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Facing Staunch Opposition, Palm Coast Council Retreats From Electric Tax To Seek Alternatives

| October 16, 2018

heidi shipley

Palm Coast Council member Heidi Shipley, right, with Mayor Milissa Holland and member Nick Klufas, as they toured the public works facility almost two years ago, as they did again last week. They all agree the facility needs rebuilding, but there’s less agreement on how to pay for it. Today, Shipley moved to table a proposal to impose an electric tax to fund the project, and the council unanimously voted to do so. (© FlaglerLive)

The Palm Coast City Council this morning voted unanimously to table–or indefinitely delay–delay a decision on a potential electric tax that, as a similar proposal did six years ago, provoked an immediate and broad public backlash.

One of the proposed taxes, a public service electric tax, would have imposed up to a 10 percent levy on all customers’ electric bills, generating several million dollars the city says are needed to build a new public works facility on U.S. 1, and to double the annual amount of money spent on repaving and maintaining the city’s streets. A second possibility, an electric franchise fee, would have imposed the equivalent of a 6 percent tax on bills, though that possibility was never in serious contention for approval.

The public works facility could cost up to $21.5 million, according to a consultant’s analysis. Roads would consume upwards of $3 million a year. The council says it does not currently have the means to afford either. In July, the council asked its administration to prepare funding options. The administration submitted the plan last week, but it was a surprisingly narrow plan, proposing only those two electric-tax options. The administration’s presentation at last week’s workshop never mentioned the small rebellion a different council faced when it considered a similar plan in 2012, leaving council members vulnerable to a similar public reaction this time around.

The backlash was intensified by the fact that the turnaround between the council’s first discussion of the two electric taxes and the proposals’ appearance on an agenda, for a decision, was all of one week.

This morning, council member Heidi Shipley, in what will likely be her last, significant motion as a member of the council–she is stepping down after the Nov. 8 election–motioned to table the proposal for a public service electric tax.

“We need to do more research,” Shipley said. “It’s a lot to put on someone that’s here for a short time,” she said, referring to fellow-council member Vincent Lyon, who was appointed to the seat in August, and is also stepping down after the election. She called for more public meetings and comparisons with other governments before making “such a big decision in such a short amount of time.”

Lyon seconded the motion after stressing that it wasn’t for lack of time or comprehension of the proposals. “We need more time for public input,”
he said.

Mayor Milissa Holland called for a roll-call. It was unanimous. She called Shipley’s motion “a wise request” in a brief interview between two segments of today’s meeting.

That left the separate proposal for a franchise fee still on the table, though the matter was rendered moot but for the presentation and discussions that followed, both from council members and numerous residents who’d turned up to oppose either plan. It was a foregone conclusion that the franchise fee proposal would be tabled as well (the council had made clear even last week that it wasn’t charged up for the fee anyway).

But by going ahead with the formality of a presentation, it gave the public a chance to voice its concerns and underscore the numerous flaws in the city’s current approach–to the point that Alan Peterson, a former city council and county commission member, and a banker, called the city’s approach “fiscally illiterate.” He said it was irresponsible to front-load the cost of such a project as the public works facility on current residents, rather than stretch the costs in such a way as to make future residents share the cost. Others were critical of the council for not waiting until the election to let two new council members be part of the decision. Still others proposed different approaches, such as a fire-service tax, a proposal favored by Vincent Liguori, veteran of the 2012 drive to defeat the electric taxes. He was just as buoyed today.

“Hey, where are we going with these taxes?” he said afterward, echoing residents’ criticism of the proposals. Several people spoke of their own rising electric and other utility bills. “I’m telling you, it was outstanding.”

Holland acknowledged that there were several issues with the proposals but said the discussion was a necessary step toward more clarity on the issue.

“We can’t go back and revisit history and undo projects that former councils decided to spend tax-dollars on,” Holland said. There’d been criticism over spending for a new community center and city hall, for example, even at a time when the public works facility needed rebuilding. “This was an important discussion for our council to have, knowing the fact that we’re a fairly new council, we’ve been presented with a very serious need in our city, not only having to do with safety issues, but efficiency issues, and one not up to code and ADA requirements and everything like that. But I think everyone can agree the facility needs to be built. It’s just how we go about finding the money to do it.”

Holland said the council will take today’s public comments seriously and will likely consider either a phased approach “or a different revenue source,” to make sure road maintenance is also paid for. “That’s truly where my position has not changed as far as the need for the facility, perhaps looking at different ways to find the money to do it is a discussion we’re going to continue to have.” Holland added, “You’ll find that this council, we’ve had debates as a council, we’ve had public input, we’ve changed positions on things, I value the dialogue when it comes to meetings like this.”

