The following is the prepared text of the annual State of the City address by Mayor Milissa Holland, as issued by the city on Wednesday. The address is normally delivered at a special event–the last two have been delivered at the Palm Coast Community Center–but the ongoing coronavirus emergency made this year’s presentation virtual. A video of the full presentation is embedded a few paragraphs down, along with other videos highlighting the year’s award recipients.
Hello, I’m Milissa Holland and one of my most exciting opportunities as Mayor of Palm Coast is to report to you the annual state of our City. I’ve missed seeing all of you up close! I miss shaking your hands on our trails and giving you hugs at events. A City Mayor thrives on connecting in person with their community. It’s the natural thing to want to do.
However, during this pandemic, I want to send you my warmest greetings as I’m grateful I can still be here with you virtually. Even in this unnatural separation and confinement due to the coronavirus, the state of Palm Coast is more strongly connected than ever before. It’s ironic how we’ve actually become closer by being further apart. It’s my goal today to share with you how your government leaders are taking an all-hands-on-deck approach to emerge stronger together.
Before the coronavirus health crisis, Palm Coast was succeeding well with our quality public services within a flourishing lifestyle and healthy economy. Now, we’ve been challenged to figure out how to act more efficiently to maintain the effective delivery of our priorities in a social distancing, health-minded culture.
So, we’ve gotten more creative. In the past three months, we reached out to you remotely and you’ve engaged with us in so many new meaningful ways. Our “Rise Up Palm Coast” initiative brought us together online to share social activities from local businesses and organizations. We danced, baked, practiced yoga and sang together on social media with Parks & Recreation.
We launched the Feed Palm Coast campaign collaboratively with our faith based community and collected food to feed more than 5,000 Palm Coast families. We also raised more than $100,000 dollars to purchase additional food for our neighbors in need. Please see the highlights from the Feed Palm Coast distribution day.
The Full Address:
Thousands of you linked to our Virtual Town Hall meetings where we shared important pandemic information along with our county partners. For the past three months, we were able to connect with you from the comfort of your living rooms, weekly, with subject matter experts ready to respond to the thousands of questions you submitted. In doing so, we provided accurate, up-to-date information that kept your safety the first and foremost priority. We were grateful each week thousands of residents tuned in to help us better understand their concerns. We thank you for staying connected to us during this time.
Now I want to take a moment to highlight someone who is connecting with our community in a special way.
Eight-year-old Robbie Gay is the most considerate, hopeful little boy you’ll ever meet. It’s hard to believe that this very special child was once a ward of the state, fostered at six different homes in a short period of time.
But life permanently changed for Robbie when Maria and Charles Gay adopted him as their son. And the perfect way to begin their journey together came at a visit to the Flagler Humane Society. Puppies are usually the first choice as companions for most little boys. But not for Robbie. Given the choice, he made his way over to the oldest dog at the facility, wanting to adopt him because he said “he knows how it feels to be older and not wanted.”
Robbie’s mom believes he sees himself in an older dog. Because of his past experiences, he understands what it’s like to be forgotten by others. Because he’s now part of a loving family environment, he’s practicing compassion and gaining an optimism for life that he wants to share with not only his pet, but also with others who get to know him.
For these reasons, Palm Coast is especially honored to present our 2020 Next Generation award to Robbie Gay. He is the ultimate example of a young man who has learned his future can embrace anything he works to achieve. Robbie has confronted difficult challenges and defied all odds to strive to care for older animals and people when he grows up. His new path was recently documented nationwide in CBS’s network television show, On the Road.
Robbie says he remembers how it feels not to be loved. With this Next Generation award from his friends and neighbors in Palm Coast, we hope he now knows how it REALLY FEELS to be loved.
I believe that the swift method of transforming to virtual connections proved that your leaders had the imagination and vision to regenerate a safe, more resilient way to work. And we’re going to continue as a functional city where governance and service delivery systems work simultaneously and smarter in a safer, healthier environment.
