Jon Netts is a candidate for Palm Coast City Council, District 2, running against Jack Howell . The District 4 seat is also up, with Eddie Branquinho and John Tipton vying for it in a runoff. Both are open seats. Steve Nobile resigned his District 4 seat in May, and incumbent Heidi Shipley decided not to run for re-election.
The District 2 race was not contested in the primary because it drew just two candidates: Netts, a former council member and mayor with a combined 17 years on the council (he was term-limited out of the mayorship in 2016), and Howell, a retired Marine colonel who heads Teens-in-Flight, the Palm Coast non-profit that teaches teens to fly. To participate, teens largely the children of soldiers or first responders. Howell has once run for Flagler County sheriff before but has not won an election.
When three seats were up two years ago, the council’s majority turned over, with two new council members and a new mayor elected. This year’s election will complete the council’s entire turn-over, as two new members are certain to be elected, though “new” may be a relative term in the District 2 race. All three other candidates for council are newcomers to politics.
This is a non-partisan, at-large election. That means all registered voters in Palm Coast, regardless of party or non-party affiliation–Democrats, Republicans, independents and others–may cast a ballot for Palm Coast council elections, even though the district winner ostensibly represents that particular district.
Palm Coast council members serve four years. They’re paid $9,600 a year, $11,400 for the mayor, not including a monthly “telecommunications” allowance.
FlaglerLive submitted identical questions to all candidates, with the understanding that additional questions might be tailored to candidates individually and some follow-up questions may be asked, with all exchanges on the record. Interviews of candidates who competed in the primary ran in July. The Live Interview’s aim is to elicit as much candor and transparency as possible. We have asked candidates to refrain from making campaign speeches or make lists of accomplishments. We have also asked candidates to reasonably document any claim or accusation. Undocumented claims are edited out. Answers are also edited for length, redundancy, relevance and, where possible, accuracy. If a candidate does not answer a question or appears to be evading a question, that’s noted.
But it’s ultimately up to the reader to judge the quality and sincerity of a candidate’s answers.
The Questions in Summary: Quick Links
- Amendment 1
- Public service tax
- How to spend $500,000
- Arts funding
- Council dynamics
- Council report card
- Jim Landon
- Manager search
See Jon Netts’s 2011 Live Interview here.
Flagler County Commission
Greg Hansen (Rep., Dist. 2)
Dennis McDonald (Ind., Dist. 2)
Joe Mullins (Rep., Dist. 4)
Jane Gentile-Youd (Ind., Dist. 4)
Flagler School Board
Janet McDonald (Dist. 2)
John Fischer (Dist. 2)
The Candidates on ESE
Palm Coast City Council
Jon Netts (Dist. 2)
Jack Howell(Dist. 2)
Eddie Branquinho (Dist. 4)
John Tipton IV (Dist. 4)
A. Reestablish a better working relationship with the Flagler County Board of County Commissioners. Palm Coast enjoys a cordial working relationship with the other cities in Flagler County; perhaps because we share many common goals. In years past, there were at least two joint meetings each year including representatives of all five cities, the School Board, and the County Commissioners.
By virtue of its size, Palm Coast has the ability to offer some services to the unincorporated County and even to other cities; services such as water and sewer services, etc. Such potentials could be of mutual benefit to all involved and might make for a worthwhile topic for joint meetings. Likewise, cities need not duplicate County services. Joint planning would address both issues.
B. Continue the strategies outlined in “Prosperity 2021;” strategies that were designed to protect our “older neighborhoods and business districts.” As growth in Palm Coast continues, and with three huge DRI’s (developments of regional impact) pending on the West side of our City, we need to be aware of the issue of “blight flight” in which residents and businesses tend to leave older neighborhoods and reestablish themselves in newer developing areas with a resulting downward spiral of property value.
The redevelopment of the Palm Harbor Shopping Center (now Island Walk) is an example of what can be done to preserve, and actually improve existing business districts when the City and a developer work together.
