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Flagler County Government Faces Potential $3.3 Million Gap as Stresses and Needs Endure

| April 9, 2012

After five years of the Great Recession, Flagler County's symbol, like the county's infrastructure and services, is getting a bit scrawnier. But more of the same may be ahead.

As local governments have shrunk since the beginning of the Great Recession, budget discussions have ballooned, taking up to half a year’s worth of governments’ calendars: the Flagler County School Board had its first budget overview last week, with three months to go in the fiscal calendar. The Flagler County Commission had its first overview this morning, with six months to go before the new budget kicks in.

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Both governments are facing more cuts: the school board is looking for $1.6 million (in a roughly $95 million budget). County Administrator Craig Coffey told commissioners today that the county is facing “challenges” of up to $3.3 million, out of total county expenses—including the sheriff’s budget and that of other constitutional officers such as the tax collector and the property appraiser—of $65.2 million.

“Challenges” is another word for extra dollars that may have to be spent, even as government continues to shrink. The problems: property values continue to fall—not by nearly as much as they have in the previous three years, but they’re declining nonetheless, reducing county revenue by $2 million. The county is also leaning toward awarding employees their first cost of living raises in three years. That would cost an extra $750,000, at least. Additional potential costs include fuel-cost increases, electricity cost increases (Florida Power & Light is seeking a substantial hike in its base rates), and increases to the local cost of Medicaid, the health program for the poor. That bill could rise by $250,000.

That’s not all. Further down the line a proposed amendment to the constitution, which has a strong chance of passing this fall—as all tax-cutting amendments have passed—would reduce local tax revenue by an additional $1.1 million. Slow economic growth, changes to the health care law and further property value reductions could amplify shortfalls.

Craig Coffey. (© FlaglerLive)

Commissioners didn’t talk about how they’d pay for it all. That’s a discussion for another day. Today’s workshop was also designed to figure out how much time commissioners would spend on the budget this year. In the past two years, they’ve devoted nine budget workshops spread over more than two months to go through the budget line by line, and grill each constitutional officer individually. They’re looking to streamline that process a bit, by reducing the number of meetings by one or two. Not counting today’s or tomorrow’s meeting with other local government agencies. Tuesday’s summit is to discuss the proposed extension of the half-cent sales tax that has the county and Palm Coast at loggerheads.

That sales tax is key to another set of county expenses, especially a planned doubling of the county jail’s capacity, from 132 beds to 164, and moving the sheriff’s headquarters from his location on Justice Lane, somewhat in Bunnell’s boonies, to downtown Bunnell, in the old courthouse’s annex, if the county can finance the multi-million dollar refurbishing of that building.

The 132-bed jail costs $5 million a year to operate. Coffey estimates the cost would rise to $8 million if beds are doubled to 264.

“If the jail is expanded and if that’s going to cost us $3 million, then we have to look at” privatization, County Commissioner Alan Peterson said today, raising fir the first time an option that hadn’t been mentioned before. “I’m not saying that I necessarily agree, but I think we have to look at that option.”

“I think our jail operates very efficiently,” Coffey said, downplaying the notions of privatization. Savings can be realized in retirement and other benefits, “and those will be minimal savings that ultimately will catch up with you.” True, courthouse security was privatized, Coffey said, but the savings there were mostly in salaries: security guards are paid less than jail guards. Commissioner Milissa Holland questioned whether a doubling of jail beds is even necessary, absent hard data on who’s in jail and what the real needs are.

Coffey didn’t have a bottom line figure for a county budget: he’s having 15 to 20 budget meetings with his departments this week, he said, and the actual budget isn’t due until July. The commission is also not clear on the extent of capital projects it may be facing, beyond law enforcement and the jail. The county’s infrastructure, like that of many local governments around the state, particularly Palm Coast, has been neglected in the past several years as governments have shifted construction dollars to subsidize other areas of government. They can do that only for so long before their infrastructure becomes unsafe.

Capital projects, Holland said, “are bigger ticker items and I think will help us make those decisions if we want to take those on this year or not.”

The problem is that where a single “mil,” or dollar in tax per $1,000 in assessed value, could generate $12 million in revenue at the peak of the county’s housing boom, that same dollar generates just $6.2 million today. There are ways to make up the revenue, among them raising the tax rate, spending some of the county’s $7 million reserves, reducing staff or adding an electric “franchise fee” (essentially, a tax on customers’ utility bills, just as Palm Coast is considering).

alan peterson flagler county commission

Alan Peterson (© FlaglerLive)

Those options will be discussed in the weeks and  months ahead, in the midst of an election year that has three commissioners—Barbara Revels, who chairs the commission, George Hanns and Alan Peterson—defending their seats. So far only Hanns and Peterson have drawn opposition, but the potential for more candidates may be playing into some commissioners’ hope of reducing the number of meetings, though among all local governments, the county commission has had the most transparent method of examining the budget.  In Palm Coast, in comparison, as Coffey put it, “they have two workshops and they’re done.”

