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Dog-and-Pony Powerpoints: Landon’s Stage-Managed Shows for a New Palm Coast City Hall

| November 4, 2010

taj mahal palm coast city hall jim landon

Same idea, different name. (Francisco Martins)

Palm Coast City Manager Jim Landon this week began a series of four town meetings intended to present information on a proposal to build a new Palm Coast City Hall.  The first meeting was held at the Indian Trails Middle School cafeteria Monday in front of an audience of about 40. The second will be held tonight at the Palm Coast Community Center on Palm Coast Parkway. Landon has been touring small community associations in the lead-up to the larger town hall meetings.

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Landon’s showings are an attempt to sway public opinion in favor of a city hall project the public roundly rejected five years ago, when the economy was far stronger, the city richer, and its ranks growing fast. The city’s employee ranks have been shrinking, the city’s reserves are the lowest they’ve been in the city’s history, the city’s property taxes will likely be raised next year if, as the property appraiser projects, valuations will fall again this year, and a compelling case for a $10 million public building at public expense remains elusive.

In 2005, Palm Coast held a referendum on a bond levy to build a new city hall. The referendum was defeated with the largest margin of any referendum in this county in the past decade. Exactly 11,522 people voted, with 82 percent opposed, though almost every referendum by the city, the county or the school board in the past decade for public projects—to increase the sales tax for infrastructure, to increase property taxes for environmental land protection, and even to build a new courthouse and a new administration building for the county—has been approved.

Landon and the city council aren’t risking another referendum on the matter: the result, they suspect, would not be much different than the one in 2005, especially in the present climate.

But they want their city hall, though so far Landon wants it more than his council does: he’s not facing re-election as other members of the council will be. The council put the new city hall on its priority list for 2010-11, but not among its top priorities. The city manager has focused on it as a top priority, however.

What both council and manager lacked was a credible way to finance the building with tax dollars after tax-payers rejected the idea. Landon devised a storyboard and a strategy: no new taxes would be used to finance the new building (the 2005 proposal for city hall alone would have raised taxes by 35 cents per $1,000 in taxable property value) and it would be smaller than the 2005 project. And he would sell the idea to the public.

The scenario has mostly followed that of 2005. As in 2005, when then-City Manager Dick Kelton was the biggest enthusiast for the new city hall, Landon is its biggest enthusiast now. As in 2005, when Kelton couldn’t get his own council to openly back the new city hall, Landon has not been able to get his city council to publicly speak in favor of the building. In that sense, the council members are playing a double game: they want the building and have endorsed it officially, but they’re not staking their public reputation on it. On Monday, City Council member Holsey Moorman accompanied Landon to the Indian Trails meeting. Moorman bristled when someone in the audience suggested that he had already made up his mind about it.

In this latest go-around, as in 2005, opposition is again focusing on the manner in which the city is going about muscling through the city hall proposal—pushing for it without showing either a need or seeking the public’s explicit approval. The claim that the city is growing, made in 2005, doesn’t wash anymore. The city’s workforce of 400 actually shrunk by 28 positions this year, with no indication of a turn-around. If there is an essential difference between the city hall project in 2005 and the city hall project of 2010, it’s that residents will not be given a choice in 2010. Instead, the city is going through the pretense of giving residents a say by hosting sparsely attended, and transparently one-sided, community meetings.

Landon’s approach has been to use those community meetings as de-facto public input,  though no votes are taken and the conversation is mostly one-sided: the presentation is the city’s, with no opposition save what comments audiences may make along the way. The message is tightly controlled, as are the few facts presented, and no budgetary context is presented–no talk of reserves, long-term financial health, or what, for example, the city could do with $10 million at the ready for its residents, if it were not to spend the money on a city hall.

On Monday, Landon started out with a few jokes (“do you want to talk about a new City Hall, or ABC Liquors?”), referring to previous comments about the location and size of the newest retail business opening this month at the intersection of Palm Coast Parkway and Old Kings Road. The actual city hall presentation consisted of a 33-slide Powerpoint presentation that combined several similar presentations made to the Palm Coast City Council in the last half year, since Landon made building a city hall a priority. The numbers used in the presentation, such as the $10 million cost for the project, are the city’s own: they have not been independently verified.

The presentation was wrapped in with a “community update” listing many of the city’s showcase accomplishments—the completion of Old Kings Road’s four-laning near State Road 100, the opening of Town Center’s Epic Theater, coming restaurants, and yes, even the arrival of the liquor store, though aside from Old Kings Road, the city’s role in each of these commercial regards was more administrative and regulatory. The manager also played up newly opened parks and trails. The aim, of course, was to soften the audience’s resistance to the new city hall by linking the proposed building to other feel-good projects.

The show was followed by a comments and a Q&A session. The average age of those in attendance was in excess of 65 years old.

