The Flagler County Commission on Monday approved 24 grants totaling $76,000 for mostly local organizations’ cultural and sports events, festivals and professional meetings, money to be drawn from the county’s tourist tax revenue.
But eight applicants, including those for popular events such as the Rotary’s Fantasy Lights in Town Center, the chamber of commerce’s Creekside Festival at Princess Place, the Palm Coast Yacht Club’s holiday boat parade, Flagler Broadcasting, Hot N Spicy festival and its Independence Day celebration, and the Flagler Gun and Archery Club competition that features the fastest-draw shootout competition at the Agricultural museum, were all turned down.
The Tourist Development Board, a collection of elected officials and tourism industry representatives, voted on July 17 to make grant recommendations to the county commission. The commission on Monday could have accepted or rejected the recommendations, either in whole or in part. It seemed uninterested in examining the submissions piecemeal and accepted the council’s recommendations in whole, despite appearances by two organizations that had been rejected–and despite Commissioner Greg Hansen saying the two organizations had made convincing presentations.
The two organizations were the Yacht Club, whose application for a $1,250 grant was turned down, and the gun club, turned down for $2,000.
“Key to the parade’s attraction and success is that it crosses all demographics,” Sarah Ulis of the boat parade told commissioners. “It is not an athletic event. It is not a food event. It is not a special interest event. It is not a fund-raiser. Nobody pays to enter. Nobody wins any prizes. And nobody makes a penny. It is simply a unique, altruistic gift to Flagler County, from itself to itself, and arguably one of the most highly anticipated events of the year.”
Her statement did not move commissioners.
“In both cases nobody on the commission made a motion to approve those, so they didn’t convince the members of the council that they needed the funding,” Hansen said, “and I apologize for that, I don’t have any control over what they make a motion to do or not, I just chair the meeting. But I think the lesson there is you need to make your case if you’re coming in front of the council. You need to make your case. Both presentations made today I think might have made their case in front of the council.”
In fact, there’d been a motion and a second to approve the boat parade grant. Hansen even voted for it. But the measure failed on a 4-4 vote: in ties, the motion is rejected. Hansen could have made the motion at Monday’s meeting to have either grants reconsidered or approved, as could have other members of the commission. None did, leaving both organizations disappointed.
“The TDC council itself was very tough on these applications,” Hansen said. “We learned some things that we need to do a better job filling out the forms, people need to do a better job filling out the forms, and Ms. Lukasik is going to put in kind of a rating system in the future so that when it comes in front of the council, there is a value put on each of these requests and it’ll take into consideration how many times has the individual or group asked for money, have they become self-sufficient, all those things that we need to look at. The council looked pretty tough at those things and we turned down quite a few requests because of that.”
Amy Lukasik is the acting director of the county’s tourism division.
The grants are paid out of revenue generated by the county’s 5 percent tourism sales surtax, applied to all hotel, motel and other short-term accommodations, including short term rentals. Total annual revenue from the tourism tax hovers around $2 million, but is divided into three categories, one of them for beach repairs, one for capital improvements to structures that draw tourism, and the third to the county’s marketing efforts. The grants are drawn from that third pot.
The small grants range from $1,250 to about $10,000, and applicants must comply with a rigorous process to qualify. In some cases, applicants must show that their event draws tourists who stay overnight. In others, that requirement doesn’t apply. Ironically, however, the small grants’ rigor is steeper than that applied to so-called “discretionary fund” events, awarded at the discretion of the tourism director, at much larger sum (which can range between $25,000 and $40,000), and with far more dubious proof of return. Those discretionary dollars are most often awarded to out of state, often private, companies that bring in sports events or conferences.
Lukasik said her office is planning a review of the grant application process in September. One focus will be on the smaller grants. The scoring system she hopes to develop “helps the applicants to be more competitive and to increase their efforts with their event and challenge them to add more components that are going to drive more tourism, and eventually overnight stays,” Lukasik said. Some of the grants have been funded “for 10-plus years. I think we always wanted to look at that grant as an incubator, where then we want them then to move to overnight stays,” challenging them to add more feature to events and to increase their marketing efforts.
Hansen credited Lukasik for bringing in more cultural than sports events for the first time. That had been a stated goal of the council. Commissioner Dave Sullivan offered a caution about Flagler Beach. “I want to make sure that they get a fair crack at the funds as they come forward because like it or not the beach is the thing that attracts people into Flagler County,” Sullivan said. “Sometimes there’s concerns on the part of my residents in the city of Flagler Beach and along the coast that they’re not getting their fair share of the tourist funds.”
Commissioner Joe Mullins made an allusion to Lukasik’s predecessor, Matt Dunn, who was suspended–with pay–earlier this year and has been under a state investigation since. “It’s come a long way since February when we had that uproar over there, and you’ve done a great job,” Mullins said to Lukasik.Nevertheless, Mullins voted against both batches of grants, concerned that the county is giving out more money than it’s generating. But that is far more true of discretionary dollars than grant dollars.