“Maybe we can fast-truck the budget process this time around, maybe not having as many budget workshops,” Revels said.

“I’m going to try to go faster this year if it’s OK with the board,” Coffey said.

“I’d like to see the same process continue,” Peterson said, “and I do want to see the constitutional officers come before us because this is the one time when they can present their budgets to the public, and their budgets and their expenses are included in the one tax bill that all residents get. So I think to include them in the entire budgetary process in some form makes sense.”

Here’s how Revels described the new budget process: “Where there are areas of the budget where there’s going to see little or no change,” she said, “it would be something that certainly will be handed out to us for review, that we could bring up if we have any questions on it. But for the things that we will sit and have discussion on would be individual departments, where there’s going to need to be a change up or down, and we’ll have the constitutionals present. That may mean one less meeting.”

“We will not hide any information, all of our sheets will be online,” Coffey said, “we’ve given you all the detailed back-up, that will all be online. All that stuff is available to the public, and we produce a very detailed budget, very broken down.”

Download Craig Coffey’s Flagler County Budget Overview, April 2012

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25 Responses for “Flagler County Government Faces Potential $3.3 Million Gap as Stresses and Needs Endure”

  1. ric says:

    Maybe you sell that Taj Mahal that was a total waste of our tax payer dollars..

  2. gator fan says:

    The tax and spend bunch is at it again. There’s so many county cops,they’re falling all over themselves and the sheriff and school board chairman making way over a hundred grand. You got to love commissioners that have a money tree for free money. But we keep voting for the same old hacks year after year so I guess we deserve what we get. I need a drink.

    • letsgetreal says:

      First, go Gators! With that out of the way, I think there is some clarification needed here. The School Board, not the County, sets the salary of the superintendent. That money comes from school taxes. Likewise, since we are a constitutional county and do not have a charter, the sheriff’s salary is set by a formula based on the population of Flagler County. As is the property appraiser’s, tax collector’s, clerk of court’s, and supervisor of elections’. The County Commission has no say in pay or compensation for the elected officials listed above.

      • letsgetreal says:

        In further clarification, the school board chairwoman does not make over $100,000. School Board members earn $32,000 (roughly) – including the chair.

      • Think first, act second says:

        Almost right now lets get real.
        The property appraiser and tax collector have their budget approved by the Florida Dept. of Revenue, FL. statute 195.087. The clerk and sheriff submits their budgets for approval to the county commission who has approval. With the clerk, they submit their budget to the Florida Clerks of Court Operations Corporation for the stateside operation and the county for the work as ex-officio clerk of the county commission and if negotiate with them, but usually there are few changes because of the presentation of realism, FL statute 28.36. The sheriff submits his budget to the county and if he has a dispute that cannot be resolved he has the right to seek relief from the Administrative Commission of the state if in disagreement. FL statute 129.03.
        Now comes the SOE, this is the only budget the county truly control and in the past 3 years has been a real treat to watch during this process. Don’t miss it when the SOE submits her budget this year, it will be another “line item budget” and if you don’t know what that refers to you really missed it last year. LGR your final comment is fully out of accuracy about the budgets, but the county does not control the pay of the constitutionals, that is set by the legislature.
        Those are the real facts, which are verifiable.

        • letsgetreal says:

          Actually, my comments are 150% correct. I was not talking about budgets, I was clarifying Gator Fan’s comments about salaries. Your comments on the budget process, while correct, are not even germane to the points I made. If you plan on calling someone out for incorrect information it is wise to make sure that your comments are even relevant to what I said.

          Also, the Legislature does have some say in the formula used to calculate the salaries of elected county constitutional officers, but that only proves my main point that the County Commission has no say in the pay each receives. For example, the Commission can deny almost anything they would like in the budget of the Supervisor of Elections, but they must at least give her enough money to pay her state mandated salary. That, they cannot dispute.

