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Matanzas Woods Battleground: Flagler and Palm Coast Clash Over I-95 Interchange Dollars

| May 8, 2012

The war zone.

Matanzas has its origins in the Spanish word for slaughter, a word that had the currency of routine in this area of Florida half a millennium ago when the pious butchery of conquistadores invaders muddied the woods with Indian blood.

The Matanzas battleground these days is fortunately more prosaic: Palm Coast and Flagler County are battling over $4.2 million. The front is the proposed Matanzas Woods Parkway interchange with I-95, which is actually under design and, going by County Administrator Craig Coffey’s estimate, could be built within three to five years. The city wants that money, which has been collected from development. The county says it’s not the city’s money, and anyway $2.8 million has already been pledged, though it’s willing to cede the remaining $1.4 million, with conditions. Not good enough, the city says.

The two sides are squaring off, face to face, in a joint meeting on May 22, in hopes of resolving the matter. (They’re meeting at 9 a.m. at the Palm Coast Community Center. refreshments may be necessary.)

On Monday, the Flagler County Commission held its own meeting on the matter, but it didn’t budge. A cohesive commission went along with its administrator’s recommendations: keep going with design and construction of the I-95 interchange, keep the $2.8 million to that end, cede $1.4 million to Palm Coast, as long as Palm Coast agrees to county terms on how to use the money, and as long as Palm Coast agrees to take over all future responsibilities for Matanzas Woods Parkway, now a county road. The county’s only sweetener: if the county were to receive new state or federal dollars that make up the remaining $2.8 million, at that point it would cede that portion of the money to Palm Coast, too.

That’s a big, vague if. The city knows it. But it’s not as if the county has the $2.8 million to give at the moment. One of the city’s counter-recommendations is for the county to back off immediate development of the I-95 interchange, which the city fears will pour too much additional traffic into its northern end, [-particularly around Matanzas High School, and to delay that construction until the city itself has four-laned Old Kings Road and Forest Grove Drive so those roads can accommodate the added traffic. That could be a very long time: the city has no money to build those roads, and the county doesn’t want to wait indefinitely to build the interchange.

The bone of contention behind this disagreement is more dense than complex. It goes like this: Local governments collect so-called “impact fees” from builders and developers, which are essentially a one-time, flat tax tacked on to new homes and businesses. The revenue may only be spent to offset the impact of development by, for example, building roads, parks, schools. Flagler County has been collecting transportation impact fees since the 1980s, before Palm Coast was incorporated. It collected millions of dollars from areas now within the Palm Coast city limits, which still include county roads. (Matanzas Woods Parkway is one such road.) Revenue from the Palm Coast area was segregated into its own funds. Those funds are no longer accruing additional dollars. But they contain $4.2 million.

Palm Coast considers all that money its own to do with as it pleases. The county disagrees. The county points to an “interlocal agreement” (clunky lingo for an agreement between the two governments), signed in September 2000, that explicitly sets out that Palm Coast “shall collect all transportation impact fees for new construction within the city and shall remit such fees to the county.” The two governments were to coordinate “project priority.” The agreement included 13 roads eligible for improvements with impact fee money. Among them: Matanzas Woods Parkway, “including the crossing of I-95 to the intersection with Old Kings Road.”

The forest fires of 1985 and 1998, which destroyed a combined 200 homes and damaged nearly 400, added urgency to building an interchange at I-95 at the north end of the city, to ease evacuations, and also to ease congestion further south in normal times.

In 2004, Palm Coast signed off on a major regional development in the Matanzas area called Palm Coast Park, which just as explicitly called on the developer to pay $14 million in impact fees and, on top of that, $250,000 for an interchange study (clunker alert: the study is officially called an “Interchange Justification Report.”) The developer paid Palm Coast $7.2 million in 2006. It never paid Palm Coast or the county the $200,000 due for the study. The county went ahead with the study on its own, pledging $700,000 for the design of the interchange and $2.1 million for construction. The whole project will cost $8 million, not including right-of-way acquisition costs, which, the county says, have already been paid.

The county contends, based on Palm Coast’s own documents over the past five years, that the city had the Matanzas interchange as its second-highest road priority after the widening of Palm Coast Parkway anyway, and so the county is in compliance with city priorities. “The assertation (sic.) is that these other roads have to come first before the interchange,” Coffey said, referring to Old Kings Road and Forest Grove, “but that has not been the priorities we’ve been given from Palm Coast.”

