The Flagler County Commission and the Palm Coast City Council have been placed in what appears to be an unnecessary confrontational situation by their mutual managers over the fate of a 55-acre county parcel at or near the county airport, where the National Guard is planning to locate a reserve center.
The two managers—the city’s Jim Landon, the county’s Craig Coffey, an administrator by title—have been negotiating an annexation agreement that would turn over that property to the city in exchange for water and sewer services. They’ve been doing so without their elected representatives’ knowledge. That’s not unusual: managers and administrators work on innumerable projects before bringing them in ready form to their boards’ attention. The difference in this case is a matter of policy and sensitivity: the National Guard site isn’t a routine issue, and it involves a location with serious long-term policy implications. By working on the annexation matter out of their boards’ purview, the two managers’ misstep invited questions and recriminations, which both boards are paying for.
Commissioners publicly accused Landon of a land-grab last week when Charlie Ericksen, a close observer of both panels, asked them why the annexation issue wasn’t being addressed more openly. Commissioners also forced Coffey to retreat from the annexation agreement he’d been working on.
On Tuesday, Commissioner Milissa Holland angrily walked out of a city council meeting she was attending on another matter when she heard Landon “rewriting history” concerning that 55-acre site, whose fate she thought had long been settled. “I don’t know if that’s what he really thinks or that’s what he’s been told,” Holland said of Landon after the meeting, “but the history of how that came about with the timing of the National Guards was several years before he indicated.”
It was Landon’s sequence of events that rankled the commissioner, as it has other commissioners in the past. City Council member Frank Meeker had asked the city manager for clarification on those annexation negotiations. Landon said the focus on annexation was misplaced. There was a larger picture in play, and that’s what he was focusing on.
“Shortly after I came here, almost four years ago now, the National Guard came forth and said they were interested in relocating out of Daytona Beach into Palm Coast-Flagler County area, and this site came up as an opportunity,” Landon said. “So the good thing here is, what the real focus has been, and that’s what I get a kick out of, is, where is our real goal? Our goal is to bring in the National Guard, which brings in 40 to 50 year-round jobs, nice community facility, all the benefits of having the National Guard here when they’re needed.” (Actually, the facility will max out at 21 year-round job.)
Holland got no kick out of that version of events, which obliterates the county’s role in luring the Guard to Flagler before Landon arrived, or in negotiating with the Guard since—laborious negotiations in which the city has only been peripherally involved. “The annexation issue is not what upset me today,” Holland said. “I think there’s a bigger issue here that’s causing a lot of unnecessary dissension amongst our elected body.”
Only after laying out his version of history did Landon spring the annexation issue: “As a side-note, the overall big picture for the county and the airport is that they have and have had plans at the airport of having an industrial development occur on the south side of the airport and the secondary road coming off of Belle Terre through this property was going to be the access,” Landon said. (The industrial park at the airport has not been discussed openly by the county commission.) With industry comes utilities and other needs. “Our policy has always been, if you want water and sewer service then you have to annex.”
Whether the city will press on with annexation is another matter. As a compromise, Coffey and Landon may work out an agreement where the county gives up some land for a city park while retaining the acreage for the National Guard site, and getting city water and sewer for it, though city council members were sounding a different note on Tuesday. Mayor Jon Netts referred to the 2007 agreement that ended the so-called “water wars” between the county, the city and Flagler Beach. That agreement was the result of another Palm Coast muscle act, that one over the Hammock on the Barrier Island, where the previous city manager was forcing Hammock residents to sign annexation agreements in exchange for water and sewer. Palm Coast finally agreed, in a 2007 settlement through Flagler County Circuit Court, to lay off the Hammock and other areas of the county. The question Tuesday was whether that 55-acre parcel was part of that agreement or not.
“If there’s an agreement, I’d like to know what the agreement says, and an agreement is an agreement,” Meeker said.
“We’ll pull that agreement and determine if the airport was addressed,” Landon said. No one had a copy of the agreement.
The airport isn’t directly addressed. The document in question reads: “Palm Coast agrees that it will not require annexation as a condition of providing retail water and wastewater service in those areas depicted on the map that are currently in the Palm Coast’s Chapter 180 Florida Statutes, Service Area, south and/or east of the existing Palm Coast city limits, and lands east of the Intracoastal Waterway and the provisions of this agreement shall prevail over Palm Coast’s policy relating to mandatory annexation as part of the provision of utility services I these areas.”
It’s not clear whether that 55-acre parcel is in that definition or not. The map recorded by the Clerk of Court is difficult to read, though the county attorney was likely going to secure the map’s clearer original. Even if the map was clearer, County Attorney Al Hadeed noted that the agreement “does not require the annexation of anything. It tells them where they cannot annex.”
In other words, the city could just as easily sell the county water and sewer services at the airport or the future National Guard facility the way it does to the Hammock, adding a 25 percent surcharge. But it isn’t a matter of logic so much as bragging and muscle acts—especially regarding these properties, which have no taxable value either to the city or to the county. Both Meeker and Holland say that they’re not wedded to the land per se. Both say the two sides should be working together.
“If they’re looking to annex because they feel very strongly that they need to follow their policy, I get that, but what I don’t understand is why they’re continuing to press this issue, this issue of a non-taxable value parcel,” Holland said. “My frustration goes back to the fact that I thought this had been resolved.”