          • Think first, act second says:

            MY apologies, you are exactly right. I saw the word budget and you were talking salaries. My comments did not respond to your posts and I was wrong. But the legislature has more than SOME say in the formula. Link: Here are the opening words of this document, “The practice of determining the compensation of Florida’s county constitutional officers by state law was sanctioned by the Constitution of 1885 and has been maintained since the 1968 constitutional revision.” So you are basically right but not quite 150%. Also I found it interesting that Janet Valentine negotiated a salary of $145,000 when according to the document under this link, if she was an elected School Super. it would be $111,452 (pg 12). Quite a difference in these economic times.
            Again my apologies.

            • letsgetreal says:

              No need to apologize. After re-reading my reply, I think I came off a little harsher than I wanted. From what I quickly read of your other comments I do believe we are on the RIGHT side of issues, so to speak. Keep fighting the good fight!

              As to your point about Valentine negotiating a $145,000 salary, the rumor mill has it that this was a “thank you for your service” gift. She gets to be superintendent for at least 5 years (just enough time to make sure that her base retirement calculation is set in stone at that salary level) and then retire on over $100,000 a year for the rest of her life.

          • Tell me says:

            Are you saying as long as the SOE’s salary is paid nothing else matters, and that the board has to pay this and not worry about paying anyone or anything else?

            • letsgetreal says:

              Not at all. My point is simply that the County Commission has a line item veto on most things in the SOE’s budget except for her direct compensation.

  3. B. Claire says:

    The above article is the long version of result of:

    The killing off of the middle class in 3 short decades.

    Shouldn’t come as a huge surprise what crumbs are left at the local level.

    And if you have voted Republican during this time…you can’t say squat…YOU CAUSED THIS every step of the way. Unfortunately you drug the rest of us down with you.

    The sad irony continues to be…you still don’t even begin to get it. …as long as you have your flags & guns…you can’t vote these theives in fast enough. Now at super-speed, thieves on steriods, the nail in the coffin…the Tea Party extremists :(

    • Think first, act second says:

      .Claire, I am a Republican and I will comment.
      Look again at the chart between 1992 – 2000 Clinton’s years. See the dramatic upswing in what you are trying to vilify? It looks like your statement “YOU CAUSED THIS every step of the way” is not a true statement, just your spin on what you wanted it to be.
      Look for yourself folks, the demogaugers want you to believe there is only 1 party responsible when there is enough blame to go around. Also remember who was incomplete control of congress, not just one branch, from 2007 – 2010 when the Tea Partiers found out their irresponsibility and pressed to get them removed from office, but we digress this is about the county not the constantly condemnation of the U.S. congress.

  4. B. Claire says:

    hummm…the Taj Mahal….

    is that on Belle Terre…? Palm Coast Pkwy…?

    Don’t recall seeing that.

  5. Outsider says:

    Actually, it’s on State Road 100, just east of Bunnell. That picture is close, but without the reflecting pool.

  6. Liana G says:

    Why do we need extra prison beds? Preparing for those protesters that the law now says can be sentenced for up to 10 years in prison?

    Increase salaries for gov’t employees? Gov’t employees holding a master’s degree or lower make more than private sector employees holding the same degree holding similar employments. Private sector employees with doctorates make more than gov’t employees with doctorates, excluding doctorates in education which are not rigorous to acquire compared to doctorates in other fields.

    Also worth noting is that most gov’t jobs are staffed through cronyism and nepotism (can anyone say Greece or banana republic), enjoy job security and protection, and more national holidays. Even those who have to work on these holidays receive overtime pay. And to add insult to injury, this is off the backs of private sector employees tax dollars. And no, working for gov’t is not a noble altruistic self sacrifical undertaking. Far from it. Unless you’re in the armed forces or a firefighter and serve honorably.

    Comparing Private Sector and Government Worker Salaries (Public sector offers ironclad job security and greater pension benefits)

    Public V. Private Sector: Who’s Compensated More?

  7. JGA says:

    I have a question, letsgetreal says; ‘the sheriff’s salary is set by a formula based on the population of Flagler County. As is the property appraiser’s, tax collector’s, clerk of court’s, and supervisor of elections’ a question, letsgetreal says; ” M y question is do these salaries decrease if the population drops, or do they stay the same, I have never heard of a salary dropping because of a decline in population but i would bet Flaglers population has dropped in the last few years.

    • letsgetreal says:

      The answer to your question right now is, no. The salaries of our elected constitutional officers have not decreased. But, neither has the population in this county. The salaries of the constitutional officers have been essentially flat for the last 4 fiscal years. However, a significant increase or decrease in population at any given time can change that (just as it did in 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 (see the link below).

  8. Gia says:

    No need for jail expansion. This is not the Holiday Inn. Pack that crap like sardines. No sympathy. It’s not for the taxpayers to pay more for their crimes.

