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Angering Grand Haven, Palm Coast
Stops Short of Full Stormwater Fee Refunds

| March 1, 2011

Grand Haven residents got drips instead of a committment.

An overflow crowd of Grand Haven residents filled the council’s chamber at the Palm Coast Community Center Tuesday evening to voice indignation at a proposed stormwater ordinance the city was ready to approve for the second and final time tonight. The city was admitting that since 2004, it had charged Grand Haven residents (and others around town) a stormwater fee they should not have been charged. But the city was ready to pay them back only for fees paid from 2008 on.

After numerous angry—but civil—comments from Grand Haven residents, many of them rich in analogies about embezzlement and fairness, the council barely backed down. It would immediately make good on the money it owes Grand Haven residents back to 2008. But it would only try to figure out a way to make good on money owned from 2004 to 2008, and it would do so only in late summer, when it discusses its future budget. That’ll be difficult financially for a city no longer rolling in cash.

An attempt by council member Frank meeker to table the proposed ordinance for two months and have city staff revise it to ensure that payments can be made back through 2004 went nowhere. He was also proposing to pay back other residents in the city who’d been unfairly charged, but gradually, over the following budget year. Neither proposal got support on the council.

Bill Lewis proposed that the ordinance be accepted as written, making back payments only through 2008, understanding that the administration would then study the issue and “if necessary, refund those funds going back to 2004 after we’ve done the proper research.” Lewis’s if necessary wording left the city plenty of wiggle room, qualifying the notion of re-payments going back to 2004 to a possibility rather than a certainty.

“The commitment,” Landon said, “is that we’ll start working on how we’re going to make it happen for ’04, and that’s going to be part of a budget discussion.” That means as the city begins discussing next year’s budget, likely from a position no brighter than it did this year’s, it will have to figure out what money could be made available for those repayments—and, more than likely, what pot or what service it would be withdrawn from.

“I think what they did was put us out on the backburner,” Tom Lawrence, a long-time resident of Grand Haven, said. “The motion that Frank Meeker proposed was definitive. To me, that was wonderful. I can understand that you can’t expect seven years of refund in one year, OK, that’s cool, but tell me what you’re going to do and do it. What we got instead was, we’ll think about it at budget time and kind of in parenthesis there was a maybe. So I feel like the Grand Haven community was let down by tonight’s action.”

Lawrence added: “I think there will be ramifications at the polls in November.”

Earlier in the evening, Lawrence had appeared before the council as a representative of the Grand Haven Community Development District, and  had finished his remarks by putting a number to the community’s political power: “We have 1901 residential properties. We have over 2200 voters, and we are very active voters. We have been very patient.” He was interrupted by applause. “All of our residents are following this year’s issue and expect you our elected officials to do the right thing for our community.”

Another Grand Haven resident and member of the district’s board put it this way: “Your obligation is to take care the people of Palm Coast including Grand Haven. Do not treat us as a separate part that you can use as a golden goose. You took the money. We want the money. It’s as simple as that.” He recognized that the way of financing the matter would be a problem for the council. “But that’s not a problem for the people of Grand Haven. I just think it’s an obligation, a moral obligation on your part, to come up with some kind of restitution for an illegally placed fee on our community.”

Landon had set the stage for the approval of the ordinance with crisp words to the council:

“You aren’t required to give a refund at all, first of all. It was something we agreed to do.” He also noted that the council can’t raise the fee retroactively on those who didn’t pay their fair share, but they do have the option of making rebates. The cost of making good on those rebates going back to 2008, according to Landon: “probably closer to $2 million. If you were to go back to 2004, that would kick up to the total cost, we’re estimating would be another additional million, million and a half, or around $3 million. We do not have $3 million in the stormwater fund as that was not anticipated.” Beginning in 2008, the city put aside money it knew it would have to pay back. It did not do so before 2008. “The fact of it is that the dollars that were collected in 2004, 05, 06 and 07 have already been spent,”  Landon said.

If the council was intent on doing so, it could, but it would have to significantly cut back the program, Landon said. The other option is to raise the fees on everybody else and generate the money owed through rebates that way. In a final “If you want to direct us to go a different direction, whether that’s adding it to property tax or raising fees etcetera you can give us that direction, but that’s kind of where we are tonight.”