Jon Netts, the Palm Coast mayor, has taken a hard line against the county’s approach, at one point referring to the county’s maneuvers with the impact fee money as “blackmail.” But the county counters with a lavish endorsement from Netts, in a November 2010 letter, of the county’s plan to build the interchange. Netts couldn’t have been more explicit: “As mayor of the City of Palm Coast, please accept this letter as our support for the proposed Matanzas Woods Parkway interchange with I-95,” Netts wrote. “The construction of this interchange will provide additional regional access to our growing community, while increasing available emergency evacuation routes to the population. Both state and federal DOT [Department of Transportation] and local officials have made this the county’s top infrastructure priority.”

Netts, in his letter, acknowledged that the economy and growth had slowed down, essentially taking away the argument that he was writing under a different climate of growth, and he went on to note, recognizing the housing crash that was by then in its third year: “Even with the current economic climate, growth is expected to continue in Flagler County,” particularly “within the vicinity of the proposed interchange location. These developments will put a significant additional burden on the regional roadway system, and more importantly on the existing interchange of Palm Coast Parkway and I-95. We support the proposed interchange to address existing demands for regional access in our community, and the long-term viability of our community.”

The letter was part of the lobbying of the federal government for money. It worked, along with other local government efforts, securing the very earmarks that voters (and politicians) love to bash with one hand while grasping for with the other.

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17 Responses for “Matanzas Woods Battleground: Flagler and Palm Coast Clash Over I-95 Interchange Dollars”

  1. ric says:

    This was a county poject since day one.. At the time the people from the county was advising the county to make it an interchange but the county commissioners were much smarter then the little people.. Flagler County you created this mess now you fix it. Do it without including a toll booth..

  2. Linda H. says:

    Gosh, I remember waaaay back when the citizens used to have the final say in matters like these…..when people actually showed up to vote out politicians who were not responsive to the electorate.

  3. Clint says:

    They can put all the inter-changes they want around here.It will make NO difference during an emergency evacuation. The last time we had a mandatory evacuation, I was stuck on I-95 north for 16 hours. No thanks…Next time, I’ll hunker down here and ride it out !

  4. palmcoaster says:

    Bad timing. The county manager needs to stop I95 interchange (his project) as we have a recession and most of us are flat broke…except him with his undeserving compensation.
    Palm Coast officials are right, we need the funds to sustain the tear and wear of the city infrastructure used by 839 residents per sq mile versus the county 197 residents per square mile.
    We are already overpaying the county since the city incorporated in 1999 as my home taxes pay this county almost double of what pays the city of Palm Coast. Then we are forced to fund expenses like a bridge and road for Princess Place for 1.5 million…airport extended runways and towers etc. What percentage of and how often Palm Coasters use these facilities in this recession and who benefits? How much is the budget for the intended ED Advertising Consultant requested by Comm.Revels and Co.? Here some of the expenses BOCC approve to themselves:
    BOCC needs to tighten your belt and stop the frivolous feeding, from PCoasters footing the bill and stop asking for more money. Cut down the fat.

  5. Flagler Countyer says:

    The BOCC has been cutting fat for the last 4-5 years. Their employees have not received a raise of any kind during this same time. They now have to supplement their pension along with their healthcare premiums. I really think you talk nonsense when you complain about the additional expenses to fund a bridge and road for Princess Place for 1.5 million…airport extended runways and towers etc. The bulk of the population is in Palm Coast, not the county. If you don’t like duplication of taxation then maybe the citizens of Palm Coast shouldn’t have voted themselves into a city. Or better yet move to the unincorporated part of the county and still have the best Police force the county has to offer and world renowned Paramedics and Firefighters assisting you in midst of your fire, medical or vehicular crisis.
    Stop all this whinning, The county can’t afford to bring you more cheese. :)

    • Linda H. says:

      Flagler Countyer, you sound like an elected official. Maybe what we really need is a good house cleaning!

