Last Updated: Friday, 7:34 p.m.
The Flagler Beach City Commission learned Thursday evening that the city missed out on up to $739,000 in grant funds from the Flagler County Tourist Development Council–a grant that had been available since January 2021. The city was afforded an extension. It missed that deadline too.
“Applicants have a year and a half to get their ducks in a row,” Flagler County Tourism Director Amy Lukasik said. Lukasik and her staff help applicants get those ducks in a row–if applicants ask for help. Flagler Beach did not.
Palm Coast applied, and as the only applicant, its project–building pickleball courts at the city’s tennis center off Belle Terre Parkway, where it hopes to draw regional tournaments–was scored high enough to be awarded the entire pot. The grant cycle is available once every two years, not once every year, as Flagler Beach officials thought Thursday.
All is not lost for Flagler Beach. The TDC grant goes before the tourism council for recommendation at its July 20 meeting. The council could decide then to go with the full recommended award to Palm Coast. Or it could choose to reduce the award and leave some money on the table, and re-open the grant cycle for that left-over. Either way, the recommendation–which is not binding–then goes before the Flagler County Commission at its Aug. 15 meeting for ratification. Again, commissioner could then decide to alter the grant the same way, potentially re-opening the window for Flagler Beach, if for a lesser amount. But it could also stick with its tourism bureau’s recommendation, as it usually does, so as not to second-guess its own administration.
Failing all that, the next grant cycle opens in January, when the TDC will decide how much money will be in the pot for that round. It is likely to be more, as revenue from the tourism sales surtax (paid for overwhelmingly by visitors) has increased. But that money will not be awarded until 18 months hence–two years from now–essentially putting Flagler Beach behind by that much, and denying Flagler Beach a crack at two successive rounds of grants.
The failure of the city administration to meet the deadline is a mirror image of its failure to secure in time a contracted booking with its usual fireworks vendor for the July 4 display. Flagler Beach will have no fireworks this year, and potentially for the next several years, as it rebuilds its pier. (See: “Flagler Beach Could Have Had Its July 4 Fireworks Had It Not Waited Until April 24 to Book the Show.”)
It’s not as consequential as missing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars of grant funding. But it reflects equally on an administration that appears to be less in control of basic managerial steps, despite recurring reminders.
“Our last meeting there was a representative here from TDC reminding us about the grant process, and then we had a meeting with TDC. Did we apply for the $700,000 grant?” Commissioner Eric Cooley asked Whitson Thursday evening during the meeting.
“No, it just wasn’t enough time for me to apply,” Whitson said.
There was a pause, the kind of silence that evokes pins not only dropping but stinging.
“I talked to Mr. Whitson about that as well,” Commission Chairman Ken Bryan said, breaking the silence. “I think we just kind of missed the boat because there was a lot of stuff going on. I think it’s incumbent on us this time that we should start looking at capital projects that we can start marketing right now and be ready with the next cycle.” Bryan serves on the TDC as Flagler Beach’s representative there.
“I feel bad we missed it,” Whitson said, “but you know, by the time we started talking about it, there was just, there were days before the deadline, and couldn’t do it.”
That is not accurate.
The city commission voted to hire Whitson in February. He started in May. Lukasik first met him at a meet and greet that month, when the grant was among her items she discussed. She then met with Whitson and his new assistant, Katie Dockhorn, last March 30, and discussed the grant again, offering her help to shepherd the city’s application through the process. “When I met with her and Mr. Whitson,” Lukasik said, I reminded her again of this program.”
After the meeting, she sent an email to Dockhorn thanking her for the meeting, offering to meet again two weeks later, and sending her the link to the TDC’s capital project grant information and application. “Take a look and let me know if the city is interested in applying and we can go from there,” Lukasik wrote.
There was no application.
