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Water Wars, Side B: Why a Subdivision With 10% of Bunnell’s Residents Is Suing the City

| April 14, 2011

Isolated in plain sight: Palm Terrace is located along State Road 100 on the eastern outskirts of Bunnell. (FlaglerLive)

Friday morning, Flagler County Circuit Judge Dennis Craig will be introduced to Flagler’s famous water wars, Bunnell style. A hearing is scheduled in Craig’s courtroom pitting Bunnell against 10 percent of its residents.

Palm Terrace is one of the larger mobile home communities in the county. You see its dual palm-flanked signs off the north side of State Road 100, near the Bunnell water tower. There are some 120 homes in there, and about 250 residents. Bunnell’s population, as of 2010, was 2,676. Bunnell annexed the subdivision in 1984.

For the last quarter century residents of Palm Terrace have been paying their water bill directly to the city. Each home has its own water meter. That’s not unusual. Bunnell’s Pine Forest mobile home community of some 100 lots (but fewer actual homes) is billed the same way. So is Surfside Estates on the beachside, and Plantation Oaks, a larger community on Old Kings Road that’s in Flagler Beach but gets its water, and its water bills, from Volusia County.

Bunnell also services Palm Terrace’s lift station, or sewer pump.

Exactly two years ago, Bunnell sent letters to Palm Terrace residents informing them  that it would no longer service the pump. That responsibility would be that of the Palm Terrace owner’s, “although the city of Bunnell in prior years had been providing services as a courtesy, it is not legally required to do so,” Bill Green, the city’s utilities director, wrote the residents. “Please direct all future complaints concerning your sewer system to the Palm Terrace Mobile Home Park management.”

Speaking about the case earlier this week, Sid Nowell, Bunnell’s attorney, said: “Unfortunately the city did maintain the lift station on this property, but mistakenly so.” When reviewing the city’s finances, the discrepancy was noted. “Why should the public bear the cost of maintaining a private lift station?”

In addition, residents were told, and to comply with unspecified regulations “placed on the city of Bunnell by the Department of Environmental Protection,” the whole park would have a single, master water meter. The individual homes’ water meters would no longer be read. The park would receive a single bill. The park’s management would be responsible for paying it in full. And the management would be responsible for billing its residents and collecting the money. The way the city sees it, the park could take the one bill, divide it by its number of residents and bill residents accordingly.

That direct billing would start in early spring.

“That would be blatantly unfair,” says Palm terrace owner George Lorbeck, “in that residents who might be very frugal might be paying for somebody else who is very wasteful, and that type of thing would encourage waste rather than conservation.” Lorbeck has another concern: If there is a resident who doesn’t pay water bill, the city can shut them off. I don’t think have that right without going to court first which would be burdensome and costly.” Lorbeck has owned Palm Terrace since 2003.

City Manager Armando Martinez told Lorbeck that cost-cutting is compelling the city to do things differently.

Bunnell's new water meter, a "monstrosity" at the entrance of the Palm Terrace mobile home park, in the park's owner's words. (FlaglerLive)

It may not be that simple. When the city annexed Palm Terrace, it did so with conditions. An August 31, 1984 letter from the attorney of previous owner of the subdivision to the city lays out the terms of the annexation agreement and explicitly states: “The city will take over, operate and maintain the lift station.” An expansion was planned at the time, but 96 units would be grandfathered in with all the benefits they enjoyed at the time. The city was expecting to profit from an annual windfall through added tax revenue from Palm Terrace. “The city would stand to gain a net profit of about $28,000 or more per year, each year,” read an annexation feasibility report from 1984. ($28,000 in 1984 is the equivalent of $60,000 in inflation-adjusted current dollars.) The feasibility study restates the provision that the mobile home park would turn over the lift station to the city.

There was another advantage, as the city saw it, to the annexation: “This annexation will extend our ‘reach,’” the feasibility study concluded, “so that in the future, if you wanted to annex more, you could.” The annexation was approved unanimously by the city commission.

Based on that past, Palm Terrace is suing Bunnell to prevent the new system from kicking in.

But the lawsuit doesn’t have clear-cut documentation on which to base its claims. The documents it does cite are not official city policies. They’re correspondence and reports in advance to the annexation agreement. There is no annexation agreement with explicit definitions of the city’s responsibilities as opposed to the mobile home park’s. “Some of the provisions of that agreement may have been verbal,” the lawsuit states.

Friday morning, the two sides are appearing before Judge Craig as Lorbeck attempts to get a stay on the new billing procedure, pending the outcome of the lawsuit.

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14 Responses for “Water Wars, Side B: Why a Subdivision With 10% of Bunnell’s Residents Is Suing the City”

  1. New to PC says:

    Once again the great city of bunnell is trying to screw over there citizens. not surprising with that snake martinez at the top. These citizens need to ban together and demand the commision to force his resignation. I read this news source and you can always bet on reading a story about this poor city and the people who run it. Hopefully Rogers and Tucker can bring some smarts to the board and solve some of these problems. Good luck to the residents of Bunnell.

    One question!!! If martinez was removed of his law enforcement status why is he still driving a city car with reb and blue police lights? Maybe these are things the residents should be asking.

