doug Akins, whose official duties don’t include website creation, with help from Cindi Lane (the equivalent of the county’s Julie Murphy) and a Lane associate. None were hired to “keep up their website.” In fact, according to Lane, they had considered hiring a contractor, then opted to do it in-house.

None of Monday’s discussion touched on the  broader costs of county websites over the past several years.

With the focus on the tourism website, several commissioners wondered why, with the division’s much-touted success in recent years, the need to switch. “If they’re doing a super job with what they’ve got now, why is it we need something additional? I don’t understand that, and that’s some of the things that I think can come out in a workshop,” Commissioner Charlie Ericksen said. (The county is not asking for anything additional, of course. Just a different vendor.)

Flagler County Commissioner Greg Hansen. (© FlaglerLive)

Flagler County Commissioner Greg Hansen. (© FlaglerLive)

“What’s being reflected here is that what was in our read-ahead for this was not adequate,” Commission Chairman Greg Hansen said. “I had the same thing. I read it, and then I read it, then I read it again. There was nothing in the backup to explain. I share the frustration of my fellow commissioners. There wasn’t enough there to feel comfortable about this, and I relayed that to Matt. I just didn’t understand. So I think in the future when we normally have a procurement like this, there’s 10-11 pages of back-up, and why this certain person was picked. That wasn’t here. And I understand from Matt that maybe there isn’t anymore to add. But then how did you make the pick?”

Coffey said the technicalities of a website should be left up to professionals, and called on Amy Lukasik, the long-time marketing director at the tourism bureau, to elaborate on the tourism site’s different needs.

Those needs are vastly different from those of the county website or that of the economic development division. But commissioners were not so much educated about those needs as snowed under a mass of technical terms that, when parsed, don’t at all explain the costs. Rather, they reflect how technical language—the intricacies of websites’ back ends—can serve to perplex outsiders with incomprehensible language used to justify the high costs.

Reading from a list of services the new company will develop in the tourism website, Lukasik rattled off “some of the terminology and services that are included,” including such things as “metatag management, redirect  module, article modules, content ownership, RSS feeds, template generator, site search, hosting and sitewide SSL certificate, code editor for CSS, template and java script code overwrite capabilities,” and so on.

charlie ericksen flagler county commission

County Commissioner Charlie Ericksen. (© FlaglerLive)

“Half those terms you said there don’t mean a thing to me,” Ericksen said.

Nor should they. Most of those elements are routine, one-time and relatively simple parts of most websites, like any organism’s backbones, and few require much expertise, let alone thousands of dollars of set-up or recurring costs.

One of the most staggering costs of the new site is its $2,000 monthly, ongoing charge for “search-engine optimization,” the technique that seeks to entice search engines to rank a website’s pages authoritatively. More basic skill than science, website-design companies often prey on clients’ ignorance of the technique to make it seem more expert than what it is, and therefore more expensive than it warrants—especially since, as Lukasik said, the tourism site beyond its standard pages will need SEO for barely three to four articles a month. But it appears even the tourism office’s staff can be ensnared by vendors’ exaggerated claims about SEO.

After Coffey and commissioners agreed to a workshop on the tourism website on May 29, the day after Memorial Day (at 9 a.m., as part of a budget workshop), Dunn and Coffey quickly went to work on Tourist Development Council and County Commission members, sending them marketing materials exclusively from the new company, along with its proposal, whose details are no less opaque than the list of services Lukasik outlined for commissioners. What the emails—or the workshop—do not include is independent analysis either from impartial web providers or other governments that could lend less subjective perspectives to commissioners preparing to sign onto the $284,000 contract, and the county’s continuing $100,000-a-year bills in website costs.

Flagler County's Website Costs, 2010-2018

County Website
County Website
Economic Dev. Website
Tourism Website
Tourism Website
Tourism Website
Annual Totals
Projected 2019-22
Click on each vendor's name to see the itemized breakdown of costs.
(*) The 2018 figure for the county's website is projected cost.
Note: In 2013 and 2014, Solodev's totals included some costs for the then-nascent economic development website.
Source: Flagler County Clerk of Court.

38 Responses for “Flagler Government Spent $1 Million on 3 Websites Since 2010, Wants $300,000 More In Next 4 Years”

  1. Stretchem says:

    “metatag management, redirect module, article modules, content ownership, RSS feeds, template generator, site search, hosting and sitewide SSL certificate, code editor for CSS, template and java script code overwrite capabilities,” with related plugins will do all of the above. For near free.