C. Focus on “strategic growth” for Palm Coast. Growth for growth’s sake is not a good idea. With growth comes demands for more and more infrastructure – roads, water and sewer, Police and Fire protection, etc. Initially, these can be, at least partially paid for by impact fees. However, one of the biggest mistakes that elected officials across this entire nation have made is to assume that infrastructure improvements are a “one time” expense. Just look at the DOT analysis of bridges across America. Many are in danger of failing due to lack of proper maintenance. Impact fees can pay for the initial infrastructure, but maintenance becomes an ongoing burden on the taxpayers.
Attracting businesses that add value to our community, but that do not place high demands on infrastructure should be a number one priority for our City. To this end we need to be aware of the perception that Palm Coast is not “friendly” to new businesses and do everything in our power to erase this notion. The addition of an “business ombudsman” to our Community Development Department would be a good start.
I don’t think there is anything that Palm Coast is doing that it is doing “poorly.” There are several things the City is not doing, and in most cases, it is by design. For example, Palm Coast chooses not to duplicate services already provided by the County such as social services, etc.
For another example, consider the issue of public transportation. Given the initial design of our road system, with its many cul-de-sacs, etc., a door-to-door, or corner-to-corner public transportation would be prohibitively expensive. Since incorporation, this issue has been looked at several times, by both the City and the County. In every case, the cost was simply too great. At one point I asked our large shopping centers to consider providing a “shopping center loop” bus that could take shoppers from one center to another. The idea met with no support.
Looking forward, perhaps some of the larger developments in our city, now or in the future, could implement a “jitney bus” similar to a service provided by several of our assisted living developments
In my opinion, there are several things we could do better. First, I’d like to see more person-to-person contact between Council Members and their constituents. With only three minutes to speak at Council meetings and workshops, it is often difficult for residents to express their opinions about things that matter to them. There are numerous opportunities for council members to meet with the public at more informal settings. When I was in office, I held over 40 informal “town hall” meetings at the Community Center so that residents could speak at length about matters of interest to them. Perhaps this could be done by others.
Secondly, we still wrestle with the issue of adequately funding our Stormwater System. Should it be paid for out of taxes? If so, then there is a disproportionate cost to some residents and businesses. Should it be paid for by Stormwater fees? Then there is the requirement that there must be a “rational nexus” between the fee you pay and the service you receive. A number of years ago, City Council attempted to create a Stormwater fee. Not only was the computation of “service received” almost impossible to calculate, the inequities that were created were unacceptable. But the City still must deal with this issue. Before any new approach is proposed, Council must provide education about all the options to the public so that they can provide input as to which option they prefer.
Lastly, we need a better way to respond to citizen complaints. We accept a complaint, and even if the issue is corrected, often we do not get back to the resident who complained, as to what was actually done. Was the complaint valid? Was it corrected? How will the issue be dealt with in the future? Better communication is the answer.
Residents disagree with you that Palm Coast is doing nothing poorly. According to the city’s latest biennial survey, residents think the city is doing a terrible job at providing a vibrant downtown, employment opportunities, mental health care, public transportation, and a poor job of providing cultural activities, and affordable quality housing, to name a few issues. Are residents wrong? misguided? Unaware?
You’re doing a “terrible” job of brain surgery! Oops, I forgot that you don’t do any brain surgery, so it is unfair to compare your results with other brain surgeons. Similarly, Palm Coast’s layout was determined by ITT’s “suburban sprawl” model, making it impossible to create a viable public transportation system. City leaders have repeatedly commented that a traditional public transportation cannot work in Palm Coast, so it is unfair to say that the City is doing a terrible job when, in fact, they are not addressing the issue at all.
Many years ago Flagler County attempted to create a “fixed route” transportation system in Palm Coast. Steve Jones was the director of the effort. After several months the County abandoned the effort as “unworkable.” Tilting at windmills remains a no-win situation. Flagler County, not Palm Coast, is the primary provider of “mental health care” through its Health Department.
