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Snubbing Voters, Lame-Duck County Enacts 20-Year Sales Tax While Slashing Cities’ Shares

| October 1, 2012

The four super-majority voters who enacted today's sales-tax measure. From left, Barbara Revels, Alan Peterson, Nate McLaughlin and George Hanns. (© FlaglerLive)

The four super-majority voters who enacted today’s sales-tax measure. From left, Barbara Revels, Alan Peterson, Nate McLaughlin and George Hanns. (© FlaglerLive)

The Flagler County Commission realized in mid-summer it had done a poor job explaining to voters why they should renew a half-penny sales tax they’ve been paying for 10 years. The commission also realized it had done a poor job of negotiating with Flagler’s cities on how to split the sales tax revenue. The county wanted to significantly increase its share. Palm Coast and Flagler Beach balked–and withdrew their support of the measure, thus making its passage at the ballot box far more difficult. (Flagler Beach later appeared willing to go along with the county.)

On Monday, the county commission–at least two, possibly three, of whose members won’t be there by November–formalized what it had planned to do since realizing its mistakes: it voted to enact the sales tax anyway, by an extraordinary super-majority vote of 4-1, with Milissa Holland in dissent. It voted to impose the tax for 20 years–also a first for Flagler County–ostensibly to build an expansion to the jail, though the size and need for that expansion remain murky. And it voted to vastly increase the share the county will take from the sales tax revenue, reducing the share that goes to the cities.

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The sales tax supplement generates $4 million a year. The current sharing formula has the cities getting 72 percent of the revenue, with Palm Coast getting the majority, or $2.6 million a year, because it has most of the county’s population. Today’s vote lowered the cities’ share to 55 percent, slashing $500,000 a year from Palm Coast’s revenue. (Palm Coast will almost make up the difference with its new red-light camera scheme, which will, when fully installed, guarantee the city close to $400,000 a year).

The commission also dismissed a compromise it had itself presented to the cities on redistributing the money. Barbara Revels, the commission chairman, had proposed to phase-in the cities’ reduced revenue over five years or more. But today, that proposal was no longer part of the vote. The county will immediately adopt the sharing formula set by state law.

The county commission also dispensed with a public education campaign it had promised earlier this summer, after conceding that its referendum plans had collapsed in part because it hadn’t prepared the public for one. “There is no choice. We have to do it,” Brabara Revels, the commission chairman, told her colleagues at the end of July. “I understand that there are people here that cannot take that position this evening, but I am willing to take that position, and I’ll take the heat for it, and I’ll do every bit of education I can. I’ll go to any organization, I’ll go to any citizen’s group, any neighborhood watch group. You call me, I will come. I will go through the presentation. I will do every bit of education I can. But I believe we’ve got to come to an agreement with the cities, and we have to just take the heat and vote it in.”

But somehow the commission appeared confident enough to have the votes for a unilateral sales tax measure, and little public education ensued–chiefly because little new information emerged about the jail expansion the county says it will build. But there’s no disagreement among commissioners that a bigger jail is needed. Even Holland now concedes that an expansion is needed. But not without popular approval. That was just one of the reasons she cited in her opposition to the vote.

“I was very steadfast in regard to the calculation and distribution with the municipalities, and I’m not comfortable approving this item for many reasons,” Holland said, first citing the sharing formula. “I just think this was handled poorly, and I think that at the end of the day, yes, we’ve all agreed that the jail is necessary and needed,” but, she continued, “I too am not comfortable approving this without the vote of the people. We’ve can talk about this as having been an ongoing sales tax for 20 years, but it was at the will of the people that that occurred. So I’m not going to support this item today.”

Revels did not agree with Holland’s characterization of the issue even as she admitted in a long explanation to commissioners that the county had made mistakes along the way.

“I agree that I wish there had been the ability to take it to the citizens. However, with everything I tried, and our administration tried in our workshops, and all of our outreach, we were unable to get all of the cities to agree to the same thing,” Revels said, claiming many efforts to get the cities to agree to a compromise. “So it may have been handled poorly, but I don’t believe that I’m willing to accept that that was the entire fault of the county. I think that we made every attempt under very, very tight, constrained time-period to try to move this issue forward. At different times we were told we had an agreement, and then we didn’t have an agreement. So there was a lot of mixed messages and I’m very sorry for that because it’s been divisive in the county.”

Revels then reiterated her wish to have taken the measure to the public in a referendum, but then spoke of residents who had talked to her about the jail issue, and seeing her vote as a duty in line with what she’d heard. She wasn’t referring to a public outcry for a jail, to be sure. She was referring to a public outcry–never heard at the commission or in public meetings–against the commission using the property tax to raise revenue for a jail expansion. Commissioners refer to the property tax as “ad valorem millage.”

“They don’t want to have us raise their ad-valorem millage assessment to the maximum we can charge in order to pay for this,” Revels said, “because that’s what would happen. If we did not pass this today, and we have to move forward with the jail, short of shipping our jail population to other communities and coming under some sort of federal or state orders, we’ve got unsafe conditions already, we’re going to have some really difficult times on our hands, and our only option, our only other option, would be to raise franchise fees and the ad valorem taxes. And I think we would be lynched if people got their tax bill at this time next year, seeing what they’d have to pay for to build a jail. So I’m going to be strongly in favor of it.”

No calculations were presented to the public showing the numbers behind Revels’s claim, chiefly because the county has yet to lay out a cost for the jail expansion. Three of the four residents who spoke to the commissioners just before their decision cited just that absence of facts to illustrate their skepticism. The fourth was Jason DeLorenzo–who stayed in the chamber after his earlier victory, getting the commission to adopt a two-year moratorium on, ironically, a building tax, though not the sort of building tax that can be used to build jails. DeLorenzo is the government affairs director for the Flagler Home Builders Association. He was heartily behind the commission’s decision to keep “the bad guys” in jail.

