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To Little Opposition, Palm Coast Approves New Levy for Stormwater Fixes, Delays Another

| May 15, 2012

Palm Coast's stormwater infrastructure is in tatters, as are its finances, forcing the city to revamp its taxing mechanism to find $7.5 million a year for a reasonable fix.

Last Updated 3:35 p.m.:

If the Palm Coast City Council was expecting a storm of opposition this morning to a proposed new fee that’ll soon appear on electric bills, that opposition did not materialize. A half dozen people did address the council, most of them in opposition to the proposal. But the turn-out was nowhere near the sort of groundswells the council has faced in recent years over, say, the Bulow Creek development at the southern end of the city, or the way Palm Coast used to charge Grand Haven residents a stormwater fee those residents argued–successfully–they shouldn’t pay.

Today’s proposal was directly related to that $8-a-month stormwater fee most residents are paying through their water bill. The city is abolishing the fee, because it considers it unfair: it applies unevenly to residents and businesses. But the city must have enough money coming in to meet a $7.5 million budget for stormwater improvements: that infrastructure of pipes and swales and culverts is deteriorating fast. The city must also have a financing mechanism in place to pay for $14 million in debts it took out over the past few years to pay for stormwater repairs. So it’s arguing that it really has no choice but to find new fess and taxes.

Tuesday morning, the council approved the first, big step toward securing that revenue, voting unanimously to add a 6 percent “utility franchise fee” (which will be no different than a tax) on electric utility bills. That’ll add, on average, $6.27 a month to monthly residential utility bills. The fee is charged to the utility–in this case, Florida Power and Light–but passed directly to consumers. The agreement the council approved with Florida Power and Light will be in place for 30 years.

It’s only half what the city needs to meet its stormwater obligations, assuming a $7.5 million annual budget. The council, on a 3-2 vote, defeated a city administration recommendat6ion to also add a 2 percent utility tax on electric bills. That tax would have cost the average household an additional $1.32 a month.

There was not much opposition in the audience, but what opposition turned out was forceful and pointed.

“I’ve sat here and I’ve listened, and I truthfully, in all candid, tell you, I have never heard anything so convoluted in my life, so fractured, so diverse, and so punitive to your citizens,” Vince Liguori, a tea party leader who was closely involved in the incorporation of the city 13 years ago, told the council. “I fully recommend that you shelve any consideration of voting for this today and go back to the drawing board. It was evident by your discussion, there’s a lot to be determined.”

Liguori continued: “You’ve graced the residents of Palm Coast for 10 years without implementing this nonsense. You say, well, other cities do it. Are you content to say, well, I’m going to follow that city. No. Be a leader, and do the right thing for your city.”

Liguori ridiculed the city’s newfound urgency for a new fee as he reminded the city that just last year it had found $10 million to build a new city hall, and that its stormwater infrastructure needs were not unknown in previous years. “Does this mean down the road that you’re going to have a new tax for resurfacing? It certainly looks that way,” he said.

Dennis McDonald was equally cutting. “It doesn’t seem to me that any of you guys have got this thing worked out as to where it’s going to come from or to how it’s going to happen,” he said. “It seems as if this thing has been a workshop this morning more than anything else. If you want the public to support this, then what needs to happen here is, this thing needs to be fully explained to the public before any new tax is added. I would like to comment on Mayor Netts’s, what he had to say here today, that you’re going to enact today and adjust later. Well, to me that sounds like something we’ve heard way too often from Washington, D.C. As a matter of fact Nancy Pelosi comes to mind on that one.”

He called the new proposal “a perpetual tax” that will never go away. He’s right: Netts himself had said the very same thing the previous day during a meeting with the county on the sales tax referendum under discussion. Netts said that once a tax is on the books, it doesn’t go away, and residents don’t expect it to go away.

The first vote is not the final one: it was only the ordinance’s first reading. It must still be approved on second reading, in two weeks, when the council holds an evening meeting: those meetings tend to be better attended than morning meetings. But the council’s unanimity suggests strongly against a reversal, even if more opposition is mobilized.

Palm Coast’s Plan on Replacing the Stormwater Fee: Download the Presentation

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11 Responses for “To Little Opposition, Palm Coast Approves New Levy for Stormwater Fixes, Delays Another”

  1. Linda H. says:

    Flagler Live, please don’t leave out the fact that these utility fees/taxes have a 30 year commitment to the utility.

    We had better hope that “if I am elected President, energy costs will necessarily skyrocket” never happens. (Barack Obama).

    Most present urged the city not to get into the utility fee/tax business, but to concentrate instead on increasing the gas tax, something all pay into.

    This new utility fee/tax is going to hit renters as well. Please stay on this issue.

    [Good point on the 30 years. Updates will reflect the fact. Thanks.–FL]

  2. ASPC says:

    What does stormwater have to do with FP&L electric bills? Am I missing something? Or is this the tail waggin the dog with another fancy PowerPoint presentation? It makes much more sense to place the $6.47 increase onto our Water, Sewer and Garbage bills each month. The line item already exists. This fee increase just offsets the savings we were recently promised from Waste Pro. So business as usual, the City Council performs another shell game manuever of manipulating revenue funding to suit it’s own agendas. Grandiouse Job Mr. Puppet Master. BRAVO. You all never cease to amaze.

  3. Howard Duley says:

    A couple of years ago the city fixed my storm water drains. What a lousy job. They ripped up a good lawn and replaced it with dead sod. When a neighbor went and complained about the shody work they came back and replaced the lousy dead sod with just dead sod. I wonder if the city would do this crappy work for one of Palm Coasts finest?