The current Mayor and Council have created an “innovation district” in Town Center with the hopes of allowing more affordable housing. After consultation with the Flagler Home Builders Association they made changes to the building code to make duplex and multi-family housing more affordable. They have rezoned several tracts of land to permit/encourage affordable housing, e.g. the tract on Old Kings Road, near Utility Drive. (The Woodlands residents were not thrilled with the effort.) Also, in the innovation district they have created incentives for employment opportunities with better paying jobs.
While I was on City Council the City worked with the property owners of what is now Town Center to create a potential “downtown.” The City agreed to a one-for-one land swap to make the Town Center property contiguous. I’m sure the great recession had something to do with the stagnation of creating a downtown. Don’t forget, Palm Coast is only eighteen years old; it is unfair to compare our status with that of much longer- established cities. We’re getting there as fast as we can.
3. Voters this fall are likely to approve Amendment 1, an expansion of the homestead exemption to up to $75,000. All local governments except schools will see shortfalls. First, do you support the additional exemption? Please explain your answer. Second, how will you make up the lost revenue?
No, I do not support Amendment 1! Consider the impact it will have. If this amendment passes, local governments, both cities and counties, will lose millions in revenue due to lowered taxable values. This leaves them two options: 1) raise the millage rate to make up for lost revenue or 2) cut services. It is unlikely that residents will accept lower levels of service, so it is almost a certainty that the millage rate will go up. Who then benefits and who is harmed? Since none of the exemptions fully apply to homes whose value is less than $125,000, the less affluent homeowner will see an increase in their taxes. This shifts the burden to those who can least afford it. Assuming Amendment 1 passes, and it probably will, the easiest way to make up the shortfall is to raise the millage rate. Woe to those local governments whose millage rate approaches the 10-mil cap!
4. Palm Coast has the authority to impose a public service tax on your utility bill of up to 10 percent, and a franchise fee on utilities, which would be passed to customers, of up to 10 percent. The money may be spent at the council’s discretion. Many counties and cities around the state partially or fully levy one or both the taxes. Palm Coast considered imposing a 6 percent electric franchise fee and a 2 percent public service tax in 2012, but reversed course in the face of strong public opposition, even though the two new taxes were intended to replace the existing stormwater fee. Either of the new taxes, proponents argue, would diversify the city’s revenue stream. Either could be used to generate revenue that would otherwise have to be generated by property taxes, though the public service tax and the franchise fee are regressive in comparison. Where do you stand on either new tax becoming part of Palm Coast’s taxing structure?
One “advantage” of a Public Service Tax is to “diversify” the revenue stream. What this really means is that during downturns in the economy (like the great recession we recently endured) property values go down, with corresponding decreases in revenue to the local government. Since the Public Service Tax is based on utility bills, not property values, and it is unlikely that utility usage will go down, the public service tax will not decrease. This means less of a revenue decrease to the local government.
Palm Coast considered the Public Service tax (a tax that virtually every local government in this region has implemented) as a stable revenue source that could be applied to our ongoing stormwater needs. Since the voters strongly opposed the imposition of such a tax, the idea was dropped by City Council. The voters clearly spoke. Unless there is a change in their position, I will not support the creation of a Public Service Tax.
Clear voter sentiment didn’t stop you from going ahead with a new city hall that voters opposed. How is this different? Six years have passed since the last time the council considered the matter of a utility tax, with now an entirely new council and new financial realities, which make your first paragraph’s points even more salient: are you pledging to oppose such a tax over the next four years regardless?
If you will do a history search you will see that I was the only Council Member to oppose the original plans for a new City Hall. The price tag was outrageous, and the actual design was a loser. The original referendum was not about a City Hall; it was a referendum required by City Charter to ask voter approval for incurring (I believe twenty-two million dollars) long-term unfunded debt. The referendum, which I spoke against, was for bonding for a new City Hall and two, yes two, community centers. To be clear, the issue was about incurring debt, not about a City Hall.