On June 9, John Lulgjuraj, co-owner of Oceanside Bar and Grill in Flagler Beach and a voting member of the Tourist Development Council, stood before the Flagler Beach City Commission at the end of a 4-hour meeting, and reminded the city: “I talked to the director earlier last week,” Lulgjuraj said of Lukasik. “Reminded me that the capital grant fund is open. There’s a deadline as of tomorrow. Luckily I asked the director for an extension if it’s possible, just to remind the city and staff if there’s an opportunity for grant–$739,000 for capital funds, every two years.”
Lulgjuraj told commissioners that Palm Coast had applied for the full amount. “But, we got a little bit of an extension,” he said. “So at the end of the day, it has to happen as soon as possible. So if there’s something that you guys can do, if you need help with it, obviously we’re here. But I just want to remind [you] that the city has an opportunity for free money and usually I get attention when free money is offered.”
There was no application.
Reference to the missed deadline was brief Thursday. But in public comments, Scott Fox, owner of Tortugas Restaurant and a Flagler Beach resident, called it “unfathomable that that we can let that get out of our hands.” Rick Belhumeur, the former city commissioner said “we blew it just don’t get it it’s huge. It’s a lot of money.”
Bryan, the commission chairman, sought to soften the blow later in the meeting. “Every year this is something that we can apply for and you have to look at capital projects and other projects,” Bryan said. “Not pointing fingers at anyone. That’s not what I’m here to do all. As we move forward, we’ll do a better job to make sure that we qualify for some of these grants that are available. It’s not just TDC grants.”
Scott Spradley, the Flagler Beach attorney who vice-chairs the city’s planning board and had chaired the city’s committee on July 4 fireworks, had been highly critical of the administration’s misstep in that regard. He was at the meeting Thursday, but addressed the TDC grant only afterward. “My concern as I heard the city manager acknowledge he failed to meet the TDC Grant filing deadline was ‘here we go again,'” Spradley said. “This is why there will be no 4th of July fireworks in Flagler Beach. That was another failure by the city administration to make timely arrangements. I don’t like the pattern. Plus, each of these failures results in a black eye to the City Commission but undeservedly so in my opinion. The City Commission issues orders and is only as good as the capability of the city administration to carry out those orders. Lately, those orders are not being carried out. This is a problem from my view as a resident, a business owner and a concerned member of the Flagler Beach community.”
In a brief interview Friday evening, several hours after this article published, Bryan said the TDC grant in question can’t be awarded in a void, to any project the city conceives, but only to a planned, “shelf-ready project.” For example, there are no estimates for a boardwalk reconstruction the grant application could be tied to, and pier construction is still not yet designed, so it wouldn’t have been as simple as filing an application. “It wasn’t that we dropped the ball, we tried,” he said, but assuming there’d been such a possibility, he said “the entire commission is responsible.” He was critical of what he saw as the “grandstanding” that accompanied Thursday’s revelation.
The TDC grant for capital projects used to be an annual award until two years ago, when the rules in place limited applicants to a maximum of $150,000, which they could get a maximum of two times within a five-year window. When the TDC changed the rules ahead of the 2021 cycle, it scrapped all the limits: a municipality could apply every two years, and the amount of money available would depend on revenue generated, and grant amounts determined by the TDC. The rules were also changed to allow non-profits to apply.
In January 2021, the TDC elected to settle on the $739,000 pot, or 80 percent of what was in the capital fund pot overall. The rest would remain as reserves.
While there is still a chance for some of the money to go Flagler Beach’s way, pending the decisions of the TDC (Bryan will not have a vote on that matter, since it would be a conflict) and the County Commission, “it’s roulette,” Lukasik said. “You do take the chance.”
Flagler Beach, over taxed and under performs.
R. Shaw says
Whitson & Dockhorn should be sent packing immediately. I bet they didn’t “forget” to pick up their paychecks every week. What are they doing everyday to let FREE💰money $lide right through their fingers & then the fireworks 💥? 3 strikes. Irresponsible lackadaisical no responsibility no excuse. GO.