Landon recapped the proposed city hall’s basics: a 40,000-square foot “Palm Coast looking building” that will include a city council chamber, “sized” for current operations, with flexibility for expansion as the area and city grow.  It will be built on land owned by the city—or rather, by taxpayers–north of Central Lake in Town Center.  The price tag, at about $250 per square foot, will include all site work and new furniture.

The City proposes to pay cash for the building, through much juggling of internal budgetary funds. Though the city doesn’t say so, and Landon did not say so Monday evening, borrowed money is involved: more than half the money (58 percent) is to be provided by the Town Center Community Redevelopment Agency (essentially, the Palm Coast City Council serving as representative of Town Center) “repaying” $5.8 million it has borrowed from the city’s general fund over the years to develop Town Center. The CRA doesn’t have that money to repay. It will be borrowing it, at regular commercial rates, in order to foot the bill. In other words, the city is borrowing money to build city hall—and the interest paid by the CRA for the new note is not included in the cost of the new building.

The funds paying for the new building also include $1 million in “surpluses” in the building department. That surplus was the result of the city overbilling developers and builders for building permits during the city’s boom days; the city has since slashed permitting costs 90 percent, calling it a “savings” to builders and developers. The utility fund would contribute about 12 percent of the cost, or $1.2 million, from administrative services fees that appear on customers’ water bills, which have also increased steadily over the years. The city’s capital projects fund would also kick in $2 million, ostensibly using some of the $3 million generated from the sale of the old city hall to Palm Coast Data.

All these funds were partially explained by Landon, with another joke along the way—that he was “not too good at figures, but that is what we have accountants for.”

The city claims no new taxes will be used to pay for the city hall. That’s true. But the city is using fees taxpayers, ratepayers and other residents pay every day to foot the building’s bills, and it is diverting $10 million in public money that could be used to other public uses.

Other talking points included justifying buying the new building with a onetime capital expenditure versus paying rent (currently $240,000 a year at the city’s City Market Place offices, formerly City Walk), and having nothing to show for it but rent receipts. Landon said using a contract manager to supervise construction rather than a general contractor—there being no local general contractor that could handle the job—would allow the  city to use more local labor.

During the Q&A many questions arose over terminology used (and often used in government meetings to confound audiences), such as “CRA” and “TIF” (TIF being “tax increment financing,” which determines how a CRA’s tax revenue is captured and used for the duration of that CRA.)

There were a couple of challenges as to whether the decision to build the city hall had already been made, regardless of resident input. One resident raised  Moorman’s dander by accusing him of already having made his decision. Moorman denied that he had.  One couple left the meeting early after an exchange with others on wanting to “live in the small, quiet town we moved to a few years ago,” and suggesting that there is no reason to make the city bigger. While many questioned the need and priority for new offices for city employees and services, one or two supported the building. The Q&A carried on until 8 p.m.

After tonight’s meeting at the community center, Landon will make a presentation at the Buddy Taylor Middle School Cafeteria on Nov. 15 and the African American Cultural Society on Nov. 22.

17 Responses for “Dog-and-Pony Powerpoints: Landon’s Stage-Managed Shows for a New Palm Coast City Hall”

  1. Kip Durocher says:

    A police department, Palm Coast also needs it’s own police department. This will better serve the citizens and save money. More local control will also be available to the city manager when he can command the police in times of emergencies such as riots in the parks.

  2. Palm Coast Citizen says:

    I believe that the City Hall is a done deal. The presentation is all about this is what is going to be built.
    I also believe that the town manager is being driven by the town council. If they didn’t want it they would have directed him to stop.

    This city needs a police department like it needs a proverbial hole in its head. But when a presentation is made and is based on public safety, fear and crime it will most times win.

  3. emile says:

    I suppose it HAS to be in Town Center? I wonder if there might be commercial properties available that would fit in the $4.2 million that the city has on hand.

  4. Merrill says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, someone! I thought the old rule of thumb was that a building was worth ten years’ rent! If we’re paying $240,000 a year now, shouldn’t we be looking to spend about $2.4 million to make it all worth it?

    This seems to fit into the category of quaint ideas that belong to the last century, like the 90,000 square foot building for which Enterprise Flagler wants funding. Bricks and mortar buildings are great for manufacturing 8 track tapes and for housing schools to train elevator operators. In our current age of connectivity, more work can and should be accomplished remotely. This is the only way we’re going to remain competitive in the next several decades. Virtual offices generally don’t have roofs that leak, plumbing that clogs or even need janitorial staffs to clean them! It’s also pretty hard to beat the carbon footprint of virtual offices!

    Perhaps my thinking doesn’t apply to municipal offices–show me where I’m wrong, please!

  5. Ken Dodge says:

    Why would the City look to any amount on commercial property when it already owns the land in Town Center? If a City Hall is not built there by 2015, then the property reverts back to the developer.

    Virtual offices may not be in compliance with State laws regulating how municipalities conduct their business serving their constituencies.

