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Weigh Station Loads Up Realtors’ Forum with Mayors

| May 19, 2010

Some of those attending the Realtors' forum with mayors were not running for office. ((c)FlaglerLive)

Palm Coast and Bunnell are unhappy about the Florida Department of Transportation’s plan to build a large weigh station in the median of U.S. Route 1. Palm Coast doesn’t intend to buy the City Walk property, currently in foreclosure, where the city has its offices. The county is promising that the county airport’s dismal run of real estate deals gone bust, at taxpayers’ expense, will turn around, though no details were offered. And no, Palm Coast will not do away with development impact fees for a year (the one-time tax on new construction) to attract new business.

Those were some of the answers by three of Flagler County’s five mayors and the chairman of the county commission, offered to a roomful of civil questioning on Tuesday morning during a breakfast forum organized by the county association of Realtors.

None of the questions were difficult or surprising, and none generated answers that were more revealing than what the four individuals at the receiving end of the questions haven’t said before, though the weigh station issue was unquestionably the most recurring. The only item that got the audience of about 75 cheering and whistling was also the least political: the opening next month of the movie theater in Town Center.

The crowd, larger than the association’s previous forum, was considerably inflated by the presence candidates running for political offices in coming primaries. Pam Richardson, who chairs the Realtors’ association’s public policy chair, described the event as a way to “keep the doors open between the Realtors’ association and our local leaders.”

The forum included Bunnell Mayor Catherine Robinson, Flagler Beach Mayor Alice Baker, Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts and County Commission Chairman George Hanns, who doubled up as the morning’s comedian (“I’m not a real big guy so I’m not an easy target,” he said by way of explaining his longevity on the commission, where he’s served almost 20 years).

Hanns was candid in response to a question about the county’s efforts to broaden its tax base: “It’s a political question and I’m not going to tell you oh yeah, we have everything covered. We do not have everything covered,” Hanns said, drawing a picture of Flagler County as something of a victim. “It’s almost impossible to deal with major cities that have hundreds of thousands of dollars and in some cases millions of dollars that they have to entice people,” he said, without offering anything more specific (few cities, including the nation’s largest, have anything close to “millions” to offer up as incentives to business these days). “Anyone that has any uncle back somewhere that wants to move into Flagler County, bring him to us and let us wine and dine him,” he said. The county doesn’t have a wine-and-dine budget, though its partnership with Enterprise Flagler, ostensibly the county’s economic development arm, enables some wining and dining, but with few substantial results.

Netts was asked how Palm Coast could sustain its involvement in a desalination-plant consortium now that it is barely a consortium anymore. The $1.2 billion plant was conceived by Palm Coast and the St. Johns River Water Management District some three years ago, based on population growth projections that had this region running short of water water within a few years. Population growth has slowed or, in some places, reversed. Governments are losing revenue and dropping out of big projects like the desalination plant. The plant itself is scaling down. If it’s built, it won’t be anywhere near its initial size.

Netts acknowledged the difficulties, and the increasing costs on the three governments that are still part of the group (down from 13). Calling the consortium “bizarre” for having initially brought so many agencies together, he still defended it as a way to plan for future water needs. Stopping growth in Palm Coast i an option, he said, but not a doable one: growth will continue. So new water sources must be found. To growth-oriented Palm Coast, desalination is the only way. Netts did not explain how Palm Coast would bear the financial costs of sticking with a plan other cities and counties are finding unaffordable.

The forum disbanded after about 75 minutes.

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