  2. palm terrace resident says:


  3. another palm terrace resident says:

    i agree with “resident” me as a senior citizen on social security living alone have to pay the same as a family of 5? also when the city tore up the street to put in thier new metering systen, why havent they fixed the road ?? i am afraid to drive over it because it is SOOOO bumpy now

  4. bunnell resident says:

    it seems the city manager likes to cut costs every where except his own salary. if anyone is leaving bunnell please take the city manager with you.

  5. palm terrace resident says:

    Question??? how did mr martinez get involved in this? i have know Armando for many years when he was a police officer in miami. he too is caught up in the politics. but what does he have to do with the water issue in Palm Terrace?? An August 31, 1984 letter from the attorney of previous owner of the subdivision to the city lays out the terms of the annexation agreement and explicitly states: “The city will take over, operate and maintain the lift station.” there is no expiration date for this so why are things changing? we need to stand together as friends and neighbors here in pal terrace and fight this!!!!

  6. Butch says:

    Bunnell always gets itself into trouble because it continues to be lead by incompetence in nearly every department. Until they learn to hire and promote capable people, they will continue to run into these types of issues. Yes, its time for Martinez and a couple of his close friends to go.

  7. Anonymous says:

    It all starts at the top. The City Commission would do all the residents a favor by selecting a professional city manager this time around. Perhaps someone belonging to the ICMA.

  8. bunnell resident says:

    The city of bunnell reminds me of the ship titanic,sinking fast and not enough life boats. But this is no surprise,this is what happens when barney fife starts playing city manager.As i remember several years ago when Syd Crosby was running the show,Martinez said one of them was going to have to go. It kinda looks like the wrong one left doesn’t it. I think where Syd ran in to problems with our great city commission was when they found out he had a quality they hated,the man was honest. I think also Syd was shaking too many trees and our city officals and commissioners were starting to wonder who was going to fall out first.———–

  9. palmcoaster says:

    If the 1984 annexation documents provided for the servicing of the water system by the city of Bunnell I think that is unfair to change partners now in the middle of this dance.
    Then if so, is the city’s responsibility today to provide that utility service. Also I see it unfair that one bill should be divided equally among those resident as there is allways disparity in the usage from one to another. This case recalls to my memory of the unfairness inflicted upon residents of Palm Coast as well on a different issue but nonetheless very unfair for those Palm Coasters that bought their homes or land at higher prices around the Matanzas Golf Course and now have to endure and abandoned closed golf course overtaken by an eyesore weed waste land that surrounds their homes. Here in our Palm Harbor Golf Course we banded together hundreds of us, to resolve the same issue and we were successful and forced the developer to donate the land to the city and the golf course was reopened under the city (us taxpayers) ownership and is working fine so far and I believe self sufficient with income generating to sustain itself.
    My advise is that we need to battle for what we “were sold” and succeed! Good luck in your endeavors to the Bunnell residents and hope also the Matanzas Woods home owners would do the same to recover their golf course by addressing that issue with the city and the last or current owner of the abandoned golf course. What an unjustice done to tax payers and the further erosion of their properties values.

  10. lawabidingcitizen says:

    … Plantation Oaks, a larger community on Old Kings Road that’s in Flagler Beach…

    Although Plantation Oaks residents have a Flagler Beach address, it is, in fact, not in Flagler Beach. It is located in unincorporated Flagler County.

    Those doubting this to be a fact are welcome to verify it with the Flagler Beach city clerk.

  11. curious says:

    Syd Crosby was never the answer. Martinez has brought a lot of good to Bunnell and made it stand tall as theCouty Seat. However, people like George have enjoyed years of pleasures without consequences, from building permits and so on… Residents o fPalm Terrace need to understand that their owner has always cut corners and been crooked. Palm Coasters, get off the wagon. You have no clue what Bunnell stands for and you have ruined the County as we know it.

  12. Enough Is Enough says:

    Curious what department do you work for finance, water,public works, the police? How many of your personell friends or even family members work for the city? Syd knew how crooked Armondo and Flynt were and was gonna fire the dictator but the girls on the board bailed him out. The mayor will wake up sooner or later or does Armondo have dirt on her? We might just have to bear with him till the next election replace the mayor and a certain incompetent commissioner btw 10 per cent of the population can vote them all out till now will watch this man bring some more good people to Bunnell like Nasby Armondo’s hire, and let stand tall, like he watched the Murrays and Flynt steal from the public and do ansolutely nothing about it just circle the wagon. Is enough of this junk enough call your city commissioner and demand his resignation, he might have dirt or favors on them but call them any ways.

  13. bunnell resident says:

    Enough Is Enough you could not have said it better. I just wonder which one of the commisioners is aka curious.They are about the only ones in bunnell that think martinez is doing a fine job.

  14. curious says:

    The arrogant and sef serving will never win. The OLD DAYS are GONE. Get over it Syd lovers and Bunnell resident. Wonder how many meetings you attend and how many times you really research the issues. I know…. Martinez is Hispanic and you all Yahoos still think we are in the 60’s. I am ashamed of the Bunnell families that still think that way and proud to be a long time resident and family in Bunnell. Get on board or leave us all alone. Bunnell is moving forward and you will be left behind as you deserve.

    By the way, I am a resident of Bunnelll, third generation as a matter of fact and do not work for the City, so get over it!

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