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Split Flagler Commission Approves $900,000 Tourism Budget With Glaring Increases

| September 5, 2012

The quiet side of the TDC’s budget. Click on the graph for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

A divided Flagler County Commission approved the county’s Tourist Development Council’s $900,000 marketing budget for 2013, with a 3-2 vote Wednesday. It’s a $100,000 increase over the current year. One commissioner strongly objected to a sharp increase in the tourism division’s staff and incidental costs, such as a doubling in rent costs and a tripling in furniture costs. Another objected to the council’s decision to start branding Palm Coast on par with Flagler’s beaches in its marketing campaigns, even though the majority of visitors to Flagler are here for the beaches.

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“There were several startling comparisons that surprised me,” Petersons aid. “For example utility expense went up 500 percent. Rent went up 72 percent. Today’s economy, one wonders why a rent increase would increase by that extent. Right down the line, every single item: over the last two years the budget has increased by almost 50 percent. It seems to me that we should workshop this item. I do not understand why we have not workshopped it as we do all other items.”

“Looking at this it looks like if we give somebody some money or we give a governmental unit money, they’ll spend it all, just so that they don’t have to return any or allocate it to some other purpose. My recommendation is we pull this item and workshop it within the next 30 days.”

Milissa Holland, who chairs the TDC and has had a direct hand in developing its policies and directions, rebuffed his objections, saying commissioners had spent time asking questions, and getting answers, from Georgia Turner, the executive director of the county’s tourism operations, who works under the umbrella of the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce. Holland spoke of the three-year strategic plan the TDC is about to kick off, with a focus on filling the hotels in the off-season through targeted sporting events that bring people to the county.

“These initiatives that we have put together are going to take a new course,” Holland said, with clear objectives and outcomes. “I can assure you, commissioner Peterson, we’ve had money that’s been left on the table from our tourism entity year after year, certainly since I’ve served on the TDC as well as on this board, and they are very mindful of these dollars and they don’t spend just to spend. I don’t think there’s an entity that’s been more clear on how they spend money line item by line item by line item, contractually.”

Peterson didn’t dispute the investment in tourism, nor the return on investment (including sizeable increases in hotel stays locally), but he said the successes Holland outlined had nothing to do with increases in rent, utilities, phone costs or additional costs in furniture. “If this was a department of the county we would have gone over this budget in more detail to authorize or to vote a 50 percent increase in these particular staff type of expenditures,” Peterson said. “I think we’re doing a disservice to stakeholders because money that isn’t spent on some of these items or isn’t needed to be spent can then be used for the long list of items that you’ve outlined that would in fact be beneficial to the stakeholders and to the residents.”

alan peterson flagler county commission

Alan Peterson (© FlaglerLive)

One striking difference between the 2013 budget and the 2012 budget: a 15 percent decrease in funding for advertising and public relations—from $362,000 in the current year to $308,500. The TDC focuses heavily on advertising (out of county and out of state) to attract visitors to the county, and does so through various media.

Some of the amount in actual dollars no longer spent on marketing the county correlates closely with the increased spending on the more incidental items Peterson was pointing out—the doubling in rent costs, from $7,680 in 2011 to $14,440, the near tripling in furniture costs ($3,500 in 2011, going to $9,500 next year, and the equally substantial increase in phone costs, from $$1,440 to $5,000), along with the most substantial increase of all, in actual dollars: salaries, which stood at $151,000 in 2011 and will rise to $200,000 next year.

The TDC is adding a position, a $35,000-a-year product development manager that has yet to be filled. That brings the tourism division’s staffing to five, compared with a staff of three just two years ago. It’s headed by Georgia Turner ($65,000 a year, no different than the salary was two years ago), with Amy Lukasik as its tourism marketing manager ($41,200) and Jeanine Volpe as its administrative assistant ($25,000). The council this year hired a part-timer, Thomas Rominger, to staff the Flagler Beach Historical Museum.

“I personally met with the staff at the TDC and we went over a lot of concerns that I had,” Hanns said on the tourism budget. “Many of them were questions that I had that juts needed an answer and I was very comfortable with what I received. The only thing I did not ask is about the rent increase.”

The rent increase has to do with moving the TDC’s offices to a suite adjacent to the chamber of commerce, as opposed to within the chamber’s offices. The chamber is the TDC’s landlord, which owns that strip of office-fronts on Airport Road, making it–for the chamber at least–a cozy arrangement with a government-backed renter guaranteed to make monthly payments, and stay a while.

“What I don’t want to see,” Commission Chairman Barbara Revels said, “next year I don’t want to see the rent bounce up because they said oh, look, we let you stay there for a year at this price, and then we’re locked in because we’ve paid for phones and we’ve paid for all these different things to be there.”

