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Citing Bad Deals and Other Needs, Flagler Commission Rejects Loan to Buy $1.1 Million Sears Building for Tax Collector

| March 4, 2019

8,000 square feet looking for a tenant. The old Sears building on Palm Coast Parkway. (c FlaglerLive)

8,000 square feet looking for a tenant. The old Sears building on Palm Coast Parkway. (c FlaglerLive)

The Flagler County Commission today rejected approving a loan that would have financed the purchase of the old Sears building on Palm Coast Parkway and turned much of it over to the Flagler County Tax Collector as a satellite office.


The commission last Nov. 19 had approved exercising an option on the property to buy it for $1.125 million, though the closing was to take place subsequently. Some commissioners were under the impression they’d get another chance to weigh in on the purchase. Since then, Tax Collector Suzanne Johnston’s interest in the building cooled, costly burdens have piled up for the county between anticipated expenses related to the Sheriff’s Operations Center and the Plantation bay utility, and Commissioner Dave Sullivan has switched from a proponent of the building purchase to a staunch opponent.

To Sullivan, Flagler County government has been on a bad streak, buying private property, taking it off the tax rolls, converting it to government uses, and making a mess of it along the way. He cited the evacuated sheriff’s operations center as an example, but also the property the county bought last for a sheriff’s substation in palm Coast off Old Kings Road, and that has incurred mounting costs, and now the Sears building nobody wants. It was the latest example of a commission reversing course on an administrative initiative.

The county administration told commissioners today that they were under an obligation to buy the Sears building, having exercised the option in November. Sullivan didn’t buy the argument, seeing the purchase more as a deal favoring county staff and real estate connections, if not friends, than favoring taxpayers–or needs for space.

“We represent the taxpayers as a commission, we don’t represent the staff. Is that a good deal right now for us given the other requirements? And the answer is no,” Sullivan said after the vote. “I’d even be willing to force it into a lawsuit and settle to make sure there isn’t a way out.”

Commission Chairman Don O’Brien agreed with Sullivan’s points: the need for the building is not proven, and the county should stop taking properties off the market and the tax rolls. Yet he cautioned against rejecting the deal to buy the building. “I can’t even imagine that we should walk away, regardless of the usage and the need and all of that,” O’Brien said. “There’s a legal issue here with respect to the county, honoring its contracts, something that we agreed to back in November, and it’s way past the time to walk away from a real estate purchase and sale contract.”

The November discussion, the first time the county commission publicly discussed the proposed purchase of the Sears building, was barely a few minutes long. Then-County Administrator Craig Coffey had placed the item on the consent agenda, the portion of the agenda approved in bulk, without discussion, absent a commissioner or a member of the public pulling items from it for discussion. Sullivan had pulled the Sears purchase, but not to object to it. “This is another attempt to serve our citizens better,” Sullivan said at the time, before Coffey very briefly explained the proposal, framing it as much-needed space for Johnston, the tax collector. The Sears location would replace the satellite office at the Staples shopping center off Old Kings Road, which has just 1,000 square feet. The commission unanimously approved the option then.

Today the proposal was part of a larger bundle. The commission was being asked to approve a $2.12 million loan that would buy new financial software for the county, breathing equipment and mechanized stretchers for firefighters, and the Sears building. It would have taken a keen eye to pick out from the commission package’s fine print, in today’s agenda, the connection between the loan and the Sears building purchase–another example of lack of transparency that didn’t sit well with Sullivan, he said.

Neither he nor the rest of the commission opposed the loan for the fire equipment or the software, two items that were in the county’s 2019 budget. But he and Commissioner Charlie Ericksen opposed the portion of the loan that would finance the Sears building and lock in the county to a repayment schedule of $423,000 a year for the next five years.

“I’ve become fairly upset with the way we’ve handled the purchase of buildings,” Sullivan said. “In November it made some sense to do that. It doesn’t make any sense to do that now.” He also stressed that in November he’d been told that the commission would get to discuss the purchase again before it went through. There’s no evidence of that at the Nov. 19 meeting, but Johnston, interviewed about it in January, was under the same impression as Sullivan.