Curiously, the city’s position adds up to something of a financial puzzle: It doesn’t have $3 million to pay back money it was not supposed to take from residents, but it does have $10 million to build a city hall residents don’t necessarily want built at the expense of more needed services. The city hall dollars are in the pot, according to Landon. That pot was not mentioned Tuesday night.

23 Responses for “Angering Grand Haven, Palm Coast
Stops Short of Full Stormwater Fee Refunds”

  1. PC MAN says:

    Grand Haven is a tea bagger haven. Also am I the only one who knows the story of the goose that lays golden eggs and NOT the golden goose. It seems every right wing goofball from Rush on down can not catch on to that fact.

  2. says:

    Trust , it is totally gone, all the politicians in this city are lying like a rug. this is disgraceful .

  3. JR says:

    “You aren’t required to give a refund at all, first of all.” — It sounds like King Landon wasn’t happy that the City Council was even thinking about — thinking about — returning what amounts to stolen money. If it was his salary that was mistakenly mishandled he would probably have been singing a different tune. When will the Palm Coast government — the real, elected one — stand up to Landon’s pushover tactics?

  4. tindassociates says:

    A fee that was illegally placed upon the Grand Haven community (over 2200 voters) for the period of 7 years and the answer is “You aren’t required to give a refund at all”. They also claim the money has been long spent and the expense would need to be passed on to the tax payers / storm water users.

    Yet, we have the money to build a 10 million dollar City hall that is not wanted and unnecessary. Perfect example of how out of touch this council and City management team are.

  5. palm coaster says:

    First of all as a Palm Coast resident outside Grand Haven I totally refuse to be taxed to fund a Grand Haven refund of any kind, that yet is not clarify on detail to the rest of us in this city what overcharge in the utilities was for.
    I also understand and please Mr. Meeker and the rest of the council, clarify to us if is true that we all Palm Coast residents built and are forced to maintain the “roads infrastructure” inside Grand Haven that we can’t access and utilize because the guards at the gates will denied entry unless we are a Grand Haven resident. If this is correct then we all need to have a referendum to charge Grand Haven the cost to build and maintain those roads since its inception as a “gated community”. If this information I have is incorrect then my suggestion above should have no merit. But if I am correct and we are paying for this gated community road maintenance, lets stop it right now and get our big $$$ refund too.
    Respectfully waiting for an answer and thank you in advance.

  6. palm coaster says:

    We all have to pay storm water fees. We have canals and swell and retention ponds in Palm Coast as well as they have inside Grand Haven. Maybe because the Tea Party seats there they should be exempted?

  7. Rob says:

    Aside from them being teabagger haven, which is probably true. I smell lawsuit.

    Pay the residents with the money that was going to be spent on that grand town hall that Landon has been ramming down the citizens throats. ( With the help of the town council who didn’t even have it listed as one of their priorities as goals for the town)

    I wrote about it yesterday and will write it again today. Meeker, even if you agree or disagree with him, is the only person who shows any semblance of leadership. He appears to invoke a rational thought process. Although I don’t agree entirely on his position of building a town hall now.

  8. Lin says:

    Thank you for a factual representation of the City Council meeting last evening. Yes, this money that is “in the pot” for the new City Hall is “where?” The City Council and Landon are talking out of both sides of their mouths. Thank you again Mr. Meeker for attempting to do the right thing by the citizens.

    Whether someone lives in Grand Haven or in another part of the City of Palm Coast — if unjustly charged fees by the City, the City needs to return the money to the homeowners, all of it.

    The sexually derogatory insults (read jealousy) to the people of Grand Haven are besides the point. What is right is right. If someone is overcharged, the honorable thing to do is give the money back.

    By the way, the City did not build, and does not maintain the roads in Grand Haven.

  9. 2FLBikers says:

    Unrelated to this specific discussion, but along the lines of Palm Coaster’s comment…

    Can anyone tell me whether the City of Palm Coast or Flagler County taxes funded the repaving and landscaping of the Hammock Bridge. This is a private bridge, hence the toll.

    Was curious, but unsure of how to best seek an answer. Thanks!

  10. Joe says:

    Virtually every issue of the Observer has articles regarding the current city and county administrators wanting to raise taxes, spend $ to lure industry here, build a new city hall, etc.

    I moved here 10 years ago to get away from industry. This was supposed to be a retirement community.