  6. David says:

    They were talking about this right after the fires of 1998, and what a nightmare that was trying to get people evacuated. People were stuck in traffic for hours and hours on end. Very poor evacuation management. It was like a Chinese fire drill Very poor procedure by the county. If I recall the county had an opportunity to put in another interchange but it got put off by county red tape or politics. We now have more residence and homes so go ahead and “Git er Dun” and don’t drop the ball this time.

  7. palmcoaster says:

    FCountyer looks like you did not bother to read the links I enclosed. Was not the city that built the palatial structures on Rte 100 and on our pockets.The one’s that whine are you guys, always demanding more money from Palm Coast. By the way the only firefighters I saw in the 2008 fires in Matanzas Woods by the house, were the Palm Coast one’s. Our Paramedics and Firefighters in Palm Coast don’t need to go to world wide competitions, on our pockets, to show their experience. We voted ourselves “into a city” simply because we were not receiving the services we were paying high dollar to the BOCC. Best police force..? where?. You mean, we have the best deputies…. even though with a less than commendable leadership, as per the latest reported. By the way, the employees of Flagler county do an efficient job as commanded, the proposals/ decisions of the county administrator when approved by BOCC with flying colors, is what is often wrong, like reported here.
    What cheese are you taking about? Can you still denied or see what Flagler County would have looked like today without the Palm Coast (milking cow) tax basis..? Jeez…

  8. Gia says:

    Stop the B>>S & let’s get this project moving at least these darn yoyo politicians can do something useful. We need it for hotels, gas stations, restaurants & decongestion of PCPkwy

  9. palmcoaster says:

    Sorry my error the fires I mentioned in Matamzas woods were the ones in 1998, no fires there in 2008.

  10. PJ says:

    This a real county project from day one and should not be a bone of contention for the greedy city.

    However, when it comes to just taking over things, suddenly Palm Coast is cutting it’s way to the head of the line.

    Let’s ask a simple question :

    Do we really need a County Commission anymore? Not if Palm Coast has anything to do about it.

    Imangine the collossal gaul of Palm Coast with their demands to the county.

    Hey commissioners please set Palm Coast straight who is really in charge…………………

  11. Wake up says:

    Seems like Craig Coffey is the one that can’t play well with other. He needs to go, and it appears the only way to get rid of him is to get 5 new commissioners. He works for them, and they are responsible for the messes he creates. the current commissioners just keep renewing his contract year after year paying him way more than he should be paid.

  12. DP says:

    @ Gia

    At the public hearing they had earlier this year at the community center there won’t be any hotels, gas stations, & restaurants, there is no commercial zoning in the immediate area which is great. What it will help in my opinion is the decongestion of PC. Pkwy. The city needs to stop wasting money on that pet project and open another gate way into the city. I was the only one in the hearing that stood up and spoke for it, I remember 1985, 1998, I’m I saying that would have been a fix, it damn sure would have helped.
    @ David
    Old kings rd was widen and paved all the way to US 1 is that a help “Yes/No” it moves people out of the affected area but still bottle necks traffic @ US 1. As for “Very poor evacuation management” as you quote, Maybe? But with the factors involved that year/time frame it went well for the emergency access we had, would the interchange have made a difference? “YES” for the incoming support to fight the fires, and citizens movement.
    @ Palm coaster
    When is a good time??? When somebody dies? This was a priority for our beloved commissioners of the city a while back, now a changed idea??? Your taxes don’t pay for the airport they are an enterprise fund. As for overpaying the county???? If you voted for the city then stop complaining about taxes you helped add another layer of government.
    As for my original posting, this interchange is long been needed, the money has been allocated, this money that come in from future developments, not from the current tax payers. The longer we delay the more expense it will cost. We all benefit from every area within the county. Whether you chose to visit or use any of the amenities is your choice. Can’t we all just get along?

    • some guy says:

      @ DP with the airport you are right it is an enterprise fund. In that it means it pays for itself on moneys made on the airport grounds. Palmcoaster first says that we county residents pay for it (all county residents that would include those in PC) but we do not. So you call her on the tax part that we the residents of Flagler for the up keep on it and you rightly point out we DO NOT. So she then changes gears to say we pay for it by the way of State and Federal taxes. well yes we do just like in all other tansportation. she also has a problem with county parks it seems. i guess she does not get that palm coast is a part of Flgler County not the other way around.