    Based on 30k visitors a month, hosting would be less than $50/mo.

    A monkey can be taught to update content in WordPress. Existing designers on staff in marketing can provide necessary artwork and images.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Flagler County Government is Eaten up with the “Dumbass”!!!

  3. PC Citizen says:

    “Go Daddy” will build your website for FREE !

  4. Anonymous says:

    How do I get on the Flagler payroll?

  5. Really says:

    Wasted $$

  6. John Dolan says:

    Art of the deal by craig coffey
    More Coffey n’ confusion. Call Billy the exterminator, this snake is a danger to the taxpayer.

  7. jim says:

    County is just like the City “we got it lets spend it!!! ” Time to CLEAN HOUSE in BOTH THE COUNTY and the CITY!!! GET ER DONE JACK HOWELL!!!!

  8. Coyote says:

    Coffey and Dunn both seem to think the county’s finances are their personal checkbooks .. to spend what they want, how they want, to whom they want .. and they really really dislike being called on improper usage.

    Has anyone even THOUGHT of maybe trying to NOT make changes for a year – then evaluating how much worse (or even better) the revenue garnered from these sites becomes? You know – like seeing whether or not something is WORTH the cost?

  9. gmath55 says:

    A high school student can design a website. Web design was or websites was by far the easiest class I took when I was getting my AS in computer programming.

  10. Anonymous says:

    A waste of Taxpayer Money!

  11. Anonymous says:

    Hey boys on the commission, if these two will pull the wool over your eyes once, they will do it again, and again, and again! Why would you want to have employees like this working for you? It is time the commission take a stand and get their staff under control.

  12. mark101 says:

    What a waste of money. Voters please vote these commissioners out of office and we the citizens of Flagler County need a new County Administrator

  13. Fiscal says:

    This is what happens when you hire or elect people with NO business expertise. That goes for the administrator and commissioners. Having “military” experience has no connection to managing, planning and executing a budget. Voters should be ashamed of themselves.

  14. fiscal says:

    No plan? No metrics? No public bid?

  15. atilla says:

    With Coffey and Dunn controlling our purse string they live it up and laugh all the way to the bank.

  16. Jane Gentile-Youd says:

    Nate McLaughlin has voted to raise our property tax rates 30% since he took office. Every year he’s even been the maker of the motion to raid our wallets. He and his cohort Coffey always have these grandiose
    illusions that the money pot is there just for them to raid.

    Thanks to Flaglerlive exposing this latest disgrace we can cross our fingers and hope that this $284,000+ woven web scam ain’t a ‘Dunn’ deal yet.

  17. ItIsThe.. says:

    So easy to spend mo ey when it’s not yours. I deserve a $40,000 consulting fee by saving the government $999,000. I used my skills as a researcher and went to a place called and searched “professional website builder” and found all kinds of companies that will set you up for under $1000. I guess they were just taking a cue from the $834 million-$5 billion dollar “obamacare” website. They have us r vs d fighting each other while they laugh at us and take our money and party together.

  18. Latitude Lawns says:

    I took 2 minutes to make this very simple FREE website. LatitudeLawns.Com Imagine what I could do with a million…probably the same exact website and me and my elected friends could pocket the money. 99.999% of government money is a scam. The other .001% is wasted.

  19. thomas says:

    We have the best government money can buy. I think they are all on the take….they can not possibly be this dumb.

  20. thomas says:

    What a waste. They cannot possibly be this dense…some or all must be on the take.

  21. Fiscal says:

    It is clear that the process is WRONG. Don’t contract of this size have to be publicly bid and commission approve?

  22. Edith Campins says:

    What a waste of money. Just say no.

  23. Shark says:

    Don’t these people realize you can only polish a turd so much ???

  24. Rebecca Turbeville says:

    c’mon up at a council meeting and voice your displeasure there..its too easy to ignore web postings!!

  25. elmer fudd says:

    wow..they be pissing our money away!!

  26. Anonymous says:

    Good gosh I built my own website using online templates and paid under $100. Dunn is building his empire on tax dollars and we’re letting him. Aren’t there rules about public bids? Do they build requirements and have RFP’s or do they just toss the money to the first company run by a relative? Disgusting.

  27. wow says:

    Good gosh I built my own website using online templates and paid under $100. Dunn is building his empire on tax dollars and we’re letting him. Aren’t there rules about public bids? Do they build requirements and have RFP’s or do they just toss the money to the first company run by a relative? Disgusting.