  4. Vincent A. Liguori says:

    Palm Coast Residents: The Palm Coast City Council is proposing a stormwater fee plan that is flawed .Stormwater costs and public works improvements, have traditionally relied on ad valorem tax revenues. However, this practice is facing increased resistance from taxpayers and municipal general revenue competition. The Council has made us quite aware of the problem, but the proposed solution is convuluted and puts in place a 30year electric utility tax. In my opinion, the Council has done a good job of telling us what the problem is, however, there are many facts that have been buried beneath the sand. For example, what is the total cost involved to repair the entire system and what are the fixed annual costs? In addition, has the Council examined all viable solutions to this problem or as they make it seem, this is the first time a city is facing a stormwater problem. A little research on this subject will instantly indicate to you that there is a better way to fix this problem What is it-create a Stormwater Utility. A stormwater utility is an organization that provides for system operations and maintenance including collection, disposal, and treatment; provides capital improvements, including both new construction and reconstruction of existing facilities; and provides a dedicated revenue source. Simply stated , a stormwater utility is a complete and compact organization. The need for this organization is evident-it will have to prepare separate budgets,project costs which enable performance to be measured in one place-not on your electric bill. How do you develop costs and allocation of costs? The first determination to be made is to determine the amount of impervious area in each land classification-single family units, mutifamily units, commercial ,etc.The next step is to establish a fee based on the average impervious area of a SFU(single family unit and so on). Many cities use the SFU as the common denominator-for example, the Wal-Mart parking area would be subdivided according to the lowest common denominator =-the SFU. With the creation of a stormwater utility, the establishment of a proper stormwater fee can now be properly determined by the needs of the utility-accordingly we have now a dedicated revenue source created by a valid and measured monthly fee based on the priorities of the stormwater utility. I urge all Palm Coast residents to contact your councilman and the mayor and tell them there is a better way. You can win this battle.Reference material for the above comes from Creating a Storm Water Utility by C. William Hargett, Jr. Deputy City Manager, St. Petersburg, Florida.

  5. Jim J says:

    The city council does not care what the residents think – they just put this on the agenda and voted on it – honestly it would not have made any difference if the room was filled with poeple who each stated they opposition.

    They Palm Coast City Council is as bad as the elected officials in washington DC

    • Ken Dodge says:

      Jim J says:
      May 16, 2012 at 6:46 am

      The city council does not care what the residents think – they just put this on the agenda and voted on it – honestly it would not have made any difference if the room was filled with poeple who each stated they opposition.

      We won’t know until it is tried. There will be a second reading of the ordinance, so let’s fill the room and let them know what we think.

      It worked for Friends of Tennis; it can work for all the citizens…if we would just show up.

  6. Linda H. says:

    No disrespect to any of the elected officials, but it did not appear that you had done the appropriate homework on this. Mr. Liguori was better prepared.

    We have got to have better government than a council that goes “eeny, meeny, miney, moe” at our council meetings and then tries to justify what they did. We have a right to presentations from other communities, etc.

    This felt a lot like the recent redistricting meeting that took place…..line up the options and throw a dart at it.

    We have the highest unemployment in the state. There is a reason for that. It is your council and your commissioners.

  7. BrokeNPC says:

    6%.. on my electric bill during the summer will more like $12 or $18.. seems like a real good deal to me.. plus we’re stuck with FPL for 30 YEARS!!! …

  8. Anon says:

    A real good deal?
    Each time your electric use increases so does the tax. Each time FPL gets a rate increase the tax increases.
    The city has a built in rate increase.

    • Linda H. says:

      Yes they have built in a rate increase, a THIRTY YEAR rate increase.

      Show up at the next council meeting, PLEASE. Pack the room and see what happens. Or be prepared to sit in the dark. If you think this is good government, you are mistaken.

  9. Mario di Girolamo says:

    I don’t have time to attend these meetings. When our elected officials are working … so am I.

    We need to put these items to a ballot vote, especially when it comes to “taxes”, or anything for that matter that is going to cost us, the citizens of Palm Coast, who these elected officials work for, more money.

    Better yet, let us vote on the proposal online. There is absolutely no reason why we have to physically attend these meetings in order to get our voices heard. Most of us are way too busy to spend time sitting in the audience waiting for our turn to speak. The whole premise is antiquated.

    Generally speaking, I will not accept any new taxes, especially on my FPL bill. It is not at all relevant to the issue at hand, whatever that may really be.

    So, the answer is NO. Find another way to get the money needed to fund whatever it is you think we need and probably had the money already, but spent unwisely, or foolishly, on something else and start eliminating city/county positions, freeze salaries, reduce benefits, etc., just like the rest of us.

    We’ve had a 1/2 cent sales tax in place for 10 years now. What has happened to that money? I do not see paving trucks running continuously throughout the City, nor do I see workers rebuilding swales. Old Kings Road is a mess, as is RT 100 as you drive to Flagler Beach.

    I’ve had enough of our elected officials expecting that we are able to pay and pay and pay. Leave the $8 for swales on the City Utility Water Bill. I’ve already budgeted for that. It does not belong on FPL’s side and it does not belong on a bill that fluctuates each month, for 30 years or more, with never ending increases.

    If this doesn’t stop now, I will vote to not continue the 1/2 cent sales tax. Maybe I’ll be able to shop here, instead of Volusia, or St Johns, where the sales tax is already lower.

    And by the way, stop using other city/county comparisons as justification for doing something wrong. We need people who have independent thought, who are able to think outside-the-box, to do what is right for our City.

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