Revels had another concern about the TDC’s direction: in its rebranding moves, the tourism council has decided to rephrase its thematic focus. “The new name would be Palm Coast and the Flagler Beaches,” Revels said. She objected, noting that the primary focus of tourists’ attention is the beach, not Palm Coast. “Palm Coast doesn’t have any beaches,” she said. “I’m not necessarily convinced that rebranding in that name format is the only way we can go.”

Holland said the rebranding was a concerted effort to market Palm Coast’s hotels, including the Hammock Beach resort, which features Palm Coast’s name prominently.

Tuesday evening, Frank Meeker, the Palm Coast City Council member and the city’s representative on the TDC, resigned his seat on the tourism council in light of his run for a county commission seat. During a council meeting, Meeker nominated council member Bill McGuire to replace him. The council approved the nomination unanimously.

“You’ve got yourself a job, whether you like it or not,” Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts told McGuire.

“You said there’s free food and booze,” McGuire said.

“I did not,” Netts said.

Meeker’s absence from the council may be temporary: if he is elected to the county commission, that panel will have to name a replacement for Holland, who is leaving the commission and the council in November (she is running for a Florida House seat). If Meeker is nominated to the TDC, he would be its chairman, as the county commission’s representative always is on that body.

The county’s tourism dollars are drawn entirely from a 4 percent sales tax surcharge, or bed tax, levied on hotel and motel stays and all other short-term rentals in the county, so it is paid overwhelmingly by visitors. No property taxes go toward the budget, which is split three ways. The largest share of the roughly $1.4 million in annual revenue goes toward marketing and PR (that’s the $900,000 budget the commission approved today). The rest goes to capital improvements that burnish the county’s tourism locations, and to beach preservation.

A nine-member council—the Tourist Development Council—made up of government representatives from Flagler Beach, Palm Coast and the county and by private businesses in the tourism industry, oversees the funds and recommends how to spend them. The county commission ratifies, amends or rejects the recommendations.

13 Responses for “Split Flagler Commission Approves $900,000 Tourism Budget With Glaring Increases”

  1. Clint says:

    Yep..If I was a tourist I would really want to come to Palm Coast. There is soooo many things to do. Like the Tennis courts down by the TOLL bridge. Maybe go to European village and watch the renters throw furniture out the windows. Then there’s always the chance one could get a photo taken driven thru the many “Gotcha, give me your money” camera’s. And if the kids are real good, a trip to Walmart for some “Red Tag” specials. Number one on my vacations spots !

  2. Lonewolf says: IS going to be harder selling a beach with no sand

  3. tulip says:

    Our” budget watchdog” commissioner was asking all the right questions, but not getting good answers. His careful consideration of the county’s budget will be sorely missed. In fact 2 good and knowledgeable commissioners will be gone, Holland and Peterson. It will be interesting to see how this TDC issue plays out. The TDC gets a new “manager” and certain expenses rise sky high? Hmmm

  4. Magicone says:

    Seems like the Flagler Commission should spend a little money on keeping their residents in the county than spending a million dollars to try and bring in tourists. We have one tourist attraction here in Flagler county and that is Flagler Beach. They don’t have enough parking for the locals; let alone more tourists. The only reason the county needs more tourist is for red light running revenue. Beach preservation; they have been talking about that for a long time. How about the plant that is supposed to give us fresh water from the ocean when we run out in the near future! What about the state mandated exit at Matanzas to save lives in case of another evacuation cause of wildfire or hurricane? Tripling the furniture costs for tourism…..Come on, get real ! Put these people in a workshop…Now that scary. Look at the salaries the Tourist Development Council is bringing in! That explains why everything is going up in Flagler county; just wait there will be more cameras going up shortly also………Don’t you love the way Meeker resigned his spot and nominated McGuire? Thats what they call “keeping it in the house”. Do not, I repeat DO NOT let Meeker win a spot on the county commission.

  5. tulip says:

    It seems to me that the Chamber of Commerce, who is working to make things better for businesses in Flagler County is socking it to their own County with a large increase in rent in a building the CoC owns.
    Why would they do that?

  6. palmcoastpioneers says:

    Would someone care to explain this?

    Palm Coast will be neither a “sudden city’ nor an ‘instant’ one but will grow in accordance with a pre-planned program, no matter whether it flourishes twenty, thirty, or forty years from now. Palm Coast is a strip of land thirty miles long at its longest, ten miles wide at its widest, covering approximately 160 square miles. It is a fact that under the controls we will institute, despite its being larger in extent than Detroit or Philadelphia, it will have a density of say, Beverly Hills, California. But more on this later.——————> Palm Coast has about six miles of ocean front,<——————– approximately twenty miles on the Intracoastal Waterway, and will have significant man made water areas. Again, these will be reviewed in the main body of the text.
    Now to a brief description of the terrain. Like other areas along the east coast of Florida, the property was formed primarily by sand dunes that have been build up by the interaction of winds, waves, tidal cycles, and ocean currents. This continued accretion of land as a repetitive process has caused the creation of lagoons between the new dune and the existing land mass. It is from these lagoon that the present salt water lagoons and marshlands evolved.
    Page 129
    '….An Approach to a New City: Palm Coast..' &
    Federal Trade Commission 'Consent Agreement' C-2854 Exhibits A and Exhibits B for 'Palm Coast'.