WOW! Dropped the ball again and I don’t think they have to look to far for a remedy. No Fireworks, No Grant, screwed up golf course, what else has Flagler Beach missed out on?
I bet they dint miss out on raising property tax
Scott Spradley is 150% correct once again about this city manager Whitson, and Amy Lukisik was doing her job overtime in asking and reminding Whitson and his new assistant several times about the grant. Imagine losing this opportunity to acquire free money for the improvements of Flagler Beach. Another SLOPPY JOB Whitson, if you and your new assistant can’t do the job get out! Total incompetency , there’s really no excuse.
Blame it on covid like all the other a-holes!!!!!
My God! That’s a loss of nearly two dumpster pads the Commission could have steered to insiders!
This is the most embarrassing thing to hear. As a FB resident for almost 20 years this tops it all. We missed the fireworks show because the city waited till the last minute. We lost lifeguard funds because the city failed to plan for growth. We have turned down at least 3 opportunities to annex our city and our residents just sat back and bitched about it. And now this. Something is wrong here people. And while I am at it let’s explore what the city pays its employees. Firefighters make approximately $53,000 a year starting. Police Officers making appropriate $45,000 a year starting. For gods sake either give all of our services to the county if you can’t handle it. Explain this to me. A city Police car is always sitting at the bottom of the west side of the bridge. Does anyone know the reason? I do. There are cameras that catch people with expired tags,suspended licenses,ect. Instead of policing outlets back streets they are too busy worrying about if someone gets past the tag readers. What happened to the motorcycle unit Flagler beach had? That’s right the new police chief dismantled that unit less than a year after being hired. With that said onto the fire department. That fire department was all volunteer and handled the job just fine. And for whatever the reason the city made it a paid fire department. Since the Flagler beach fire department when all paid the increase in the call volume has gone up approximately 13.8%. If you want to know how I got that number just ask I don’t have the paperwork by me right now. Flagler beach has lost their minds and my wife and I are confident that we will be selling and moving to a small city and hopefully wherever we end up they will have just a tad of common sense.
Wow if a business had managers like this there would be some pissed off clients. Help was offered… Holy moly. I blame city manager and staff. Red flags anyone…
Looks like the city manager need to go, malfeasance of duty.
Unbelievable who votes these incompetent people into office. No fireworks because they messed up and now this.
OMG, why is the city council so dysfunctional and timid? Whitson just cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollar!
“No, it just wasn’t enough time for me to apply,” Whitson said. Has he not heard of the phrase “burning the midnight oil” when required to do your job!
Git rid of him and hire a competent administrator before he costs us hundreds of thousands more.
I call BS says
Another bad City Manager, you are supposed to be managing these things.
Bad decisions cost us money!
Another Pissed Resident says
Id like to hear more of how Ken Bryan the Cities Council member sitting on the Tourist Development Council dropped the ball? Could he be “too busy” worrying about the County zoned Gardens development in his backyard to be bothered with a $750k grant for the rest of the City? Last night he shrugged it off like it was no big deal, like $750k grants come along everyday while defending himself and the city Manager for being incompetent.
Rick Belhumeur says
The City Manager was given three additional staff members this year to help ease his workload and the City still missed out on hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s not like he didn’t know about it. Why wasn’t our City’s representative on the TDC, Ken Bryan, all over the City Manager to apply. Inexcusable
You gotta be fri(&(*ing kidding me.
Who hires these klutzes? And why? and how can they be gotten rid of?
Poor leadership and accountability across the board. It takes an entire team, Working together be proactive. Everyone gets busy, but you have to make time for the important things that you are paid to do to benefit the public and tax paying citizens you serve.
Chris Conklin says
Wow. It’s time to start looking for a new city manager. God I miss Larry Newsome not just as a good friend but as a great city manager. If grants can’t be applied for on time with an extension what will happen if we need to rebuild A1A again after a storm. No excuse for this.