  13. palmcoaster says:

    @DP Oh yes our taxes don’t pay for the airport? Then where do you think that FDOT and other government grants are generated from… Ali Baba’s taxes? Read next :
    “In addition to revenues obtained from airport operations, the airport receives grant funding for capital improvements, operational and safety-related projects, and economic development opportunities from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and the FAA.”
    Also where do you think federal grants and the next forced funding came from?:
    Enough proof that you are flat right out misleading and trying to brainwash newcomers? We can all get along fine without need to be gullible. Whom do you work for, DP?

  14. palmcoaster says:

    We have one more reason for the county administrator and BOCC to stop asking for more money from Palmcoasters and the rest of the county taxpayers, as I just learned thru News Journal reporting that Palm Coast Sea Ray has lay off 65 workers of its total crew of 420. You guys need a reality check here get off your compensations of over 180,000 county administrator and about 50,000 commissioners and look around before asking for more money to waste in high ticket (advertising) consultants, airport luxuries, millionaire jail etc etc . We are not all rich in this county or live of handsome taxpayers subsidized government jobs! Go ask those Sea Ray workers! Did you bother to learn how many businesses shut their doors in this county last month? Go get a reality check between Hammock Beach or Dunes and Princes Place, wine and dines by invitation only to the elite and on our pockets.

  15. DP says:

    @ Palm coaster,

    Oh I forgot your right about taxes, I/We do pay for the Airport, FDOT Grants, Welfare, on and on, with mine/your federal tax $$$ “IRS”. We have an extra benefit in Florida, it’s our state sales taxes. This is where our FDOT Gants come from along with some other money that comes into the county and city. This is paid by each and every person that lives in and or visits this State, City, and County. They/We pay it every time they/we buy something. The county is offering up the $$ that have been collected since the city was incorporated. But no the city doesn’t want it, they want it all, I think you have it reversed. The point I’m making is look at your yearly County property tax statement. It clearly indicates General Funds, & Bonds for County, City of PC, School Board General, & Discretionary, Capital outlay, SJWM, Mosquito control, & FIND. Bonds probably were floated my guess to build the “ palatial structures” as you quote. Let me ask do you renew your driver’s license, Vote, have or had children in county schools? Use the court house? If you answered yes to any one of these questions then you benefit from those “palatial structures”. Now is it more then what’s needed today or in these times?????? But it damn sure beats the building conditions that those employee’s were working in before. Oh if my mind is correct the “CITY OF PALM COAST” was asked and offered to join in the building to help shave costs to the city residents and they refused. Now The City of Palm Coast wants to build a New City Hall. Where’s that money coming from??? Oh wait let’s take more money from the city tax payers by adding a franchise fee or “utility tax” on the FPL bills, Cell phone bills, cable bills and you can keep going on. So who just added or is proposing additional taxes, or as you say “asking for more money”. Answer “CITY OF PALM COAST”. On another note regarding the 1998 fires you indicated that you only seen Palm Coast Fire trucks by the house. Well those trucks/Firefighters were county employee’s being paid out of the Palm Coast Service District, which BTW was collected on your tax bill as additional funding source prior to incorporation. And it was much less than the current city taxes now on your county tax bill. There were also units from all over the state of Florida, and the southeastern untied states. And during that time frame Palm Coast citizens had the only paid FD in the county, I forgot FB with 1 paid person M-F. Going back we all benefit from every area within the county regardless of where we chose to live in this county. Whether you chose to visit or use any of the amenities is your choice. The interchange is long over do, it currently is not coming directly out of my county and or city taxes. Again the only double taxation is the additional tax created by PALM COAST incorporation. In my opinion the citizens were mislead, misinformed of the benefits of becoming a city by being able to control our own destination and growth, and be able to achieve it with less expense to the citizens, so who was fooled? I haven’t seen a decrease in my city tax since incorporation. Are we any better than we were 12 years ago???? I’m not out misleading and trying to brainwash newcomers, if people can’t see the whole big overall picture that’s the choice. I know my taxes went up and continue to go up because the city is spending like a thief and they want more and more. The commissioners were brainwashed with the first city manager, and there continuing to be brain washed by the current city manager, and their own personal agendas. Just look how the contract renewal went for the garbage hauling. Your right we can all get along fine without need to be gullible. But it all started down hill in 1999.
    Just voicing my opinion

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