After November’s election, two of the five commissioners–Alan Peterson and Milissa Holland–will no longer be on the commission. Peterson was defeated in August by Charlie Ericksen. Holland is resigning after Nov. 6. She’s running for a Florida House seat. Commissioner George Hanns’s fate is unclear: he faces Herb Whitaker in the November election, making it possible, come November, to have a majority of commissioners who did not have a voice in today’s decision, despite its 20-year expiration date.

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13 Responses for “Snubbing Voters, Lame-Duck County Enacts 20-Year Sales Tax While Slashing Cities’ Shares”

  1. BIKER says:

    Even if you were to subscribe to the concept put forward today, it still all comes out to the same result. This County Commission disenfranchised the very same voters that put them in office. Whether through incompetance, or through disdain for the City of Palm Coast they took away your right to vote on a topic of extreme importance. This is the very same type of behavior that forced Palm Coast to incorporate 13 Years ago. Whether they like it or not Palm Coast makes up the lions share of the county population. Time for this commission to go, starting with George Hanns. Its time that they are sent the message that they work for us. We are their bosses, We need to be consulted on Everything they do. What a disgusting behavior from an elected body this is.

  2. Vincent Neri says:

    The path to properly running the county and city is not to raise taxes but rather unleash the power of free market capitalism. This involves taking measures to attract business that will ultimately raise home values and lift our community out of this malaise. The city and county should be taking in increased revenue through the positive effects of economic expansion. Figure out how to grow our local economy and all these money making tricks like red light cameras and enacting a 20 year sales tax will not be needed. We need to become way more business friendly , promote entrepreneurship, and stop thinking so small. The United States is a big place and our leaders should think big. It is very hard to believe that with all the academic and work experience our local leaders supposedly have they cannot work together to bring us some big result that will finally place Flagler County on the map. This is all just utter nonsense. The schools I went to required students to come up with something significant sometimes in a matter of weeks. Flagler County and Palm Coast has had more than weeks or months. This is just year after year of providing lack luster results.

  3. Maryjoe says:

    “they took away your right to vote on a topic of extreme importance.” Get ready for it when the City of Palm Coast decides they need a new city hall, which was explained to me the other day, that they HAVE decided they need a new city hall, that it’s inevitable. And they will ‘slip’ it on through without a vote of the people.
    This is no different…except…they really haven’t changed anything in the populations pockets, we were already paying the tax…they’ve changed it in the various city’s pockets. And if you think PC is going to use the red light money to make up for this perceived short fall, trust me, they won’t. They’ll bang it to us else where. whoopie.

  4. Joe says:

    Arrogance at its finest, you might have been able to take my right to vote on this away, but you won’t be able to take my vote away in November, incumbents be gone!!!!!

  5. says:

    they aer all followers of Obama, right to vote, right to free speech and than right to bear arms. i believe it might possibly come. they will never have enough money. while salaries are stagnant they want more from each household therby putting you deeper into the the hole. this is without a doubt an example of complete disrespect for the citizens of flagler county. all i can say is that we have to remember their names and what did come time for their relection

  6. Palmcoastconcernedcitizen says:

    I agree that this is ridiculous. When will the County idiots realize they represent the county, with the majority being Palm Coast Residents! I hope people will actually get out and vote and get rid of these incopitent leaders of the county.

  7. Lonewolf says:

    Go to Volusia county and shop…save money

    • nene39 says:

      Lonewolf, biting our nose to spite our face, is not the Palm Coasters’ way of doing things. what’s going on is bad enough for our local economy, and you’re suggesting that we shop in Volusia to save? What savings will you get when you spend more on gasoline getting there, than the little bit you save shopping for an item or two?
      Although I can see the need for a bigger jail, I agree that the county should have put this before the us to vote on. The county and our local government here in Palm Coast has to learn to manage their budget more, trim the fat where they can. What happened to all the money they got during the peak years in real estate, which is when they should have built that jail?
      The population has exploded then and our coffers were full. The county cannot say that they have more criminals to house now than the early 2000. And now they choose just to choke this on us when we taxpayers can hardly breathe because of our economic doldrums? Out with these elected officials, I say. It’s time to get fresh blood who can think more clearly what to do to turn our county and city around. A lot of these government officials have been there so long they think they’re untouchables. NOT!!!

    • Bronx Guy says:

      Lone Wolf, instead go to St. Augustine where the sales tax is 6% and there is plenty of parking at the outlets. That is quite a savings on a big-ticket item.

  8. glad fly says:

    the smugness and arrogance continues…i just typed this on my blackberry sitting outside volusia mall where i just dropped $723.87×7%= $50.67 in sales tax….hell,maybe i’ll move here plus they don’t have red light spy cameras.

  9. Ben Blakely says:

    Twenty years? A questionable tax enacted by the inept power crazed Flagler County Commission for almost TWO DECADES and without public approval?

    Is there any sanity in Flagler government????

    Is Flagler County subject to constitutional regulation or is at a quasi Communist government that operates like a tyrant not answerable to the public?

  10. Flagler County Residet says:

    Lonewolf, you say go to Volusia to shop and save money? Well, at the price of gas that would be outright foolish. Also, don’t go to the new shopping area in Pt. Orange just off of I95, because they hit you with a 1% infastructure fee (ie tax) on anything you buy there. Went to Red Robin and sure enough hit with this “fee”. I will gladly put my tax money here in FC rather than for another county or area to get.

  11. Diego Miller says:

    Mr. Coffey has done nothing. He was a shoe in after he schmoozed with the right people in HR. He said just what they wanted to hear. I still want to know why David Haas was fired. He was doing a fabulous job and was a good communicator.

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