Our commitment to that principle and excellence is also measured through the National Community Survey. Every other year, a random sampling of residents helps City Council gauge the level of satisfaction within the community. Based on the feedback from you, city leaders allocate resources and target opportunities to improve services. Recently, the survey focused on central facets of community – safety, community development, recreation, citizen engagement, and other elements. On the screen you can see some of the ratings residents gave the City. Residents marked increased ratings for aspects like quality of life, a place to retire, a place to live, and the overall image of the city. Palm Coast residents also awarded higher marks for safety in downtown and commercial areas; the overall quality of the built environment; public places; cost of living and the overall quality of businesses and services in 2019 – compared to the previous survey two years prior. Palm Coast residents also gave more favorable ratings to the value of services for taxes paid, the job the government did at acting in the best interest of Palm Coast, being honest and treating all residents fairly. Residents also gave increased accolades to City staff. We appreciate the feedback and continue to do our best every day.
Before I begin, I must take a moment to give a really loud shout out to all of our essential workers who are listening now. I can only hope you feel deep down inside how much you are loved and appreciated by your community. To our doctors, nurses, paramedics, firefighters, pharmacists, grocery store employees, caregivers, garbage collection folks and so many others, on behalf of everyone in Palm Coast, God bless each and every one of you. We honor your efforts. Your courage and strength motivates City Council every day to work even harder to shape the future of your City.
There is someone special who I want to introduce you to. Many in our community know him through our Fire Department. Watch his humble reaction as we honor his service.
Volunteer Fire Police Capt. Steven Garnes has never missed a single assignment since he began serving the Palm Coast Fire Police in 2005. During fifteen years of duty to direct traffic control at the scene of city road emergencies, he’s guided vehicles and drivers for more than 10,000 calls around our motorways.
Aside from this awesome achievement, Capt. Garnes teaches and certifies volunteer and career firefighters in emergency vehicle operations. He’s also responsible for our popular safety trailer that has taught thousands of Palm Coast children how to navigate fires or tornadoes. In 2016, he was honored with the Palm Coast Elks Club Public Safety Volunteer Firefighter award. On top of all this, he’s the department resident chef, relied on to prepare some very tasty meals at the firehouses.
Just as important, Captain Steve Garnes embodies the principles of high moral character and honesty. Ask any of his fellow firefighters, paramedics and fire police and they’ll tell you the Captain is the most humble person they know. They tell us he’s the ultimate symbol of someone who puts service before self.
Because of this steadfast devotion to his job and his community, it is my distinct honor to present Volunteer Capt. Steven Garnes with the City’s 2020 Annual Public Safety Award. It’s people like the captain who make us all so proud to be residents of Palm Coast.
So let’s get started here: The coronavirus has tested so many of our strategies. Each one of us plays a critical role in the health of our community, and you have certainly done your part. I’m pleased to report to you that our priorities and responsibilities to all of you demand that we connect with you in steady, more innovative ways.
In 2020, our priorities will emphasize these principles: compelling community engagement; resilient safety; and prominently rebounding economy.
Let’s start with Palm Coast Connect. This is our popular community engagement platform that was launched in 2019 and has evolved to become our one central hub of information. This online dais has completely transformed the way we connect with you. In the past, you could reach customer service during eight to five business hours and only by phone or email. During those days, the city logged more than 10,000 calls per month without a way to follow up. Those calls did not have a way to be tracked to see the progress made or end result. This created a barrier for our team to deliver better service.
Using the Palm Coast Connect app and website, you now have around the clock customer service and the ability to always know exactly where your concern and case stands. For example, if you see a pothole, something that needs fixed on a local road or at a park, or you want to ask a question – maybe set up utility service. All of that can be done on Palm Coast Connect. Once you register, you can create a case. City staff will inform you through the platform every step of the way allowing you to track the progress of your case, from inception to completion. Externally, it eliminates the guess-factor and allows you to know exactly how your concern is handled and ensures your voice is heard. Internally, it allows us to evaluate our resources through real-time data to make better-informed decisions on your behalf at a 360 degree view. This gives you a way to be a part of the solution. It provides greater accountability, transparency and efficiencies.