  6. Barney Smythe says:

    Don’t need to raise taxes, just have a frozen seafood festival, overcharge for food and admission! All profits go to the city.
    Go to the Tommy Tant Classic, buy from the venders there and contribute to a great cause.

  7. A parent says:

    I’m not at all surprised by Landon’s actions. He does NOTHING for the citizens of Palm Coast. I’ve known him to only be self-serving in all of my dealings with him. We need a new City Hall like we all need that proverbial hole in the head, Palm Coast Citizen. MHO.

  8. Nick says:

    The City Council members need to have a talk with in our city manager and understand that if they don’t… we will do the talking with our votes come election time.


    These guys need to take a closer look at what happened on last Tuesday when the people decided to let the government know how they felt about those who do whatever they want to and ignore the voters…..There is a big difference between what they want & what they need….These are scary ecomonic times.. “they” should be saving every penny they can rather then trying to spend every penny they can put their hands on!

  10. Lin says:

    So many questions were raised last night at Landon’s presentation –most interesting concerns the claim that the property at town center reverts to the developer after 5 more years. The questioner thought the property reverted back — however, market value was to be paid to the city of Palm Coast. Landon didn’t seem to know the answer to that.

    There’s alot of “fuzzy thinking” & “creative financing” in that proposal. It sounded at first like money was already there to be used for city hall and that no money was to be borrowed. But Landon admitted that all the $5.8 needed from the CRA was not “in the bank”. Where would that be coming from, then? And the other funds to be depleted — why do that in this economy? He said it is always better to buy or build than rent. Not true especially in a dropping market. And his comparisons buy vs rent were assuming an increase in rent. Why not negotiate the rent DOWN? And what will a new city hall and city hall exit from City Marketplace do to the City Marketplace? Another empty space to mar the landscape. In connection with the new city hall — inconveniences in the present city hall were cited and the word showplace used in comparison. I thought Flagler already had a showplace in Bunnell. Not enough reason to borrow money and pay interest.

    Landon says he does not want a new city hall. If he doesn’t want it, and the Council members haven’t declared themselves, then why all this fuss, city staff time, and possible architectural solitications in view of so much public opposition. Why not a vote first — oh, we did that already. So WHY NOT LISTEN, Council and Mr. Landon?

  11. NOT OUT OF THE WOODS says:

    The town manager serves at the will of the council…he is there messanger…and if they want to spend all that money at this time then why don’t they just admit it?

  12. Mike says:

    I guess all this negative reaction is more about the times we are in rather the need for a city hall in our young city. This is an investment in the future of our city. The economy is turning around and we will start growing again, we don’t need to set on the sidelines.

  13. tom brands says:

    recall now, lets stop messin around with these people. The elected officers and their hires are not willing to hear what the public is wanting. Lets start to recall em all. yes, all from the school boards to the water boards to the towns and cities to state and Washington. Get rid of them all

  14. Robert says:

    While in the process of recalling, replace the Town Manager form of government with an elected mayor to head the city. A mayor is accountable to the voters, not the town council.

  15. NOT OUT OF THE WOODS says:

    What planet do you live on? we have a very long way before our economy actually turns around….Let’s stop spending money we don’t have…I’m all for investing in the future…when we can afford it….how about SAVING the money first…then making sure that there isn’t anything more important…then MAYBE consider building a new town hall…..

  16. Lin says:

    Yes, why do we have a system in PC in which the highly paid Town Manager (not elected) is pushing a new City Hall which he says he is not in favor of wasting City stafftime with all these “selling the idea to the citizens” presentations — the next step after setting it out for bids is spending city money. Where does the buck stop? Who does he answer to? Where is our City Council and Mayor? Where are they on this?

    Yes, we are NOT OUT OF THE WOODS yet, I agree.

  17. palmcoaster says:

    Mike for sure you do not seem to be sitting down in the sidelines…the way you talk.

    Do you have any idea of how many years will take us to get out of this economic hole that our politicians from both mayor parties have dug us into?

    When maybe one third of the Palm Coast residents and one third of more of the Palm Coast businesses lost their homes, jobs or claim bankruptcy now, what makes you think that we could ever want a new government Taj Mahal that will cost to start with 10,000.000 plus?. Taking in consideration that the 5,800.000 plus taken form the tax payers City of Palm Coast operating account to fund the Town Center “CRA”… hasn’t been refunded to the City accounts yet. What type of personal benefit from this deal are you about to receive? Why is Landon pushing so hard for this deal without a referendum against the will of the taxpayers that will be forced to fund it? Maybe same reason as yours?

    City coffers are depleted, so are our bank accounts our jobs are gone so our homes and many of our jobs providing businesses and our City Council and manager embark in this frivolous spending? Its time to band together and demand common sense…against one more white elephant to shove down our throats to be sustained with higher taxes after completion. NO to city hall. Will remember next election time.

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