Holland did not dispute that the financing options presented at last week’s workshops, and placed on today’s agenda, were too limited–a throw-back to the days when then-City Manager Jim Landon would present the council with what looked like predisposed conclusions by means of limited options. “But again you’ve certainly watched how we progressed as a council and some of the changes we’ve made recently are very clear that we want to see a different direction,” Holland said.

For now, she said the administration will take its time devising a different approach and different funding mechanisms.

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28 Responses for “Facing Staunch Opposition, Palm Coast Council Retreats From Electric Tax To Seek Alternatives”

  1. David S. says:

    It’s about time they listened to us……

  2. woodchuck says:

    The alternative is frickin easy stop pissing away taxpayer money on everything and anything.Start with necessities and not accessories.

  3. Vincent A. Liguori says:

    To all who attended the council meeting-thank you. Special thanks to Flagler Live(Pierre)for his very effective and brilliant expose.

  4. lnzc says:

    My water bill went up $13.00 on. 2180 gallons used
    City said would go up $13.00 on 4,000 gallons
    Figure out whole lied

  5. Bongobob says:

    My thanks go to Councilwoman Heidi Shipley for her motion to table, and have more time to consider a more broad approach for funding. The presentation exposed the need for a better work environment for the public works department. The question is how to pay for it.
    I think the Council needs to trim more of it’s spending and prioritize needs better. Some of the infrastructure here has been in place for nearly 4 decades and is in need of a more aggressive maintenance program. Take better care of the existing infrastructure with better planning first, before continuing to spend our tax money on new improvements to an already great city structure.

  6. Gayle Ford says:

    The site where sea ray was located should have additional areas for public works and 21.5 million sounds outrageous for steel buildings for public works? How about checking additional contractors for bids or purchase and have our public works employees install let’s look at options for what really is needed no one spends 21.5 for public works facilities

  7. 101 says:

    Appreciate you listen to those that pay your salaries. Just don’t try anymore to slide something in that you won’t allow us to have a say in, that is taxpayers rights (last I heard)
    It sounds to me someone in the city doesn’t know how to handle money over there, that it isn’t being planned out correctly. That you keep coming up short for this or that and then wanting us as always to foot the bill.
    Thanks Pierre for your great reporting.

  8. Diana L says:

    Thank you FlaglerLive for always being there for the public. Without your brilliant exposes, we wouldn’t know some of this. You are doing a great community service.

  9. Agkistrodon says:

    Replace them all. They are just waiting for another “fee” to implement.

  10. John Brady says:

    Power to the people. The message was heard.What was strange is that the former mayor and candidate Eddie B did not speak. Under whose reign did was the”accessories” but ahead of the “necessities”completed. Mayor Holland you have been Mayor for almost 2 years and you just found out about this situation.

    Chance is needed and we start with the Colonel (Jack Howell) and John Tipton.

  11. Dennis McDonald says:

    Now that this ill advised violation of Palm Coast Taxpayers has been sidelined. Let us see what STAFF was proposing by starting with the General Contractor that they engaged with, here is their site please check it out does this look like a good FINANCIAL fit for Palm Coast ?

    Now consider what we are building, a public works facility. These facilities are for repair, storage and dispatch. They are continually evolving as the type of equipment and scope of work by the city will change to meet public demand and focus.

    Next consider what public works does everyday. They maintain, repair and BUILD municipal properties, that is their function. So why have THEY not been doing this a little at a time in past years ? Answer, Landon’s FAILED Leadership! “The only reason management exists on any level is to make sure the people that work for them DO NOT FAIL” The city staff spoke of millions today to do the new site work for this facility. You mean to tell the Taxpayers that we do not have employees and equipment capable of accomplishing these tasks ? I believe NOT, as we have all witnessed them very capably operating around our city.

    Now that Heidi Shipley saved the Taxpayers by sidelining this ill conceived assault on anyone in Palm Coast with an electric meter, we need to clean house on staff that brought us this multi million $$ “paradise for lawn tractors”. Howell and Tipton who were the only counsel candidates to speak today will dig in and find reality right after the election.

    Many Thanks Heidi Shiple….. we will miss you !

  12. Palmcoaster says:

    Thank you council lady Heidi Shipley you have always tried hard to hear us, the residents. You helped us today with your motion to table and helped us before with the 3 days of work by public works in the so much needed french drain and drainage installed in Florida Park Drive at Holland Park sidewalk. We will miss you in this council and will look forward that Colonel Jack Howell will be elected in your seat and John Tipton in the other district. We want our public works department and all its crew to be safe in a good facility that should not be overpriced but affordable and proper funding needs to be found. The presented proposal is not supported by those to pay for it and much less the funding. Other venues need to be considered. Thank you to all that attended and to Flaglerlive for keep us informed.

