Palm Coast is discovering a taste for audacity.
Back in spring, the county and the city were renegotiating the terms of their mutual sales tax revenue. The county wanted to increase its share in line with a state-sanctioned formula, rather than with an agreement it had with Palm Coast dating back 10 years. The city said no. The county offered a compromise. It would move toward the state formula over several years. Palm Coast still said no. And did so derisively, as if the county’s proposal wasn’t worth considering.
Palm Coast’s decision made it impossible for the county to seek a renewal of the half-cent sales tax by referendum: without Palm Coast’s backing, the county commission feared the measure would fail at the polls. But commissioners were not willing to end the sales tax, which represents some $1.8 million a year in revenue for the county. Two weeks ago the county commission enacted a variation on the half-cent sales tax, by a super-majority vote of the commission (that is, a majority of four of its five members), stretched over 20 years. Palm Coast and other cities would still be getting a share of the $4 million in annual revenue, but in accordance with the state’s “default” sharing formula. Palm Coast’s share will fall from $2.6 million a year to $2.1 million a year.
Here’s the audacity part. Earlier today, the Palm Coast City Council agreed to go back to the county and ask if the offer of a revenue-sharing compromise was still on the table.
“Have we settled what we’re going to do knowing we don’t particularly want the default formula right now?” Frank Meeker, one of the Palm Coast City Council members, asked. He spoke of an eight-year “drawdown” that had previously been proposed by the county, meaning an eight-year phase-in of the state formula. The eight-year timeline is inaccurate: Barbara Revels, the county commission chairman, had proposed phasing in the county-favored revenue share over five years.
Meeker is running for a county commission seat—and could end up deciding, as a county commissioner, the very issue he was re-starting as a city council member. (He’s running against Independent candidate Abby Romaine to fill the seat being vacated by Milissa Holland.)
“My understanding is the county approved the small-county half-cent sales tax with the default formula. No drawdown,” Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts said.
He’s right. The commission approved a resolution that had no exceptions. It would have to approve a separate agreement with Palm Coast if the formula it voted on Oct. 1 were to be changed. Meeker at the time said he was supportive of the county’s vote.
On Tuesday, Meeker suggested “writing a letter or having some discussions with them to see if that is exactly the case. I still believe that there’s a willingness to maybe consider a different option, and that we ought to go back and say that we would be in favor of the eight-year draw-down, or something like that. It doesn’t hurt to contact them. If the answer is no, we’re still stuck with the default formula, but if the answer is yes, we come out in better shape.”
Why did he not take that position in May, when the county first proposed the compromise, Meeker was asked Tuesday evening? “Council wasn’t interested in that position back then,” Meeker said. “I was sticking with my council at the time. We were trying to have a unified front on what we thought was best for the city of Palm Coast. But now, what we’re concerned about, at least what I’m concerned about, is that the only option out there is the default formula, and I think that’s even worse.”
In proposing to reopen discussions with the county, Meeker was borrowing a page from the county’s playbook. Last month, Revels, with most of the commission’s backing, sent a letter to the Palm Coast City Council asking it to rethink placing red-light cameras on State Road 100. The council ridiculed that request.
On Tuesday, Revels was not thrilled by the city’s about-face on the sales tax sharing formula, but—speaking as just one commissioner, and not for the commission—she said the door may be open for some compromise, though not by changing the revenue-sharing formula.
“I have had thoughts that we wanted to assist the cities that were with us on trying to revise the formula, which would be Flagler Beach and Bunnell,” Revels said. Beverly Beach is not really a factor in the revenue sharing. “We would try to work with them on requests that they might have on capital projects. How that would work out with the city of Palm Coast, I don’t know.”
The requests would be dealt with on a project-by-project basis, but the revenue-sharing formula would not change.
“It’ll be interesting in this political season as to whether or not the request is made before or after the election season,” Revels said of Palm Coast’s proposal. “Obviously after November 6, we’re going to have a completely different county commission, so that commission could come up with changes in the formula that they would think would be appropriate.”
Romaine—Meeker’s opponent—saw the Meeker proposal as “politicking.”
“I think that’s all that is, trying to sound reasonable now, putting his reticence into some sort of reasonable action,” Romaine said, referring to Meeker’s reticence to go along with the original Revels compromise. She called Meeker’s move “startling,” since he and the council were “so adamant about not engaging in negotiations with the country, trying to work out some kind of arrangement. And now is it a sort of hat in hand gesture, ok, so you’ve made that decision, so let’s try and get back to the negotiating table? Or is he leveraging his position on the city council and potential seat on the commission.”
Meeker’s response Tuesday evening: “Does Abby not understand that there’s give and take between political organizations within the county? That happens all the time. I’m trying to get clarification on something.”