Hurricane Dorian illustrates one of Palm Coast Connect’s prime successes. The system had been operating for only three months when Dorian threatened Palm Coast last September. It quickly became our resident’s best friend. More than 500 cases were submitted and nearly 1200 neighbors signed up to be connected. Many of you asked for help and information regarding evacuation routes, shelters, PEP alarms, power outages, fallen trees and dangling street signs. It was our first emergency since the system launched and it proved to all of us that Palm Coast Connect was our communication mechanism of the future.
Over time, we’ve not stopped there. We evaluate internally to drive the value of the platform. Using data, we have eliminated overtime for PEP calls. Facilities requests will now be performed through what’s called ‘Field Service Lightning.’ Instead of forms for work orders, the team dispatches work orders through the mobile app. Looking forward, our team is implementing geo-fencing focus areas to better meet demand of targeted areas. Overall, working smarter means a better deployment of resources. On top of that, City Council can set the expectation for cases to be resolved in no more than five days. This is not a luxury item. We are constantly using metrics generated through the platform to increase efficiencies. It is providing you the customer service experience you expect and deserve. And now this system is ubiquitous. Nearly 9500 of you have contacted the City for help, quickly becoming our eyes and ears in Palm Coast. Presently, our resolve times to you are averaging less than two days. If you haven’t yet used Palm Coast Connect, you can download it for free on the Google Play or Apple App Store or go online to palmcoastconnect.com to register.
This year, we developed QR codes for our utility customers with PEP tank service. They now have the ability to scan a QR code with their phones to submit an issue and instantly establish a case on Palm Coast Connect. This eliminates the need to call customer service. By the end of this year, we will have installed four of the smart meter towers for the advanced metering infrastructure. The towers will upgrade the wireless metering to the next level via a fiber hub approach to provide real-time usage monitoring.
Palm Coast is one of four cities in Florida that owns its own community-owned fiber infrastructure. It supports city and county facilities by providing high-speed internet. The debt-free investment pays for itself. The operational revenue it generates is re-invested to make improvements and upgrade technology – thus saving money. Soon, we’ll be able to ‘peer’ with major nationwide providers through our network and so will our customers. This means the speed of data sharing – uploading and downloading – will be significantly faster than before – and with state of the art security firewalls. We’re also exploring Smart City applications to make us even more attractive to new businesses. And we’ve also expanded our City wireless infrastructure system to now include three cell towers located in north, south and central locations in Palm Coast.
One of the other aspects of what makes our city desirable is our amenities. In fact, 86% of residents surveyed felt Palm Coast is an excellent or great place to live. We are making improvements to several facilities including the Palm Harbor Golf Course and the Indian Trails Sports Complex. At the golf course, we are replacing floor structure in the kitchen, replacing finishes in the bathrooms, enclosing an ice machine, converting some lighting to LED to be more energy efficient and some other minor work. At the sports complex, we have come up with a plan to convert two multi-use fields to four softball/baseball fields and to add more parking. The first phase is to grade and sod the field area and to have two fields fully completed.
Phase II of James F. Holland Memorial Park renovation is a topic that I treasure. My dear father, James Holland, was chosen as one of Palm Coast’s first council members. The park is his legacy to our City. Construction of the newest features are moving forward for 2020 completion. One includes a dynamic new Splash Pad, which will be the new signature feature in Holland Park, one of the most iconic amenities in our community, county and region. Can you just imagine your family’s delight when you bring them to the park for this amazing water experience? Water jets will shoot out at you from lifelike frogs, dolphins, and rays while you swing from hammocks or climb around treehouses. We’ll even have a whimsical steam engine and carriage for imagining trips to your favorite destinations. We’re also adding inclusive elements with accessibility features to the playground and new family swings to climb on and sway back and forth together. We just finished upgrading our bocce ball courts and we’ve lighted our tennis courts with a new LED system. I just know you’ll soon be packing up your car on a regular basis for some really fun trips to Holland Park.