Dunn remains on paid leave. In an interview today, County Administrator Jerry Cameron said he is about to make a change in that regard.
“FDLE said the investigation is going to be protracted for a while longer,” Cameron said of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which is conducting the Dunn investigation. “I told them that I’d been withholding any action on the county pending an outcome. They said they couldn’t tell me when that could be completed, so they advised me to do what I need to do. I’m talking over that with HR right now.” He added: “I’ve got either to put him back on or I’ve got to terminate him–something. I just can’t pay him indefinitely.”
Cameron endorsed Lukasik’s work as acting tourism director. “I actually can’t think of how she could do a better job,” he said.
Following are the grants the commission approved. The first group of applicants was required to show proof that they generate overnight stays:
a) $ 2,500 Flagler Broadcasting, Kix Country Fest 2019, October 6, 2019
b) $ 2,000 Flagler Broadcasting, Rock N Ribfest, April 2-4, 2020
c) $ 2,500 Flagler Broadcasting, Freedom Fest, November 16, 2019
d) $ 2,500 Flagler County Corvette Club, Corvettes at the Beach 2019, October 12-13, 2019
e) $ 2,500 Flagler County Horseshoe Pitching Club, Florida Georgia Tournament, October
f) $ 2,500 Flagler County Horseshoe Pitching Club, Florida Team Championship, January
g) $ 2,500 Florida Agricultural Museum, Walk Back in Time, November 22-24, 2019
h) $ 2,500 City of Palm Coast, Tech Beach Hackathon, January 17-19, 2020
i) $ 2,500 Palm Coast Tennis Center, M25 Palm Coast Tournament, January 16-26, 2020
j) $ 2,500 Flagler County Education Foundation, Consortium of Education Foundations Fall
…………Meeting, October 2-4, 2019
k) $ 5,000 The International Conference of Funeral Service Examining Boards (ICFSEB),
…………116th Annual Meeting of the Conference, February 17-21, 2020
l) $ 2,500 Sunrise Outdoors, VIBE Battle Fall 2019, October 12-13, 2019
m) $10,000 Flagler Auditorium Governing Board, Flagler Auditorium Season 2019-2020,
…………September 1, 2019 – June 30, 2020
n) $ 8,000 Continuing Education Co., 14th Annual Primary Care Spring Conference Session I,
…………March 23-27, 2020
o) $ 8,000 Continuing Education Co., 14th Annual Primary Care Spring Conference Session
…………II, April 6-10, 2020
p) $ 8,000 Continuing Education Co., 11th Annual Essentials in Primary Care Summer
…………Conference, July 13-17, 2020
Those who were turned down in that batch of applicants were:
q) $8,000 Flagler Broadcasting, July 4th Independence Day Celebration, July 4, 2020
r) $2,000 Flagler Sports & Conservation, Inc. (dba Flagler Gun & Archery Club), CFDA
Florida State Championship, April 23-26, 2020
These applicants did not have to show proof of overnight stays, and were approved:
a) $ 1,250 Flagler Beach Historical Museum, Cheer at the Pier, April 18, 2020
b) $ 1,250 Triumph Endurance Events, Oceans 50 Relay Race, November 9, 2019
c) $ 1,250 Friends of A1A Scenic & Historic Coastal Byway, 8th Annual Spoonbills &
………..Sprockets Cycling Tour, November 2-3, 2019
d) $ 1,250 Flagler Palm Coast HS Girls Basketball, Rob Moramarco Basketball Challenge,
………..January 3-4, 2020
e) $ 1,250 Florida Agricultural Museum, Hollerween, October 18, 19, 25, 26, 2019
f) $ 1,250 Advent Health Palm Coast, Pink Army 5K, October 13, 2019
g) $ 1,250 The Garden Club at Palm Coast, Festival and Plant Sale, April 18, 2020
h) $ 1,250 Matanzas HS Boys Basketball Kiwanis Tournament, Kiwanis Basketball Shootout,
………..December 20-21, 2019
The following were rejectected:
i) $1,250 Flagler Broadcasting, Hot N Spicy, February 2, 2020
j) $1,250 City of Palm Coast Feet to Feast 5K, November 28, 2019
k) $1,250 Choral Arts Society, 3 Concert Series, December 13 & 15, 2019, July 4, 2020 &
May 2020 date TBD
l) $1,250 Flagler Chamber of Commerce, 15th Annual Creekside Festival, October 12-13,
m) $1,250 Rotary Club of Flagler County Foundation, 14th Annual Fantasy Lights Festival,
December 1-30, 2019
n) $1,250 Palm Coast Yacht Club, Palm Coast Holiday Boat Parade, December 14th, 2019