    • jns says:

      I would like to know where this six miles of beach front that is in the city of Palm Coast? I know that Flagler Beach has several miles of beach and the county has about six miles of beach front but none meet the city limits of Palm Coast…

  7. tulip says:

    @ MAGICONE—–The TDC money comes from” bed taxes”. But, the BOCC gives the final approval on how that money is spent or budgeted, and can only be used for tourist related activities and events which, in turn, brings more money into the county as tourists come here and shop, stay at hotels, and dine. The TDC money has nothing to do with what us residents pay in taxes, they are 2 separate entities.

    I am disappointed that the Chamber of Commerce chose too take a huge bite of that money to increase the rent for a building they already own. I guess they have a built in cash cow with the TDC helping to pay for the CoC complex. Revels and Peterson did not approve of the proposed TDC budget, but the other 3 did, shame on them.

  8. palmcoastpioneers says:

    Reply to jns:

    Palm Coast Blossoming as New Hometown
    PALM COAST< Florida This rapidly growing planned community is becoming the 'resort hometown' planners at ITT Community Development Corporation envisioned ten years ago.
    The "hometown' aspect of life in Palm Coast is evident everywhere. Citizens are involved with community growth; activities and challenges. Local government and ITT-CDC play stong roles in planning for and meeting those challenges successfully.
    The 'Resort' envionment is Florida at her finest. Palm Coast golf courses and all-surface tennis club have earned national recognition. Complimenting these are five miles of beach.., a new beach club with pool, waterways and marina for boating, community-wide landscaping and a waterfront hotel and timeshare resort for vacationers and visitng friends. It is an atmosphere that attracts new industry, stores, services and more than 100 new residents each month to Palm Coast.*
    * The Palm Coaster, Winter 1988, Page 1.

    Palm Coast, Florida – If you're not among the lucky 11,000 or so who live here all the time, you can still enjoy the Palm Coast life for a week or two or more, at vacation resorts among Florida's finest.
    Seeing is believing, so we shall let pictures do most of the talking.
    A pelican's view of a people's paradise…the Palm Coast beach, and new beach club, a place in the sun for vacationers and residents.
    The Sheraton Palm Coast Resort and Palm Coast Marina…early evening.
    The Harbor Club vacation ownership resort…villas surrounding Oak Tree Island.
    You've seen the photographs. Now see the real thing. For Harbor Club sales information—vacations for a lifetime–contact your nearest Palm Coast sales office or call toll-free 1.900.874.1828 and ask for the Harbor Club at extension 870.
    To reserve your waterfront room at the Sheraton, call 904. 445.3000 and ask for the Harbor Club at extension 870.
    Palm Coast property owners can arrange for a holiday through area sales offices.
    For the newer Palm Coasters our public with membership Palm Coast Beach Club Oceanside a.k.a. Palm Coasts ' SunSport ' Beach Club overlooks Palm Coasts Beaches.

    • jns says:

      If you look at the city maps it does not have any beaches inside of its city limits. The area you are referring to is all county not the city of PALM COAST. So please get it right. The only thing that the city of palm coast touches for beaches is in fact the ICW and the man made canals that drained the swamp land that the city of palm coast was built on back in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s.

  9. Taylor Ham says:

    The Flagler Chamber of Commerce and the TDC is doing a marvelous job attracting tourists to Flagler County. Not focusing solely on Flagler Beach or Palm Coast and its sections, but trying to encompass all that is good in the entire county which is a win-win for us all. Palm Coast has done a tremendous job of increasing the type and amount of shopping available within Flagler County. This should be applauded. Palm Coast has added some of the best walking, hiking, biking trails you’ll find anywhere in the State of Florida. But ultimately, we all must agree that our biggests draw is the beach and pier. But should that be the reason for not showcasing Palm Coast as a vacation destination? Many families are looking for other forms of entertainment when the weather doesn’t permit beach and water activities. That is why Palm Coast needs to continue developing and offering family entertainment, shopping, and dining. Otherwise the alternative is Flagler Beach will become like every other beach city in Florida–a tourist trap that sucks for their residents. We should all be proud of how the FBCoC and TDC have put a positive spin on Flagler county. So here is some extra advice, free of charge. 1. Make a complete stop at all traffic lights; it’s easy, stop driving like you did up north. 2. Let those folks buy some new furniture. They are pulling in a ton of money and you’re gonna balk at $12K? Let’s be practical! 3. Great idea using the Flagler Beach Historical Museum as the Chamber of Commerce annex during weekends–Brilliant use of resources! Keep up the great work Georgia Turner and your staff. Discovering that you’re doing so much with only four personnel. Again…Brilliant!

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