Here’s how the city will pay for most of these park upgrades. We use the sales tax revenues we receive from the money you’ve spent in our local stores. This is an excellent example of the amenities we can provide for you when you shop in Palm Coast. Our ongoing Be Local Buy Local campaign establishes the foundation for our own powerful economy, helping us upgrade and maintain our local amenities and infrastructure. Every $100 that you spend in town gives $68 back to your community. The community center, which houses many local children, adult and senior programs, was also renovated through some Be Local Buy Local dollars. Some money was also used to pay for small park rehab and maintenance projects.
In an effort to help our business community, during COVID-19, we worked with restaurants to offer outdoor seating. We’ve worked with some of them through several new promotions for our Be Local Buy Local promotional campaign. Be on the lookout for restaurant highlights showcasing their offerings, a foodie photo contest and much more. So please, always think local and keep your buying power right here in our city!
The Mayor’s 90/90 Challenge is another recreational adventure I’d like to mention here. So many of you joined me again this year to complete 90 miles of any kind of physical activity in 90 days. We resumed this year’s challenge beginning June 1, so I’m hoping all of you practiced yoga or dancing indoors, or hiked, biked, swam, golfed or played tennis outdoors. Staying fit together means staying healthy. We’re tallying our miles and we’ll let you know our 2020 results really soon.
One resident of our city who takes part in our initiatives has really shown strength and courage. Watch her emotional reaction as we take a moment to honor her for her contributions to our neighbors and community.
Women in Palm Coast who are successful in their chosen professional careers often struggle when they become new moms. This platform is where Megan Farrell stands prominent among us. With honesty, humor and talent, she has reached out to so many other young mothers in our community to encourage connectivity and self-confidence. Because of her reassuring and candid leadership, Megan Farrell is the recipient of the 2020 Palm Coast Citizen of the Year award.
After working for several years in the teaching profession, Megan obtained her license to sell real estate. She quickly became one of the youngest presidents of the Flagler County Association of Realtors and she now operates EXP Realty in Palm Coast, specializing in cutting-edge cloud-based sales. Welcoming her baby into the world, Megan grappled with balancing her new life. She reached out to create the Facebook group, Flagler County Working Mamas, encouraging others in her position to communicate and share their juggling and struggling. When the coronavirus hit our area and everyone stayed home, her platform grew to unprecedented numbers. Over 2300 moms are now followers, supporting each other and sharing resources to empower each other to be the best in whatever role they chose.
Because she has connected with so many Palm Coast women on so many levels; because she has set the bar so high for tackling the challenges of loving their kids but having to leave them each day to pursue a career, we applaud Megan Farrell for receiving this year’s Citizen of the Year award. The world could use more people like Megan who serve as graceful, genuine role models for all of us.
Now, let’s discuss our safety priorities for residents. We currently have more than 2800 streetlights in our city. Lighting our main roadways at night continues to be an important component in our City Council Strategic Plan as well as requested residential intersections. Last year, continuous streetlights were installed on Lakeview Boulevard. As of this month, design is complete and FPL and city agreements are signed for 257 lights on Belle Terre Parkway between Palm Coast Parkway and State Road 100. Construction will begin this summer. Design is also complete for streetlights along the upcoming Old Kings Road North widening project. There are a total of 60 lights in this project and these signing agreements with FPL should be coming soon. The next roads we’re looking to light up are Ravenwood Drive, where design is 90 percent complete. Design for Seminole Woods Boulevard and Belle Terre Boulevard from State Road 100 to U.S. 1 will be completed this year with construction planned for next year.