  13. flagler1 says:

    Thanks Flagler LIve.

  14. Michael Cocchiola says:

    Democracy in action! I believe we need to upgrade our public service facility. We cannot expect our city staff to continue to work under abysmal conditions. And I don’t oppose additional taxes to pay for it. How else would we get it done…public donations? But the proposal should be carefully scrutinized to ensure we need exactly what’s in the proposal and the cost is as close to “fat free” as possible.

    And we should wait to seat the new council members before any final decisions are made.

  15. Algernon says:

    Agree with Mr. John Brady. We need new people there in the persons of Col. Jack Howell and John Tipton. Col. Howell brings military discipline and management experience and Mr. Tiption brings the energy of youth and a fresh perspective. Mr. Klufas is young and bright too, but it might be good if his energy had company.

  16. Steven Carr says:

    How did Mayor Holland end up with this problem? Ask two term Ex-Major Jon Netts. This is not the only problem he dumped in the laps of the new City Council. We are just beginning to discover how long Public Works safety violation have been ignored, how long employees lives have been in jeopardy, how long residents of Palm Coast have been kept in the dark about the situation. Thanks to Heidi Shipley is on hold. We need to call for a State investigation into how long these safety violations have been ignored.

  17. cain says:

    Stop using the citizens as your bank, stop wasting OTHER PEOPLES MONEY on your piss poor pet projects, We can’t get street light’s decent streets or get our ditches cleaned out but you can piss our money away on buildings that made people sick, golf carts for the country club, and centers that 90% of the people that live here will never see the inside of. We are tired of funding things for the snooty I’m to good for those people until I need their money crew. Every penny you people spend should be voted on by the people because it’s clear you have no restraint or respect for those of us that have to pay YOUR bills.

  18. Rob Jr says:

    M Holland should still be subject to recall.

  19. Peter a. Cerreta says:

    I believe social psychologist would agree when polling where a response is called for usually it’s a safe assumption there are a larger number of responders standing behind the initial responder.

  20. mark101 says:

    What I saw was a bunch of elected officials scared for their political seats. The people THE VOTERS have been heard. Next stop, we the voters will not forget this at election time.

  21. palmcoaster says:

    @ Mark. Heidi Shipley was not one of the politicians scared of loosing her seat as unfortunately for us she decided not to run. But she made the motion that saved us all attending that meeting and the other absent Palm Coast taxpayers.

  22. Linda Cohen says:

    Did I miss something in our local paper
    today? Not a word about this important
    meeting! Thank you Flagler Live and
    Vince Liguori !

  23. Feddy says:

    One question why did they decide to seek alternatives? Maybe the fact in all reality they did not want the issue pushed farther and gave to open the books for a audit which would reveal just how corrupt they really are.

  24. snapperhead says:

    “We can’t go back and revisit history and undo projects that former councils decided to spend tax-dollars on,” Holland said. There’d been criticism over spending for a new community center and city hall, for example, even at a time when the public works facility needed rebuilding. “This was an important discussion for our council to have, knowing the fact that we’re a fairly new council, we’ve been presented with a very serious need in our city, not only having to do with safety issues, but efficiency issues, and one not up to code and ADA requirements and everything like that. But I think everyone can agree the facility needs to be built. It’s just how we go about finding the money to do it.”

    Therein lies the problem. Not a word about the increased cost from 2 years ago, from $6 million to now $21.5 million, just overlook that and find other ways to pay for it. And Ms Holland you can own up to the frivolous spending you and this council has approved including nearly $1million for the 3 public restrooms…it sounds ridiculous even stating it. That’s $325,000+ each. I could build a pretty nice HOUSE for $325,000 with 3 lavish restrooms with that kind of cash and still have money left over. $400,000+ for sun shades at parks….really? You really consider that well spent money considering the needs of the city? Not to mention over $500,000 for 6 light poles at Indian Trails soccer fields. I’m sure there are others I can’t think of now but if I signed off on any of those I would be embarrassed to sit on the council and consider myself a good steward of taxpayer dollards. And I highly doubt you would’ve been opposed to the excessive spending to renovate the park with your daddy’s name on it.

  25. Joe Kulesa says:

    Lower the salary of our councilman and you will save lots of money to build you building

  26. Roger g says:

    Dont worry, they will raise taxes on something worse and sneek it thru like obamo always did. Time to find a new town to live in. Pc , too much corruption and crime. They want the crime, drugs, etc. to distract for there corruption.

  27. thomas says:

    Cain”s comments were right on.

  28. peggy says:

    i remember back a while ago. We voted on ballot not to allow the board to build anything costing $10 million or more. Guess what? they built city hall. they r liars, thieves and as corrupt as D.C. do not trust them.

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