A few years later the City was able to design a more modest City Hall and was able to construct it without incurring any taxpayer debt. By the way, moving into the new City Hall saved the City on the order of $250,000 in rent.
While there are many advantages of diversifying City income, I do not support a utility franchise tax without support from the community. By the way, just wait and see the impact that Amendment One will have on all local governments.
5. Every time a developer proposes an apartment complex in Palm Coast, rebellion breaks out from neighboring residents. Yet the city has a need for affordable housing. How do you propose to diversify Palm Coast’s housing options? By what criteria would you approve or reject apartment complexes? Would you approve raising the density and height of multi-family, or apartment, structures in select areas of the city zoned for the purpose?
Land use is determined mostly by zoning regulations. The idea behind “Euclidian Zoning” (so-called since it was first implemented in Euclid, Ohio) is to provide “smooth transitions” from one type of usage to another. You don’t put a factory next to a residence and probably not an apartment complex next to a single-family residence.
The need for affordable housing speaks to a need for review of our zoning maps. Much of “older” Palm Coast is already zoned and developed as “single family residential” and would not be a good place for revised zoning. There are, however, many areas of Palm Coast that are not fully developed. Here a change in zoning might have little or no effect on current property owners. I would support density changes in such areas. I would not support changes in height limitations beyond what is in our current code.
Why no changes in height in certain areas?
“One time” money should be spent on “one time” projects, not projects that have ongoing maintenance costs. Several options come to mind. Perhaps the requested improvements to the Little League ball fields? Perhaps needed upgrades to the Frieda Zamba Pool? Perhaps the next step in upgrading our traffic control system?
Should we interpret your response to mean that you favor improvements of what’s already here as opposed to innovations?
I’m not sure I understand your interpretation. Innovation is wonderful, if it does not irrevocably change Palm Coast as we know it.
7. At around $30,000 a year, the city’s support of the arts is extremely stingy. Some governments, Volusia County among them, dedicate a small, proportional fraction of tax revenue and public spaces to programs often referred to as Art in Public Places. Would you support such a dedicated tax?
As an individual and as an elected official, I have always supported the visual and performing arts in Palm Coast. While I was in office, Palm Coast negotiated a very supportive lease of public land to the Palm Coast Arts Foundation. In addition, to support that location, the City constructed restrooms for the public to use there.
There is no question that the arts are as much an amenity for our residents as is a ball field, tennis court, swimming pool, or Community Center. With so many arts leagues, foundations, associations, etc. in our City, we have many opportunities for public/private arts initiatives. As Palm Coast continues to grow, so should our support of the arts.
But you’re not telling us if, with the city growing and your acknowledged need to increase support for the arts, you’d favor what about that dedicated tax on the Volusia model? Failing that, would you support making your cultural arts grants pot bigger?
Yup, you got it. I will support increasing the cultural grants pot, but I will not support a stand-alone tax for it. To do so would forever tie the hands of future Councils.
Look at the City Charter. It is quite explicit. The Mayor and Council set policy; the City Manager is charged with implementing that policy. If any Council Member, or the Council as a whole chooses not to set policy then, by default, a City Manager or Administrator may try to fill the void. With a new City Manager on the horizon, it is essential that all applicants for that position clearly understand the role they will play as Palm Coast moves ahead. The Palm Coast Vision has been and should continue to be jointly determined by our residents and our City Council; not by a single individual.
9. Mayor Milissa Holland, Council member Nick Klufas and to a lesser extent Council member Bob Cuff were elected on promises of change and novel visions two years ago. Evaluate their performance, their successes and shortcomings, and tell us if you think they’ve lived up to their promise. What will you bring to the council that they don’t?
I think that change, for change’ sake, makes no sense. Change is desirable if current conditions warrant them. The more time one spends in examining the conditions in Palm Coast, the more one realizes that not all change is good or even necessary. I think the Mayor and Council have done a good job in managing and guiding our community. One thing that is lacking on the current City Council is a sense of history; a working knowledge of things that have been tried and worked and things that have not worked so well. I have a first-hand working knowledge of Palm Coast from almost its beginning to present day. I think that would be an excellent addition to Council.