“They approved to go ahead to go through the process. It has not been purchased,” she said shortly after the new year. “Now that it is basically a new board they want it to go before that board again for a discussion, which is a good thing, because if somebody doesn’t want it to happen, now is the time for it.” She said she was more concerned about the needs of the sheriff, not her own: “At this point in time I think the No 1 priority the county has is the sheriff’s office.”

“So it goes back to the overall problem of buying private property, taking it off the tax rolls, and then ending up having to spend more to fix it and make it available for use,” Sullivan said. “We have a good example of the sheriff’s operations center, the old hospital that we bought, this new sheriff’s location in Palm Coast, which is turning out to be an additional cost, and now we’re stuck with trying to buy this Sears building that we really don’t need right now, given the other requirements that we have.”

The cost of the building is more than advertised, he said, when the cost of renovations, expected to be in the six digits, and the loss of tax revenue, are added in. “It’s time for us as a county to stop buying things that end up costing us more money than we thought,” Sullivan said. “We have 17, 18 acres at the public library in Palm Coast, that has plenty of room, we could have built a new sheriff’s precinct office, and when our tax collector absolutely needs the room, we could do the same thing there. There’d be no tax lost to the taxpayer, we’d have a new building, we wouldn’t have to worry about mold and everything else that goes on.”

Otherwise, Sullivan said, the county is placing itself in “a situation that’s really untenable, we’re pulling business tax money out of the county, and we’re adding debt.”

County Attorney Al Hadeed, speaking from information provided him by Tim Telfer, the county’s natural resources manager, who handled the deal with Coffey, said “we are past the point at which we can cancel it, unless we are not satisfied with the terms of financing.”

Sullivan pressed the point that “there was some time after our meeting in November between then and now where we could have stopped this deal from going through. That was information that I was given. However, we were never told what that date was, and therefore would not have had a chance to stop the signing of the contract.”

Coffey signed the contract on Nov. 19, Telfer said–the very evening the commission approved exercising the option on the property.

“Was there any time-frame in which the board could have reversed the decision and said no on buying this building?” Sullivan asked.

“There was some points in the process where we could have reached a conclusion that would have taken us out of the transaction,” Hadeed told him.

O’Brien said the commission’s directive to the administrator was not to come back to the board–unless there’d been red flags with the deal.

Today’s motion to approve the loan failed on a 2-2 vote, with Sullivan and Ericksen voting against. A tie vote is a failed vote. Commissioner Joe Mullins was absent. The commission expects to get another loan proposal that splits the fire and software items from the Sears building purchase. But it isn’t clear how the commission will proceed on that building contract.

Sullivan said he intends to keep “putting a lot of pressure” on the administration to get out of the Sears contract. “We don’t need to spend $1.3 million on the Sears building that we can’t even use right now.”

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22 Responses for “Citing Bad Deals and Other Needs, Flagler Commission Rejects Loan to Buy $1.1 Million Sears Building for Tax Collector”

  1. Taxpayer says:

    Why on earth would they put the Sears owner and it’s employees out of work if this wasn’t a done deal? Bunch of idiots running this town. Now it’s too late for them.

  2. Concerned Citizen says:

    Our illustrious BOCC has gotten quite comfortable throwing OUR money around.

    From the Sheriff’s Office to Bings Landing they seem to think it’s OK to toss Million’s of dollars around. That building on Old Kings has sat dormant for months now. Homeless people are currently under the awning everytime I drive by. And yet they wanted to buy the Sears building?

    The County spent an outrageous amount of money hiring a questionable “Interim Manager” He apparantly likes to earn questionable money as pointed out from a previous reader http://cleanupcityofstaugustine.blogspot.com/2017/11/jerry-cameron-caught-red-handed-with.html looks like that was covered up nicely. Now I’m counting down the weeks where this “Interim Manager” becomes official.

    Our BOCC needs to be reminded that they represent us. Not special interests. We can start by petitions and votes of no confidence with recall threats. We can also remember at election time the ineffectiveness they have.

    Remember we have a voice in this county and often times don’t use it. Maybe now is the time before we end up broke.

  3. Dianna says:

    There are currently 3 tax collector locations. Do we really need another one? I think NOT.