Flood management will always be a priority with our residents because of Florida’s annual rainy season and hurricane events. Palm Coast’s drainage system must consistently work in all locations to protect homes and businesses from flooding. For those of you who are new to Palm Coast, here’s a brief explanation of how our drainage system works: we have an inter-connective design that moves stormwater from swales, which are in your front yard, to ditches, through canals, over water control structures and eventually out to the Intracoastal Waterway. Addressing swale maintenance on individual properties remains an important part of this system, but we’ve developed a more comprehensive, big picture plan to methodically increase flow for whole neighborhoods instead of just focusing on specific swales.
Everything in this new enhanced stormwater master plan points to focusing on the bigger picture for a more long-term city-wide impact. Creation of the plan began at the beginning of 2018 and was implemented toward the end of the year. 2019 saw a ramping up of personnel, equipment and project designs to carry out the new enhanced plan. Strategies adopt the newest technology and engineering resources for areas that affect the most homes and pose the highest risk. Lidar and stormwater modeling allow our team to make better decisions on where bottlenecks occur and where potential problem areas are. Data has shown that by investing resources into canals and ditches, the system as a whole will clear better and for a longer period of time. The team is working to inventory stormwater assets to fix, replace, or determine the lifespan of a pipe, ditches and structures. You can see an example of a before and after on your screen. This gives us a better way to re-invest while being more proactive. Pipe inspections and ditch rehab projects are receiving more complex evaluations than ever before. Tracking maintenance and updates for rapidly mapping out neighborhoods is being addressed. And we’ve opened a new facility at 24 Utility Drive where personnel are collaborating between field and office professionals to better serve you right in your neighborhoods. This enhanced program ensures stronger coordination and attention to your priorities to better protect our structures from flood waters. Please know we’re using your stormwater fees wisely to re-focus on long-term stormwater improvements.
Additionally, I would be remiss to not point out the tremendous public safety service provided by our first responders. We are eternally grateful for our Palm Coast firefighters’ dedication, sacrifice, and loyalty to our citizen’s health and safety 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This group of heroes has led our city through three Emergency Operations Centers in the last year – Hurricane Dorian, Wildfires, and COVID-19. Members of our fire department collaboratively created the fire department’s Ten-Year Plan. It is a master planning document designed to provide direction in nine strategic areas. The planning process for this document began in 2017. Over the course of the ten years, department members will research and create plans to improve the department’s deployment to emergencies, community outreach programs, firefighter training effectiveness, firefighter safety and wellness, and other areas of administrative support. The Ten–Year Plan provides the framework and direction to continue to improve the department’s effectiveness in reaching the citizens, improving the Insurances Services Office (ISO) rating, improving the quality of operations, growing as the need evolves, and continuing to constantly improve as a service provider.
Through all of this, our firefighters and command staff have earned a prestigious classification – an ISO rating of two – which is the second best public protection classification. That is in the top 1.1 percent statewide and top 1.3 percent in the nation. This plays a major role in property insurance rates so congratulations are in order for them. Here are some highlights of our Palm Coast firefighters.
Continuing with public safety, I also want to highlight our law enforcement partners with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Rick Staly and his team have implemented new strategies to reduce and prevent crime. Some of those include the ‘STRIDE’ program to help inmates get a good start after release; there’s also more than $700,000 in grants helping to fight crime; a body scanner at the jail to help find contraband; and text to 9-1-1 allowing residents to send a message to local 911 centers in an emergency. The sheriff’s office is celebrating the lowest crime rate since 2005. Crime is down 36%. We are proud to see their efforts.
As we mentioned earlier, with crime down, 95% of residents we surveyed feel safe in their neighborhood. All of these elements are critical to the success of our deliberate design of Town Center.