Given the then-growing rift between Council members and the City Manager I probably would have voted with the majority, however I agree with Vice Mayor Cuff that there could have been a better process for the termination.
11. The council is looking for a new manager. Evaluate the manner of the manager’s search to date, now that it is more than a year in the making, including your assessment of the current manager’s involvement in the search. Would you have been willing to pay the current manager’s severance to speed up the process? What will you look for in a new manager?
The pool of applicants for positions such as a City Manager is not static. A candidate today is an employee tomorrow. To me, it makes little sense to begin a search far in advance of a potential hiring. We saw that in the last City Manager search that Palm Coast conducted. By the time Council had narrowed the pool of candidates to half a dozen, two of them had already accepted positions elsewhere. As to the Manager’s role in the search process… he has none.
The choice of a City Manager is the sole responsibility of City Council. If they want additional input, they will ask for it. No, I would not have paid to accelerate Mr. Landon’s departure.
In my mind, a City Manager should have varied experiences is local government, especially in cities comparable to Palm Coast in size, demographics, cultural and ethnic makeup, etc. Business experience, while perhaps of some value, can be misleading – the processes of government are vastly different from those in the business world.
A potential Manager should be willing to embrace the vision of a City Council and should not attempt to substitute his or her ideas for those of the Council. Ideally, a Manager would be comfortable in a variety of settings; not just within the confines of the City Hall. One of the most valuable assets for someone in a leadership role in city government is a clear understanding of the wishes its residents. This is, after all, a representative form of government. Strong communication skills are a necessity, as is empathy for the needs of the residents.
Would Beau Falgout make a good permanent manager?
12. Palm Coast relies on the sheriff for policing. Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of that contract, and tell us what specifically you would change about it. Are some areas of Palm Coast less effectively policed than others? Do you favor an independent police department for the city, now or in the near future?
Going back to (I think) 2004, the City contracted with Robert Ford, President of the International Chiefs of Police Association to do an evaluation of two options: 1) continue to contract with the Sheriff for police services or: 2) create our own Palm Coast Police Department. The results were telling: the start-up costs for an independent police department were staggering – uniforms, vehicles, equipment, facilities, training, etc. The operating costs were also much higher for our own department because we would need our own Chief, superior officers, all the ancillary services like narcotics, swat, etc.
Ford’s recommendation was to continue to contract with the sheriff. For the most part, all of this remains true – start-up and operating costs for a Palm Coast Police Department would far exceed what we are now paying. One advantage of the current contract is that we can add to the coverage at any time at a cost clearly identified in the contract. The current contract also provides for an officer of commander rank to serve as a liaison to Palm Coast. Should we have an issue, Commander Carman is readily available. We also have access to the specialized services that the Sheriff’s Office provides at no additional cost. I see no advantage to creating our own police department, not now, and not in the near future.
2018 Election Candidates, Flagler County
|County Commission District 2||Greg Hansen, Incumbent (Rep)||Abby Romaine (Rep)||Dennis McDonald (NPA)|
|County Commission District 4||Nate McLaughlin, Incumbent (Rep)||Joe Mullins (Rep)||Jane Gentile-Youd (NPA)|
|School Board District 1||Andy Dance, Incumbent||Unopposed|
|School Board District 2||Janet McDonald, Incumbent||John Fischer||Carl Jones|
|School Board District 4||Trevor Tucker, Incumbent||Paul Anderson|
|Palm Coast City Council Seat 2||Jack Howell||Jon Netts|
|Palm Coast City Council Seat 4||Jose Eduardo Branquinho||Corinne Marie Hermle||John Tipton|
|Florida House District 24||Paul Renner, Incumbent (Rep)||Adam Morley (Dem)|
|Congressional District 6, Democratic Primary||Stephen Sevigny||Nancy Soderberg||John Upchurch|
|Congressional District 6, GOP Primary||Fred Costello||Michael Waltz||John Ward|