  9. palmcoaster says:

    Today at the County Emergency Center at 5.30PM the County and Cities will discuss over the fact that the county wants a bigger share of the half cent tax…meaning the county wants even more money from us in Palm Coast in spite that right now we are paying the county almost double the taxes that we pay to the city. The city has to sustain the infrastructure and services for 839 residents per square mile while the county only has 197 residents per sq mile. City is being criticized for spending 5 million in reopening our Palm Harbor golf course and bringing back the value to over 800 homes around it, when the county approved to spend 150,000 of our hard earned dollars in the city of Marineland with only about 6 residents, for that mostly private docking marina on the intracoastal. Percentage wise who waste more $$$ county or city? Now county is said, wants to spend on a jail between 15 to 25 million reported till now, but is said here only 3,000,000 and have Palm Coasters pay for it.? Also we can’t afford the Sheriff move to the old Court House right now. Wait untileconomy improves and people finds jobs! Raises por county employees to be paidf by all the unemployed in this county? Sorry, but any of those employees should be just happy to have a job. The one’s in local government upper management should even have their pays adjusted to the lower taxes collected now as a reality shock. County blunders: 500,000 in cakes across, several million on the Ginn hangar, and God knows how many over 70 million in the Rte 100 government buildings (aka Taj Mahal), Justice Center, Emergency Center etc. These bonds line, that we are still paying in our homes tax bill for decades to come. Jeez 25, 15, 3 million jail in this economy? Our jail won’t be so crowded if the county court will work more efficiently and expedite the cases as some prisoners spend in the jail 2 years or more as reported. What about the police departments of Bunnell and Flagler Beach having their own jails? Now Bunnel former jail site seats vacant in Moody Blvd….and county wants Palm Coast to pay for it with less share of the half cent tax. City of Palm Coast does not have its own Police Dept and pays extra over 2,300,000 to law enforcement additional of what we pay to the county in our homes bill, (aka the + -19,000,000) county pays the Sheriff.
    Now we even have Peterson suggesting to also privatize the jail…? Typical conservative push. Also that “taxpayers dollars swallowing airport”. In todays city agenda:
    there is some approval for the a “county access airport road.”..? How much will cost that? I thought we were broke. Still paying for the Ginn hangar on an airport that majority of tax payers do not use as there is no commercial aircraft serving us. Just those wealthy fly boys that should not be funded by broke tax payers. The tax basis of the county as the census of 2010 shows, is generated by Palm Coast tax revenue and had been paying for that all the way, while our services in our city dwindle.
    Excuse any typos, as I have no time for proof reading and feel free to document any disagreement.

  10. BS says:

    @ Palmcoaster I’m so sick and tired of hearing that saying “those employees should be just happy to have a job”, let’s talk about some of “THOSE” employees. As a former employee who was caught up in the last round of layoffs I can tell you it’s not been easy to survive. I know some of them who have been around for twenty plus years and haven’t had raises in 5-6 and even 7 years and can barley even keep ahead of paying bills and or putting food on the table for their children. They are still living on 2005/06 wages in 2012 where the cost of living has increased at least 9.5 % or more. What have they got in return for the dedication? Increased health insurance costs, Increased retirement cost’s (3%), increased tax’s IE: City, County, School. Increases in Food, Gas, Water, Electricity, Home owners and Vehicle insurances. And now to add another insult the school board added dress code requirements, and sold it to a bunch of dumb people who believed that It wouldn’t cost any additional hardships on families and their finances, another bitch for another thread. So before you bash the workers consider this, some have stayed around because they love their jobs in public service, and not for the pay, although it would have been nice for a little extra $$. I took the payout/buyout and I’m still unemployed, collecting food stamps, house in foreclosure, and owe the world. Why?? Because I was a government employee not making private workers pay. I didn’t live outside my means at all I just tried to provide for my family like everybody else. As a citizen I agree there is waste, not just in the county side, I’d say they have done some what good at attempting to reduce expenses, but there is room to cut more, but @ what expense? Now the city of Palm Coast oh yea there’s a lot of room to cut. Oh another thought please explain where we are being double taxed. As I have lived in Daytona Beach I had to pay county tax and city taxes and never heard the same old bitch of double taxation. Check your Flagler Tax bill all you will see is general fund for the county and city taxes. Enough said.

  11. B. Claire says:

    @Think first

    #1. Re: “but we digress this is about the county not the U.S. congress”

    Funding comes through annual appropriations from the state, county and federal government.