And now I want to share details with you about one of the most transformational projects in Palm Coast. Our Town Center area is swiftly incubating our Innovation District. Soon to connect as a fusion of business, healthcare, schools, and technology start-ups, new occupants will crave proximity for ideas and knowledge that can be transferred quickly and seamlessly. They will share space among an entertainment and arts district – supported by coffee shops and restaurants, public parks, clean industry, nearby housing and retail shops. Our Town Center has the perfect ingredients to be more innovative – over 1600 acres of high-quality development are located near the interstate, healthcare facilities, high-performing schools and master developers, eager to help us realize a future vision. Having all the smart features and infrastructure in Town Center sets the stage for attracting companies that will provide jobs of the future and propel our city into the next century. Our City Council goal for the Innovation District is to merge technology with expansion that will increase productivity and respond more efficiently to the needs of our residents.
Consequently, as medical, technology and innovation continue to drive the brand for our downtown, we’re directing this concept in Town Center towards more novel ideas. We hosted our first Tech Beach Hackathon in Town Center last January. For those of you who aren’t familiar with hackathons, it’s a unique title for a robust competition where tech professionals come together to solve community problems and develop new ideas and solutions using available technology. Our three-day event hosted 28 ‘hackers’ from across the country who formed nine teams to brainstorm real medical solutions. We received input from hospitals who posed questions for these competitors. Palm Coast actually achieved the objective for the Hackathon: we attracted a nationally targeted technical audience to build a community of innovators around Palm Coast. One of the selected winners was once a student in our local schools. We also attracted new talent to our area and we look forward to this becoming an annual event in Town Center. Here are some highlights of this monumental addition to our community.
By far, the most innovative of all ideas for Town Center is UNF MedNEX. This plan is the pulse of a Palm Coast dream and vision for our future. It creates the first university-based medical hub right here in our City.
Its structure would connect an entire Florida medical ecosystem with our high schools, Daytona State College and Jacksonville’s University of North Florida. This offers a true career path for high paying job opportunities. Students who choose to participate, can sign up in high school and will be trained through internships and offered employment as our next generation of healthcare professionals. We’re bringing together scholars and practitioners to create an epicenter in Town Center. Ultimately, it forms a comprehensive medical nexus that will change the entire dynamic and economy of Palm Coast.
UNF MedNEX is also unique in that partnerships will take place among the university, healthcare and related providers, local and regional governments and community partners to address needs now and into the future. The project has generated $19 million in stakeholder investments. MedNEX propels a talent pipeline across eight counties. With 23 percent of Florida’s projected job growth between 2016 and 2024 accounting for health care, that’s 200,000 new jobs.
Its success will consolidate healthcare disciplines, technology development, research and analytics into a collaborative hub of educational learning, development and placement of students for Northeast Florida and the entire state. It has earned unanimous approval from the Florida Board of Governors and advances Governor DeSantis’ goal for Florida to be number one in the nation for workforce readiness by 2030.
If you look at the screen, some of our amazing partners are highlighted. I want to thank them for joining us on this journey to transform Palm Coast for the next generation.
I want to leave you with a few very resolute points. It’s your city council’s essential role to act decisively and provide leadership that requires your trust and confidence. The effective delivery of our community’s goals must be supported by the trust-based relationship between all of us so that we can act effectively and efficiently and respond in timely, innovative ways. With your continued support, we know that together we will thrive in the type of community that we’ve come to deserve and expect.
I can’t promise you an end to the coronavirus and I certainly can’t promise we’ll have a vaccine in the near future. But, I can promise you that your Palm Coast leaders will continue to do everything we can to keep you safe and keep our community priorities moving forward through the twenty-first century. We will move from a city that’s healing to a City that’s roaring back. In just a moment, I will play a short video that highlights our work throughout the past year and what we’re looking forward to presenting to you soon. Remember this – what lies between us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. It’s our connections, deep down inside, giving us the strength to guide our community together in harmony to the finish line. Thank you.