For the Flagler County Sheriff’s Palm Coast District office at City Marketplace, it’s time to move. Temporarily, anyway: by the time $40,000 worth of reconstruction is done on the old Sears building on Palm Coast Parkway, the district office will move there, at least for a couple of years, before it moves into its more permanent home–one hopes, considering quicksand history–in a building yet to be constructed near the public library along the parkway.
County commissioners Monday gave administrator Jerry Cameron to go ahead with the plan to move to the Sears building as soon as it’s ready. The reason: the situation for the sheriff is “untenable” not only at the county courthouse (as he described it Monday), but it is also becoming financially untenable for the county at City Marketplace.
It’s only the latest example of the county’s largely self-inflicted and costly turmoil over land and building projects gone awry, going back to the Eden-gone-Hades of the old Memorial hospital and conversion into a sheriff’s operations center in 2013.
When the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office initially moved into its Palm Coast precinct at City Marketplace exactly six years ago this week, rent was $2,000 a month, including fees.
Only a year later, the landlord told the sheriff it was tripling the Common Area Maintenance fee from $420 to to $1,312, bringing the total rent charge to $2,900 a month. Negotiations reduced the requested increase but only for a time. As of a few months ago the rent was up to $4,950 for two units, now that the sheriff’s Police Athletic League had a unit as well.
Last week the landlord told the sheriff that rent would go up to $5,000 per unit–or $10,000 a month for the two units, totaling $120,000 a year. The sheriff is on a month-to-month lease at City Market Place since January.
“That’s disgraceful. We need to let that be known,” County Commission Chairman Don O’Brien said at a commission meeting Monday, when County Administrator Jerry Cameron laid out costs and options.
“We have tried to negotiate with the landlord,” Sheriff Rick Staly said of John C. Bills, the Palm Beach Gardens-based landlord. “But he is within his legal rights to do what he’s doing, although none of us like it.”
The sheriff’s district office wasn’t supposed to be at City Marketplace anymore. A year ago, the county commission bought the Wachovia Bank building off Old Kings Road for $1 million. The sheriff was supposed to move the district office there by January. But like so many real estate and building transactions the county has initiated since 2013, the plan to move into the old bank building unraveled, because the county bought it too quickly, without sufficient inspections to show that the roof needed to be replaced, some minor asbestos needed to be mitigated, and other repairs were to take a lot more time and money.
The building is still not done. The roof was replaced, Cameron said, but the interior is not completed. And by now the county no longer wants the building. It doesn’t need it.
Cameron sees moving the district office into the Sears building as the quickest and least expensive fix–putting aside the $1.1 million the county spent buying the Sears building, knowing it ultimately did not need it, either. “That would be a considerable savings if we were to go ahead and do that,” Cameron said, comparing the $40,000 reconstruction costs to the $120,000 that would be due in rent each year at City Marketplace. “Along with that put the bank building on the market, and when the Sears building was no longer needed for the sheriff’s operations, that we would put it on the market.”
Assuming either can sell.
“I hate to bring this up, but it’s a little of I told you so here,” Commissioner Dave Sullivan said. “Before we got into this position a year and a half ago, we bought the bank building for a place for the Palm Coast precinct office. That’s the way that was presented, with some minor modifications, and we were supposed to be able to get into that bank building for the Palm Coast precinct. At first it was going to be January of this year. We knew at that time the owner of City walk, the sheriff even told us that, that he was going to continually raise that rent.” (Sullivan and others repeatedly referred to City Marketplace by its former name, though City Walk was dropped in 2010 after Universal threatened the then-owner with a lawsuit.)
“We had a plan. We’re not idiots,” Sullivan continued. “We had a plan to alleviate what was going to be a City Walk situation. We then got into a situation where modifying the bank building was taking more time due to a number of reasons, availability of our internal work crews and associates, putting a new roof on the bank building, things like that.” He did not mention the lack of sufficient inspections before the purchase, or the lack of transparency to commissioners at the time. “The horse is already out of the barn is where we are now. But just for public record, your board of county commissioners thought we had made a correct decision based on a recommendation by the sheriff and our former county administrator to alleviate the situation earlier this year to get out of the City Walk deal. So now we’re faced with this.”
During the discussion, Staly noted that he’d asked then-Administrator Craig Coffey for a new building next to the library (what would turn out to be the current plan) but was rebuffed.
He recommended the Cameron approach regarding the Sears building. “I am required to have a district office in the city,” Staly said. “That is the quickest fix and the quickest move, and the least expensive.” The sheriff’s purchasing department and its human resources and finance records would be relocated into the Sears building.
“It does not do much for the situation we’re currently under for the two years of the construction,” the sheriff said, referring to the rest of his staff’s working conditions at the county courthouse, an unresolved problem. “But it will help improve the things that I just mentioned, and I think it’s the best way to go. It’s not the ideal building for a district office, but I also know we have a light at the end of the tunnel.”