    Starting at the federal level…every Republican politician has signed that schlub Grover Norquist’s no tax pledge…It [aka the t-party] has now brought this little experiment we call the U.S. to a total standstill. Have almost killed the middle class. We must have a middle class, working, making & buying products…and paying taxes…all of us, fairly.

    Add to that, voting in the unindicted Medicare fraud king as Gov who has successfully made us under a state of all republican rule… and the downward spiral continues. Now we’re buried under two layers of ‘the top gets all, you get none.’

    #2 “the Clintons” THEY did it RIGHT. Americans working, making things, paying fair taxes, the bills getting paid. In Clinton’s final full fiscal year, fiscal year (FY) 2000, the federal budget surplus was $230 billion. The public debt decreased by this same amount — $230 billion. Unfortunately, we had to then turn that hard-earned, done via legislative compromises, surplus, over to the next President

    #3 Then ‘W’ happened and the ‘no taxes’ ‘top 1%’ guys took over. Eight years of W! He handed President Obama an earth in flames…with a little note: Now fix THIS, and make it snappy! An oh, btw Mr. One Termer, we’re not going to give you jack in cooperation, call you illegitimate, and turn FOX network on you like a rabid dog 24/7, 365 days/yr.

    • Think first, act second says:

      The Reps have killed the middle class, it is not the Reps that have caused the unemployment issues to be over 13%, real numbers not distorted ones. When was the last time a Rep Pres had 13% unemployment, which directly affects us, the middle class.
      In Obama’s first year we had a $10 Trillion debt, 3 years later it is up 160%, over $16 Trillion and there is no help for the middle class there, he has directed the spending to his donation bundlers, i.e. Solyndra and Kaiser,, Abound Solar and the $400 Million loss there, ad nauseam. 2 great ventures to protect bundlers and $1 Billion that could have been used for the middle class to increase food stamp recipients for the “food stamp Pres.”

  12. palmcoaster says:

    @BS. I never meant to infer that public employees should be fired like unfortunately you were. I have always spoken about protecting their jobs. Our public employees jobs should be preserved as generating more lay offs only create more economic downward and lack of the services we pay for in our taxes. Also if those employees and maybe one yourself , as you say, did not received raises in 5-6 and 7 years when our economy was fine and to give those raises, was afforded, then is when you should have taken your administrative and elected officials to task. Not now you lash at me instead, when the unemployment in this county is still at an illusionary 13% because they stopped counting the ones that exhausted their unemployment benefits and 1/3 or 1/4 of homes, maybe more, are vacant and in foreclosure and our government revenue keeps decreasing and so, probably does our county population as well. I just learned of several businesses closing their doors in this last week. Do you or anyone believe that more vacant store fronts will sustain the local government budgets?
    Maybe other than laying off employees like yourself, the administration should have given a pay cut to upper management making over 70,000/year and stop wasting money in presumptuous capital projects ahead of time. Also what about really bidding out their county health care insurance provider?
    I did NOT say I was/am double taxed neither. I am not asking for less taxes. What I am saying is that of my house tax bill, Flagler County gets too much of a share as the county receives almost double the taxes I pay to my City of Palm Coast. When in Daytona Beach my small place pays same amount of taxes to Daytona as pays to Volusia Cty. Do you remember that, from your tax bill when you owned your property in Daytona? Please read your house tax bill line by line and get your straight answer as there is one line for Palm Coast and 4 lines for the County; one General Fund and 3 consecutive lines for bonds:
    My concern is that right now, Flagler County wants even a bigger share yet from the City of Palm Coast, because the jail, Taj Mahal maintenance, Airport improvements, etc. etc. If you own a house here now…just watch them, other than get distracted on me! Like you, I was not for those uniforms policy in the schools but you have Fisher and Co on the board. What we need in this county are jobs via less outsourcing and right now, other than more read tape, costly bureaucracy or new capital projects. I hope economy improves soon so you get back to have your deserved income. Sorry you misunderstood me.

  13. palmcoaster says:

    One more source here reporting that Coffey County Manager presents a request for a county jail that will cost 12 to 18 million….
    Sorry we are broke aren’t we, commissioners Peterson and McLaughling? Why is that Palm Coast voters elect commissioners to the board and then they turn against us?
    All those prisoners spending up to 2 years in the jail need to be processed faster by the court and vacate or go to prison…as a jail is not supposed to be for “extended stay”, creating one more burden to the local taxpayers.

  14. JGA says:

    In Arizona or New Mexico ( sorry, I forgot which state), they have Sherriff Joe and his Tent City for the short term prisoners, you could take advantage of the beautiful florida weather, very low cost and seems to be working.

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