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Sheriff’s Precinct on Utility Drive? Palm Coast Explores Bailing Out County’s Search for Space

| May 17, 2019

Palm Coast's Utility Department building off Old Kings Road, near Palm Coast Parkway, is an 11,000 square foot facility. (© FlaglerLive)

Palm Coast’s Utility Department building off Old Kings Road, near Palm Coast Parkway, is an 11,000 square foot facility. (© FlaglerLive)

Thursday morning, Palm Coast City Manager Matt Morton, County Administrator Jerry Cameron, Sheriff Rick Staly and Chief Mark Strobridge went on a road trip. They were exploring potential locations for the sheriff’s Palm Coast precinct. They visited two city locations on Utility Drive and one off U.S. 1, the location of the city’s newer water treatment plant and offices. 

On Utility Drive, the old East Mosquito Control District building the city acquired last year was almost immediately ruled out. It’s old and simply not feasible. The space at the water treatment plant is attractive, but much too out of the way. That left the city’s utility department building on Utility Drive, an 11,000 square foot facility (not counting three nearby structures), that became a focus of possibilities. 

“I’m just delighted we have a relationship with the city of Palm Coast now where they will come forward and offer to help us resolve the problem,” Cameron said. “That was really encouraging to me. It was a bright spot in an otherwise dismal situation. Whether we can make all that work is another question.” 

The county and the sheriff are in various binds. The county, as the sheriff’s landlord, must find adequate space for the sheriff’s operations. Since the evacuation of the Sheriff’s Operations Center in Bunnell last June, the sheriff has led a nomadic existence, dividing operations between the courthouse and the jail administration building, which used to be the agency’s headquarters, off Justice Lane. 

The sheriff’s precinct office at City Marketplace in Palm Coast had been unaffected by the changes until recently. The office was supposed to move last December or January into what used to be the Wachovia Bank building off Old Kings Road. The county bought that building last year with that in mind. But like every county building purchase since 2013, that one, too, became a font of unexpected problems, delays, cost overruns. Since he expected to vacate the City Marketplace space by January, the sheriff has been on a month-to-month lease there. That being the case, John C. Bills, the shopping enter’s owner, raised the rent to $10,000 a month–an untenable compelling a move out of there one way or the other.  

That’s the immediately most critical need: finding a place for the Palm Coast precinct, at least for the next two to three years and until the permanent, $12 to $15 million Palm Coast sheriff’s district office is built on the grounds of the public library off Palm Coast Parkway.

In late March the county closed on a $1.1 million purchase of the old Sears building off Palm Coast Parkway, and earlier this month the county commission voted to convert that building into the temporary Palm Coast precinct office for the sheriff, along with other sheriff’s operations that could fit into the 8,000 square foot space. For a few days, anyway, it looked as if space issues might be alleviated. But then came this week’s revelations that the Sears building, too, is a basket case of a building, with considerable water intrusion and mold, just like at the vacated Operations Center in Bunnell. “One thing is for sure is there’s no way we can put the sheriff in the Sears building,” Cameron said. 

“It puts us back to the very beginning, to starting from scratch,” Staly said. 

This time, however, something quite different is happening. County and city governments are cooperating. Palm Coast City Manager Matt Morton did something that would have been unheard of during his predecessor Jim Landon’s days: he offered exploring the use of city government space for the sheriff’s needs–even if it meant moving some city employees around a bit. And Cameron did something that would have been unheard of during his predecessor Craig Coffey’s days: he took Morton up on his offer.

“We are excited to look at anything,” Strobridge said. But then, laughing with disbelief at recent developments, he said: “We have hope every time we look at a facility, until you start vetting it out.”

In the case of Palm Coast’s utility building, where residents are used to paying their bills and dealing with other customer service issues–a space Morton described as “a weird matrix cavern of endless hallways”–the challenge is not structural: there’s not likely to be mold, water or any other health hazards there. The challenge is logistical. A sheriff’s operation can’t be plunked down anywhere. Not if the sheriff wants to maintain the agency’s accreditation, and not if he wants to abide by rules and regulations controlling access to sensitive databases and documents, all of which must be housed in secure areas. How to make that possible at the utility building? That’s what everyone is exploring now. 

“This idea literally just got hatched at 10 o’clock last night,” Morton said of the larger possibility of Palm Coast helping with space, with “high level discussions this morning,” meaning Thursday morning. 

I think that speaks highly of a government organization that’s willing to inconvenience themselves voluntarily,” Cameron said. “I really appreciate it when somebody steps forward and says ‘We feel for you, we know you’re up against the wall, and we want to help.’ Some of the motions they were talking about today was moving a large number of their employees, moving them to different spaces and make way for the sheriff. That’s why I was encouraged. It paves the way for a lot of cooperative efforts between the city and the county.” But Cameron recognized that Palm Coast cannot “dismantle” its operations to accommodate the county and the sheriff, while the sheriff, too, has to be comfortable making things work in the new space. 

The county also looked at the Chiumento building in Town Center and is still looking at the 20,000 square foot Beutlich Development off U.S. 1, on Otis Hunter Road in Bunnell, though neither of those possibilities is high on the list, both because of cost considerations. Cameron said retrofitting the Beutlich building for use for two or three years and paying that lease would mean spending too much money for too little time, with no recouping the investment. But negotiations have restarted with John C. Bills, the City Marketplace developer, on the possibility of a new, medium-term lease that could lower the $10,000-a-month cost. 

All of that is going on simultaneously, and at a bit of a fever pitch, ahead of Monday evening’s county commission meeting. Cameron hopes to present options to the commission at that point. “The Palm Coast thing is a wonderful, generous offer,” Cameron said, “but it would be premature to say we’ll be able to work out all the logistical stuff. That won’t be because of Palm Coast’s willingness, it’ll be just because of the pure logistics of it.” Or, as Morton put it, it’s a “maybe” with “a big triple underline.” 