  28. Edman says:

    Don’t forget, Dunn is the same guy that tried to bring a challenge run to Princess Place without any justification and at a huge cost to the county.

  29. palmcoaster says:

    This is called graft…Dunn, McLaughing and Coffey need the boot! Then of course there is no money for needed services for poor children and elderly!

  30. Brad W says:

    It says a lot to me that the group can not clearly justify the expense for the project. Website at this level are not $100 things, but they also aren’t $50k/year things either for what they are creating. Now if they are layering in a CRM with workflows and data feeds for analysis that adds quite a bit to expense and is often a good investment. It’s something easy to show/demonstrate to project sponsors to justify it as an investment (and it should have a return). Talking things like SEO, RSS feeds, meta tag management, etc. is a means to flood the moneyholders with technical jargon to intimidate them and get an approval. It’s the first sign that the one presenting has no clue what they are talking about or they are hiding something.

    This also speaks to the bigger problem and that is structure. Websites and online channels (i.e. social, ads, etc.) are a marketing/communications function. And therefore there should be a bolstered up marketing/communications department with experts in websites, social media, press, and advertising that serves these departments. Those functions should not be handled within those departments. In the model I’m talking about you get far more efficiency and effectiveness. You get consistent branding and channels working together rather than sitting in separate silos working on islands by themselves. You get the TDD working with the EDD to serve the same function and the County channels amping up both messages. So forth and so on.

  31. John Brady says:

    Remember Republicans have been in control of County Council for as long as these follies and expenditures have been spent.I applaud the current members for questioning these expenditures and wonder why it didn’t happen sooner.It is also refreshing that the County Council realizes that they are the manager’s supervisor. I only wish Palm Coast Council would come to that realization

    Both City Council and County Council need to look at return on investment {ROI} when any expenses are being considered. Both bodies need to be informed why current staff can not handle a project before any outsourcing.

    If PC has done it right, can’t PC “loan” staff to Flagler County?

    People we need to vote for the financially conservative Democrats

  32. Stretchem says:

    Had an opportunity to actually look at the county’s site:

    What’s so wrong with it? Why is a “redesign” needed? Are people looking to visit or move to Flagler county basing their decision on a website? Is not the current site already “maintained” by county personnel? Is not the site source code already paid for and in the county’s possession?

    Where is the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce in this discussion?

    Where is the Flagler County Business Assistance Center in this discussion?

    Could or should not both of the above have a majority say-so in this spending decision?

    Could not or should not both of the above, within their own responsibilities, offer to a local business the opportunity to “maintain” the site, should current county marketing communications personnel be technically incapable? Revenue could actually be created by keeping the services local. That opportunity doesn’t exist when awarded to out of county entities.

    Looking at the 17-18 budget, with over 2.5m allocated to personnel expenses, that’s where this expenditure needs to stay, with a secondary alternate of a local contractor. Tbat’s what Palm Coast city has done successfully.

  33. anon says:

    Republicans – stealing your money any way they can. There is no such thing as a fiscal conservative in republicanland. Look at the federal budget deficit today vs 20 years ago. Flagler County, take a page from Palm Coast and how they do their websites. HIRE a guy (much cheaper over the long run – especially for us taxpayers). You CUT lifeguards down so you could pay over a quarter million for redoing a website??? How many have drowned as a result.

  34. Anonymous says:

    “People we need to vote for the financially conservative Democrats”

    Financially conservative Democrats, who are these people, and where can they be found.

  35. DRedder says:

    We don’t need tourism or tourist this County is already overcrowded.
    Spend time (what you get payed for) bringing in high paying jobs & business’s. Flagler doesn’t need more fast food restaurants and retail stores. Go out and solicit some manufacting and other heavy workforce requirement jobs that will not only pay well but require a heavy amount big personal.

  36. knightwatch says:

    Right here Anonymous… a fiscally conservative Democrat and a supporter of other fiscally conservative Democrats running for the PC city council. We will bring sense and sensibility to city government, fix the Landon problem and ride herd on the county commission.

  37. capt says:

    Its a darn shame, the Flagler County county administrator is not an elected official.

  38. Anonymous says:

    It’s a damn shame the board of county commissioners keep renewing the county administrator’s contract years in advance with no adjustment to the golden parachute should he be booted! This board of county commissioners are drinking the Coffey as the former board members did……it will get no better until Coffey is GONE!

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