    The city fathers want to build a new city hall instead of renting the current location @ $240,000 a year. At $240,000 a year, it would take over 40 years to eat up that ten million they want to spend on a city hall and, by that time they would want to build another city hall. Use the $10,000,000 to pay back all Palm Coast residents who were hoodwinked into paying those phoney “storm water” fees….such a scam!

    Those elected officials who are in favor of spending money and raising taxes need to go. The city manager who thinks he can push thru major projects without a vote, also needs to go.

    The talk of the city establishing its own police department is ridiculous. Do the city fathers have any financial brains at all? The cost of building a police station, a jail, buying vehicles and other police equipment, salaries for the police and staff, AND pensions for all would be a financial nightmare for the taxpayers. Let the Sheriff do his job.

    And why does the fire engine go out every time there is a call for an ambulance? Another waste of my tax dollars.

  11. 91LX says:

    Joe- About the fire truck/ambulance deal, i was told that it is mandatory for some reason. One can’t go without the other. Once again I was told this, so take it how you wish.

  12. New media needs to be held accountable says:

    I am confused. I watched the whole meeting. What I got out of it is that the current Council Members and City Manager inherited an issue by previous admin. They are going to pay back to 2004, but 2008 first then, budget for the refund to 2004. Not just Grand Haven is involved. Mr. Landon said something about some developers will get the big bucks. How much is the refund to Grand Haven owners Is this the $35 a year that we all paid? I got a kick out of the lady who said they are not the cash cows. I also think it’s interesting that Grand Haven residents are very particular when they WANT to be a part of the City and when they DON’T. Seems to me it depends on the agenda at hand.

  13. Lin says:

    Was told today by toll taker at Hammock Bridge that bridge is owned by Hammock Dunes and was redone by them.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Looks like no one on the city government can come up with an answer yet regarding who built and maintains currently Grand Haven road infrastructure.

  15. palm coaster says:

    As per today’s Palm Coast Observer looks like Linda Jarosz manager of a 50 doctors office in Town Center expects also to receive a $22,000 refund as well and even “when it may mean an increase in our utility fees to the rest of us storm water paying customers in Pam Coast”. I think our 30,000 plus households and users potentially punished and forced to pay for this, need to show up at an special council meeting, As I understand only the big developers and Grand Haven were present demanding these refunds. So what about the rest of us? Are Palm Coasters aware of the potential incoming increases in our “storm water” fees line, shown in our water bills? Current cost is $8/month.
    Grand Haven may have 2,200 voters as said in the meeting but Palm Coast has over 35,000 and we sure count! Just we have not been made aware of these issues that involves us to pay for the refund.
    Please call your city council and request information regarding the veracity of facts for the exclusion an costly refund of these storm water fees if or not politically or money power pushed on the backs of all of us. Threat of lawsuits should not be a deterrent…as we all in Palm Coast are supposed to have a City Attorney working for us. What is his opinion on the issue? We need to have a clear explanation and documentation from our storm water engineering department, showing Palm Coasters which water shed serves who and why some (the elite) have to be exempted from the fees. And this report should be totally exempted from any land developer or gated community applied pressured due to incoming elections..

  16. Lin says:

    The Observer also quotes City Manager Landon “We knew in 2008 to set money aside” (for refunds).
    The city is trying to conform to court rulings that require those fees to reflect USAGE..

    If the City knew since at least back to 2008 that they would have to give this money back — and they were unjust in collecting it, why did that continue?

    The gated communities and some other property owners DO NOT USE the city’s stormwater system — Grand Haven has its own system. That is why they are due a refund. The City Council and Manager need to know how to conform to the law and do right by the citizens that were overcharged rather than those unfairly charged subsidizing the rest of palm coast.

    As far as the “elite” comment — Seinfeld called Gated communities “minimum security prisons” LOL — but the homeowners deserve equal treatment under the law.

  17. New media needs to be held accountable says:

    If anyone paid attention you’d not have been in the dark about this. It’s been out in the open since 2008.

  18. Sue says:

    All residents benefit from the stormwater maintenance and should pay.
    Grand Haven residents use Palm Coast roadways, shopping centers, parks, and every other amenity.
    Whats the big stink? We pay taxes every day, local, state and federal for things we never actually use, but it keeps the nation running.