Cuban Pete says
Poor Flagler beach, always the bridesmaid. At least they haven’t bought any buildings. Grants don’t just write themselves. You need someone on staff who knows how to do that specialized skill. More people does not always translate into more capabilities.
Before playing the blame game, have the city manager write an after action report explaining the failure, lessons learned and proposed solutions. If he can’t self evaluate and problem solve, you have found your problem. It’s very possible you don’t have a very good city manager, but you get what you pay for both in terms of financial remuneration and effort in recruiting top talent.
Tina olive says
Sounds like the city of Palm Coast aren’t the only ones with total Dumbasses on their boards….Sounds like you have 2, We have 5!!!!! What are we paying for?
Linda Hagman says
It’s obvious this job is way beyond Whitson’s capabilities. The excuse of “he’s new, give him a chance, blah, blah, blah is over”. He’s incompetent and blatantly arrogant. He totally ignores the concerns of residents …he needs to be reminded he works for us…the taxpayers. We the taxpayers need to say…you’re fired.
This administration looks like a bad re-run of the “Gong Show” of old. Time to clean house!
This is a disaster….the entire City Council , Mayor should had this on their calendar s for updates starting in March. Checkpoints leading to TDC submission should have been an agenda item every month in FB meetings. Checks & balances…This is basic stuff…
Ms. Lukasik tried … too bad for FB
tom dooley says
Boo Hoo the New Cm missed an opportunity that comes around every year per Ken. Whoop DE doo. It’s a witch hunt now because 1 city commissioner will lose money on July 4th because the fire works wont be happening. The cm put this on the city staff and they failed but he was man enough to take the fall. Now 3 losers want the cm fired? Great what will that get the city? the same loser intern cm after Larry or the same loser cm before BC? I say either man up and run for cm or stfu. No I’m not complaining my wife and i are “loving it”. See You On The Beach!!!
FB did it on purpose. They dont like the influx of out of towners moving to FB and PC. They just cut off their nose to spite their faces. The olde gaurde generation after generation behaves the same way they always do. Names of leadership change but attitudes do not.
We need more people to attend the commission meeting , 20 people out of approx 4-5 k residents is not enough to show we care and will hold they accountable. We need to run this city as a business. We can’t be losing grants /$$ on golf course / pier . A1A FDOT areas in the south area looks terrible and over growing with weeds in drains . How will they do with a tropical storm . Need to hold FDOT to do their job . I asked numerous times about using county prisoners to do general maintenance to be told their not doing that , made phone calls & it’s a another lie . We need to get on their schedule and they will do maintenance work on A1A . This town is a gem let’s get our act together now
Flagler Beach is just…sad. The Mayor and the boyfriend on council together, the residents are wacky as hell. There’s mobile homes all over the place, and they fight the building of actual houses. The golf course…then Ken Bryan being in the TDC and they still missed the extended deadline. 4th of July…just a regular dumpster fire over there.
Well, I don’t know… I still like the place dude. Those mobile homes aren’t as big an eyesore in my opinion as they are a danger to the folks that live in them… which they probably pay dearly to do so.
Just curious why we invested so much money into the splash pad to let it sit and rot.
That’s in Palm Coast.
George Hanns says
“ Security is command responsibility “
General George Armstrong Custer
Laugh or cry ? says
Well, the good news is that we know now the Flagler Beach and Palm Coast City Councils earn equally use less. If we switched a few members would anyone notice ?
Now that’s Leadership 🙄
WOW. WHAT A MESS!!!!!!!!! Keep on letting these people RUN.. I MEAN RUIN OUR FLAGLER BEACH!! That’s what they are doing!! Cutting down on lifeguards, No fireworks… WOW.. WHAT’S NEXT FLAGLER??? A TOTAL CLUSTER!!!!!
There’s no grant issued anywhere without strings attached. I want to know what the requirements are to get this money. If it’s doubling the cost of the project due to a laundry list of things like other grants have, we need to see it.