Even if it doesn’t work out, however, the experience signals a much different type of relationship between Palm Coast and the county that invariably is likely to pay dividends in other ways. 


15 Responses for “Sheriff’s Precinct on Utility Drive? Palm Coast Explores Bailing Out County’s Search for Space”

  1. Concerned Citizen says:

    You wouldn’t be in this situation if you had done due dilligence in the first place. You knew fully well that renovating an old hospital had it’s issues. And now look where you are.

    And Sheriff Staly is as much to blame. He was on Manfre’s staff when all this went down. Now he wants to say oh poor pitiful me. I have no where to go. And this is after making his employees sick.

    There has to be a suitable option already in place. And beggars can’t be choosers. The BOCC and County Administrator needs to make a command decision find a place and settle this once and for all.

    There still needs to be legal ramifications for ALL involved. Why do we still keep giving free passes to outr County leadership? We are just enabling them to keep squandering our precious resources.

    Please remember ALL of this next election. I intend to…

  2. Jane Gentile-Youd says:

    Jerry Cameron is sure trying. What a difference – thanks Jerry for having brains and a heart to match

  3. Agkistrodon says:

    Concerned Citizen, how quaint and easy you place blame on a REPUBLICAN Sheriff for what took place under a DEMOCRAT before him. I get it now.

  4. Shark says:

    Put them in holland park !!!!

  5. Ex-employee says:

    How is it that the Sheriff’s Office never had an offer to be included as part of the Government Services Building? Just curious as everyone knew then that they were running out of space. It definitely would of been cost effective. Shame on you!

  6. Right says:

    @ Agkistrodon, Staly wasn’t always a republican. When he ran for Sheriff in Orange County he was a democrat.

  7. Flatsflyer says:

    Be careful on the water department building, it’s old, poorly located, limited parking and stuck on a two lane road terrible traffic and no resolution in sight. Good point it’s only a mile from the closet donut shop!

  8. Stretchem says:

    Isn’t the Wachovia building slated for readiness in September? Can’t everyone just cool their jets until then? Give Marketplace landlord his rent; his public business persona has been damaged so let him choke on it. Clerk of Court can chill for a few more months.

  9. Concenred Citizen says:

    @ Agkistrodon

    I could care less about party affiliation. Our elected officials need to do the right thing regardless of what party they are affiliated with. Some of these jobs out there require an oath and that holds you to higher standards. Then again I guess it doesn’t mean much these days.

    I have been an active volunteer in this area a long time and have seen the inner workings of a lot of our agencies. You can’t sit here and tell me that Staly wasn’t aware of the issues with the hospital. He knew there would be problems and went right a long with it.

    I have served in the military and worked in both Law Enforcement and Fire Rescue most of my adult life. When you are in command you take responsability. That means owning the good and bad. So far all I have seen Staly do is pass it off. And that was after letting his employees move into that building then get sick.

    I’m sorry but as Manfre’s Under Sheriff he had more knowledge than most of the situation. He should have said this needs to be done right the first time because it will affect my employees health and cost the county money.

    BOTH parties in this county are guilty of pissing away our financial resources like kids in a candy shop. It all needs to stop and ALL need to be held accountable.

  10. anonymous says:

    Utility Drive will be a nightmare location for everyone or get ready for another roundabout or traffic light for access and egress..It’s a pain in the butt now, move the sherifff’s office there even temporarily and stand by to stand by and sit and wait.

  11. Porky says:

    Let them take over Capt. Barbeque at Bings Landing . They can fish all day and eat pork sandwiches everyday for lunch. Big parking lot for those Souped up Mustangs and all those “Under cover, Unmarked” special SET Team vehicles. They can even keep the two Speed Boats and Air Boat at the Boat Ramp for Quick River Rescues and Drunk Boater arrest ……… Staley can have the office facing the Barbeque Pit !

  12. palmcoaster says:

    Agree with Agkis above. Party affiliation has little to do with the waste of our hard earned taxes….both elected ones in control have been wasting our taxes since Palm Coast incorporated the worst. In Palm Coast and County and come to recall most the time GOP’s at the helm. This current sheriff does a very good work responding to citizens complaints and enforcing the law and the shenanigans stealing our taxes in favor of his buddies like with the contaminated hospital, Cptin BBQ and Bobby Ginns Hangar, cakes across our pockets, the Sears building the Plantation Bay water utility etc, nothing to do with Sheriff Staly…Those were decisions made by our elected one’s and their staff legal and administrative.This is a real shame that we have to go to these hours long meetings to beg for our services paid to be rendered while they waste our taxes in frivolities and they still have the nerve to say that in certain issues is just very few of us complaining while attending county or city meetings.

  13. Kathy says:

    This doesn’t have to cost us all this money…though the alarmist are having some believe that… both buildings should be fully explored for correction before any money is spent especially before $12M to $15M are spent. Staly recently reported that he asked Coffey for the new building at the library over a year ago…that means he didn’t ever care about the SOC, that he only wanted his own brand new building because he made his request before testing and before testing results were out. Certainly before the full CDC report since that isn’t out yet…although the summary report from the CDC advises certain remedies and then to reoccupy the building. So, Staly & Mullins just want the new building at our massive expense!

  14. Agkistrodon says:

    Concerned Citizen, I too am Retired Military and could care less about Parties, I am neither, BUT I was Trained in the MILITARY the GUY AT THE TOP is the responsible guy, Not the “XO”.

  15. Diane says:

    This situation is more than complete ignorance. People should be held accountable and criminally charged for dereliction of duty if found guilty . A complete forensic audit should begin ASAP . Has any state or governing authority been alerted or have knowledge of this pattern ?

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