    • FlaglerLive says:

      The Sears location would have replaced the Staples shopping center location. That should have been made clearer in the article.

  4. tulip says:

    It was stated in the article that the 17 or 18 acres by the library could be used to build a tax collectors office on. Great idea and it will solve the homeless problem there.

  5. Stretchem says:

    Wanna invest in people? Buy it and convert to a homeless shelter/adult education/job training center.

  6. Fredrick says:

    So Tulip you just want to throw the homeless (or should I call them the “problem”) off that property without a solution to the “problem”. That is so “liberal” of you, Maybe a wall should just be built around those 17 acres to keep the homeless out. That would be much cheaper than building and office building that is not needed.

  7. Taypaxer2 says:

    That was a locked in deal Nov, so county gonna need get building and a lawsuit! Putting them employees out of work and closing that wonderful neighborhood store!

  8. Mary says:

    I’m sorry but I have no faith in the county building anything or “fixing” any problems. I do know the Sears location is mold free having shopped there. It will be nice for those residents who live closer to Hwy1 be able to conduct tax collector business closer to home than having to travel further on the parkway.

  9. Dennis McDonald says:

    Both the Sheriffs’ substation and Tax office purchases were voted in unanimously in 2018 when McLaughlin was still on board and Hansen was chairman. The Sheriff wanted a location just north of the library on the county 19 acre parcel that was PURPOSE built as a police building. This location is the geographical center of Palm Coast and makes sense. Converting this old bank is like making an old sick hospital into a new sheriff HQ ! Inverted thinking, if you can even call it that. Blame Coffey but these guys signed off and flushed our $$.

    Flagler has quite the statewide reputation…..https://www.votersopinion.com/2016/11/27/the-dirtiest-little-county-in-florida-starring-tallahassee-lawyer-mark-herron-part-2/

  10. Percy's mother says:

    What’s wrong with DRIVING to the tax office on 100?

    I was there 3 weeks ago, walked right in, took care of business and left shortly thereafter.

    Why does a SMALL TOWN like Palm Coast and/or Flagler County NEED 3 or more tax collector’s offices?????

    I think we should start holding a monthly contest. Who can come up with the most creative thought about what the Flagler County Board of Commissioners will come up with next . . . what’s the next boondoggle? . . . what’s the next stupid idea????? How will they squander our tax money next?

    The contest could be held on WNZF right after Free For All Friday.

    FlaglerLive. . . time to put your creative thinking cap on so as to come up with a monthly prize for the most creative suggestion regarding what stupid idea the Flagler County Board of Commissioners will come up with next.

  11. BW says:

    Our Commission is a joke at this point. It takes the Sheriff’s building situation to realize that the County shouldn’t be running around buying up property? Nothing has changed since November. This should have been a no then. We were obviously going to take on debt then with additional capital costs for renovations which should have easily been “no”. Now all of a sudden it’s different because of some sort of revelation and we’re supposed to think they have our best interest at heart? This is another bad decision which most likely has some relationship element which would account for the rush to purchase this property. The answer is actually simple, raise issues with the financing and let the deal die. Or go through with the purchase and sell it off immediately.

  12. Taxpayer says:

    They could renamed their store and stayed in business. That was my understanding, from the employees

  13. palmcoaster says:

    Stop wasting our hard earned dollars in county (and city) lavish capital projects. My house pays the county double the taxes that pays the city of Palm Coast that gives me 75 to 80% of the services, That is why this county have been wasting our hard earned overpaid taxes to them like drunk sailors since 1999 benefiting their well connected buddies. My small property in Daytona Beach I pays the city same amount I pay to Volusia county in my ad valorem taxes while city of Daytona even has its own police department. Why do I have to pay double my taxes to Flagler while on top city contributing 3 million a year for the needed additional sheriff services? Flagler county has only 168 residents per square mile, when the city of Palm Coast has 944 residents per square mile that contribute to the 800 lbs gorilla of this county revenues. So then with that census statistics we are all paying double taxes to this county taking away from the services city is to give us. So the county can waste our overpaid taxes in these shameful projects since 2,000 their Tajmahals, the Ginn super hangar that we are still paying for, the defunct also Cakes across (our pockets) America, the contaminated hospital, the Plantation Bay useless utility, the funding of private buddies entities like Cpt. BBQ and now they want to buy the Sears building? Finally some opposition from Sullivan. If this county is costing so much to Palmcoasters then lets annex it like Jacksonville did with Duval and Miami did with Dade, to get rid of double government cost that is not needed. Or just plain simple refund to Palm Coast the taxes we overpaid to this County. In my case county $1,229 versus Palm Coast $569. Almost same we pay for schools. Even $100 to $150 a year if county refund to city will greatly improve our city services needed…like the way overdue widening of Old Kings Road North to redirect the traffic off Florida Park Drive, to improve the city storm water decaying system and to provided a proper public works needed facility and repaiing program of our city roads, among many other things. Stop the waste of my taxes FCBOCC and administrator and give back to Palm Coast what you own us.

  14. Old Guy says:

    If the former Sears building purchase does go through it could become a combination tax office and sheriffs substation. Otherwise, I think building on the library site is a great idea. Meanwhile, what is going on with the former bank/office building/funeral home on old kings road that was purchased to become the new sheriffs substation? Is it contaminated as well?

  15. FLF says:

    Perfect place for the Captains BBQ expansion. Plenty of room, parking, no environmental impact.

  16. palmcoaster says:

    Bad deals and more bad deals by FCBOCC wasting the Palmcoasters taxes, while our PC city services: roads repaving, drainage and public works facilities are on the back burner due to lack of funds.
    More offices for the tax collector…jeez. Do Palmcoasters ever go to pay their taxes or appraissers office or SOE in the Taj Mahal or to the Kings court palace and see how many “windows, stations they have? Those offices have the wasted space like for 6 to more recepcionist and if two are working, taking care of us is a lot. Just pure wasted lavish space… all paid by us and still want more capital projects? Stop the frivolous use of our hard earned taxes FCBOCC.

  17. Michael Cocchiola says:

    Whatever the “need”, I am tired of the BOCC hiding these questionable investments until it’s too late. I was at the commission meeting and left early because I didn’t carefully read the agenda line by line and word for word. I expect other attendees missed the details. I’m afraid the BOCC slips these things in as they do for that very purpose… get people to leave or otherwise miss the discussion. This sleight-of-hand must stop!

  18. Sleight of Hand says:

    It would appear that the new ‘interim’ administrator is cut from the same cloth as the one recently departed based on the agenda shenanigans. But the buck stops with the BOCC and they better get it together quickly. The County Attorney also should prepare for a specific performance lawsuit.

  19. Concerned Citizen says:

    1.) Use the Sears Building to temporarily house the homeless behind the library.

    2.) Use the land behind the library to build a permanent shelter and staff and regulate it.

    3.) Hire the homeless living there and pay them with temporary wages IE thru a staffing company or day labor to aid in clean up

    4.) Once the shelter is built turn the Sears building into an educational facility and offer it’s service to the homeless or income challenged families.

    I’m not a politician nor do I want to be. However I’m smart enough to realize that these projects are financially viable with the way our BOCC and County Administrator wastes money. Stop throwing good money after bad. Use those funds to help mitigate our homeless crisis.

  20. gmath55 says:

    Reminds me of the Discover card commercial. “Freak Out” Spread the News Cashback Match Discover it Commercial.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKpIikS2Oik

    But, who is really getting the cashback?

  21. James says:

    Heavy metals in the drinking water going into Plantation Bay and these folks need to add another dmv/tax collection building to the city real estate portfolio? Please. At least our interim manager had the good sense to consult with the other Flagler water departments on the issue. But do we need to pay him so much to do this?

    As I stated In response to an online article here a few days ago, we could do better by hiring a team of four at the cost of one temp consultant. Perhaps four recent (local) college grads with majors in chemistry, finance, civil engineering and political science… with last names we DON’T know. Give these young people a chance to gain some practical experience in positions of real need and merit. Heck, they probably even have their own trucks. My opinion is that it cannot be any worse then the nonsense we have now.

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