  19. palmcoaster says:

    I just happened to learn that City of Palm Coast attorney stated that the city “is not obligated” to refund o neither exempt the fees” Then why is that some councilmen voted yes for the refund and the exemption that ultimately will be charged as additional fees in us all users? I was told that Mr. Meeker and Mrs Distefano voted yes…. City council please clarify. Originally we were developed by the Levy company and ITT as a whole entire project of canals, drainage ditches, retention ponds, under the road culverts…all interconnected. There are not drainage culverts under Colbert Lane from west to east?
    This vote took place simply because the rest of us 30,000 plus households and voters in Palm Coast outside of these to be exempted areas, were not properly informed and were not present representing us that will have to fund this decision. Our councilmen voted to satisfy the only the one’s present. Just one line in our water bill newsletter or bill would have informed us of these important meetings since 2008.
    If our city attorney says city is not obligated to pay…then just don’t, otherwise we all, outside Grand H. and wherever else that cries fowl, will have to foot these refunds and exemptions.!

  20. Lin says:

    Yes, GH residents use roads, shopping centers, etc. and GH residents pay taxes along with everyone else. But this fee is not a tax. Note Florida Statute 403.0893. I agree, why the big stink — fix the unfair application of fees. I don’t ask anyone to pay my utilities (water, phone, electric, cable) and I don’t want to pay for anyone else.

    According to the City of Palm Coast website, “The Mission of the City Attorney is to provide high quality, timely, professional, cost effective legal representation to the City Council, the City Manager and other officials of Palm Coast.”

    I don’t see anything about the City Attorney representing the CITIZENS or TAXPAYERS of Palm Coast. So my opinion of his legal opinion benefits keeping the status quo — even though, City Officials acknowledge knowing about this overcharge since 2008. And the City continues to overcharge a portion of the community.

    After reading the Mission Statement, I feel that the Citizens of Palm Coast are just paying for the City Officials Errors & Omission Insurance (paying the City Attorney) covering themselves. Here in our little City of Palm Coast, we have too many layers of government. We should be voting for the City Manager and perhaps even the City Attorney and their fiduciary should be to the citizens and taxpayers, not each other. Did the City Attorney advise the City to continue to charge the fee to property owners that did not use the service?

    Seems like they are covering for each other especially the City Attorney. The good part is it looks like they are being forced to do the right thing & pay back the money. At the “New City Hall” presentation a couple of months ago, the city had money in the pot partially from utility reserves — no loans necessary to build this $10Million Hall we don’t need. Now, even though they knew since 2008 the citizens were unjustly being charged and they had to return the money — they charged them again & again. And they are threatening layoffs & raising the stormwater fees for all residents, Which is it? Either there are reserves in the city or not?

    The City Council meetings are open to everyone. There’s lots of info on Flaglerlive, Observer & dare I say, the News-Journal.

  21. Just Another Voting Citizen says:

    PC Man says
    Grand Haven is tea bagger haven.

    I think an appropriate name would be The Grand Wizards of Tea Bagger Haven.

    These less government at all costs crowd want to severely cut spending.

    Well here is a golden opportunity. Just forgive the debt. Why let government increase spending to satisfy a so-called debt that the city attorney says the city is not obligated to pay.

    A picture in the Palm Coast Observer shows the grandest of wizards exhorting on members of his group during the council meeting. And it appears that the town council caved in.

    Is the city paying back all of the builders who were overcharged building fees over the past several years? I don’t think so. What makes this group any different?

  22. fair minded says:

    I get what Landon said about not having to pay was in response to one of the council members making it like they HAD to do it … so let’s do it. I think he was making the point that they had the right to choose, that is his job. He cannot and should not mislead them. That said, I also got that they all feel it is the right thing to do and intend on doing the refund it was just about details. yet again, everyone spouts hatred, annoyance, aggravation and yet how many watched or attended the meetings, how many called your council member to voice your opinion? They do care what you think because you can take them out of office. I think Landon is doing a good job – he’s not the enemy and no matter what he decides there are a loud group to go against him. My biggest questions is … why would anyone want that job?

  23. palmcoaster says:

    Landon correctly said city utility does not have to pay, because the city attorney stated it that “we are not obligated to pay” So why then just because the rest of Palm Coasters were not present council had to give in to the Gran Haven and developers presence only? This time Landon was correct and probably had the rest of us absent, in mind as this decision is not fair.

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