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Planning for Flagler’s Future, County Talks Library Repairs, New Fire Station and Jail

| May 31, 2013

Flagler County Administrator Craig Coffey has big plans. (© FlaglerLive)

Flagler County Administrator Craig Coffey has big plans. (© FlaglerLive)

Flagler County Administrator Craig Coffey almost apologized for “making news” as he plunged through a list of projects for the future, including some yet to be approved or even discussed thoroughly by the County Commission Thursday afternoon.

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Expanding an overcrowded county jail, building a modern new sheriff’s operations center, upgrading an inadequate drainage system as urbanization changes the rural character of Flagler and improving fire and emergency medical response west of U.S. 1 were featured in Coffey’s presentation. The list and more were presented as part of a Strategic Planning and Long-Term direction workshop, the first of four as Flagler County officials plan for the next 10 years.

Coffey said some of the projects had yet to be funded or even hashed out in public by the Board of County Commissioners. “It’s basically a draft document,” Coffey said.  “These are not things, for the public, that we’ve adopted.”

Finding a cost-effective way to improve fire and emergency medical response west of U.S. 1 was number one on Coffey’s list. This included either building a new fire station on County Road 305 south of County Road 2006 or opening a vacant volunteer station at St. John’s Park. “Basically, if you’re on the west side and you have a heart attack or fire you’re in trouble,” Coffey said. “The response time is slow.”

Expansion and maintenance of the Palm Coast Library ranked two and three on the county administrator’s list, including a new roof and flooring.

County Commissioner George Hanns complained about a hefty stormwater fee charged to the county by  Palm Coast for the library. Hans also suggested cutting down trees at the library to establish a park and make the area less hospitable to the homeless and problem juveniles. Vandalism forced removal of an $11,000 gazebo from the library grounds, he said.

Expansion of the county jail came in fourth on the list, with Coffey proposing a goal to keep the project below $18 million and double the capacity from the current 132 beds. However he wants a master plan to eventually accommodate a 1,000-bed campus. Overcrowding is a problem at the jail.

“It doesn’t really say what we’re going to do,” Coffey said. “It just lays out the goals of the project.”

Commissioners at work. (© FlaglerLive)

Commissioners at work. (© FlaglerLive)

Hanns said he’s been hearing about the jail and other issues for 20 years. He urged fellow commissioners not to be intimidated by one or two critics who might pop up after lengthy consideration and try to derail action by saying it’s a waste of money, or that they have a better idea. “We can’t keep changing our minds because two people complain about it,” Hanns said, though his math might be a little off.

Continuing the public safety theme, Coffey outlined a goal to build a new $5 million, 22,000-square-foot sheriff’s operations center, with a plan for expansion to 36,000 square feet to serve future growth. The county is in the midst of acquiring the old Memorial Hospital to that end, though the commission has not signed off entirely on that deal.

Another goal would relocate Public Works, Public Transportation or county storage to a former county jail building that has been vacant–on State Road 100, across from the Government Services Building–either  though demolition and reconstruction or upgrading the current building. “That building has to be torn down or rehabilitated,” Coffey said. The government services building campus would be targeted for enhanced safety and functionality with a new traffic signal on State Road 100, relocating an employee health clinic to the caretaker house and moving staff and equipment from the rear of the complex to eliminate crowding.

Trying to improve the fuel efficiency of county vehicles is a fairly standard goal that probably appears on the list of hundreds of local governments.  However, improving a rural drainage system represents a goal more unique to the increasingly urban Flagler County.

Nate McLaughlin, the commission chairman, said drainage is of “economic importance to the farmers out there.” He added, “When the rains fall those fields have to drain.” Coffey said the challenge for the county is to fix a drainage system that is too small. “Systems that have been in place since we were a very rural county no longer work,” Coffey said.

Commissioner Barbara Revels said drainage from urban areas make things worse for the farmers. “A good bit of the rest of the county ends up draining through that system and we’re not charging the rest of the county,” she said.

Upgrades to the north of the Malacompra Drainage Basin in the Hammock and continued efforts to prevent erosion along the shore also made the proposed list of strategic goals.

Coffey finished up the facilities and services goals with a laundry list of infrastructure issues including re-establishing a road resurfacing program. “This is something that has been on hiatus for a decade or more,” he said. “We have roads on the west side that we’re responsible for that we haven’t done anything on for years.”

The infrastructure goals included developing an annual inspection program for bridges, intersections, stormwater structures, trails and signage.

Revels suggested including goals for water utilities and garbage. She urged a decision on “whether or not to continue to take over failed utilities or whether to try to develop a county utility system,” an allusion to the county’s twin acquisitions of the Beverly Beach utility and the Plantation Bay utility. Both were acquired for millions of dollars. Both utilities were wrecks the county has to rebuild. She also complained there was no method for disposal in Flagler of construction debris.

A separate long list of projects for recreation and tourism included construction of baseball fields. “We have no place to hold a good tournament,” Coffey said. At least not in the county proper, though if the county were to partner with Palm Coast, it might not feel the need to have tournament-ready fields of its own. Park maintenance also ranked high as well as developing the county fairgrounds and the Florida Agricultural Museum.

County commissioners began the afternoon-long planning session with an ice-breaker exercise which got them up out of their seats and moving to different areas depending on their answers to questions about their approach to issues, such as whether they were planners, or doers.

Hanns said public safety is job number one. “So anything that comes up about public safety is a priority for me,” he said.  Revels said the projects that should be implemented are those that are cost-efficient and “benefit the most people.” McLaughlin said he evaluates issues on a hierarchy of need. Public safety would be at that top. “Parks and recreation are the kind that wouldn’t be some of your first priorities, but would be on that list,” he said. Commissioner Frank Meeker said he supports projects that serve “the most people for the least cost.” He wants to take care of the issues mandated to the county. Once the mandated missions are taken care of, “I think of what are the nice things we are able to accomplish.”

Charlie Ericksen, another commissioner, said he thinks on a seasonal basis. “Here we are with hurricane season a month away and fire season close by,” he said. “Here’s an opportunity to educate the public, remind them of the plans we’ve got in place.” Hurricane season runs June 1 to November 30.

With three more strategic planning sessions to go, the workshop season might run as long as hurricane season for the county commissioners.

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14 Responses for “Planning for Flagler’s Future, County Talks Library Repairs, New Fire Station and Jail”

  1. Realty Check says:

    Craig Coffey must think he is the new age Walt Disney, with all this talk about future-land and Fantasy-Land, the difference is Walt had the money to make it come true. McLaughlin & Revels may just be the two biggest jack-asses in this area’s government today, they are clueless on what they can afford and not afford. Didn’t McLaughlin file for bankruptcy twice, and Revels home building business go under? Here are two people who should not be in charge of how to spend taxpayer dollars. We are in debt now, we have an 8 million dollar short fall, they should be looking at how to maintain in the future not expand. Nate, Barbara and Coffey need to go, they just are not realistic about spending, they are true politicians who will spend when there is nothing left and we are in debt or another bankrupt county.

  2. Pamala says:

    Recently, I read an article indicating infrastructure maintenance costs were being denied due to lack of fu.ds. The Government building is not cleaned properly or schools due to cutacks.
    How can these expansions be justified? Fix the libraries and expand there services and you wont need more jails.

  3. Magnolia says:

    Why are we paying twice as much as an abandoned old hospital is worth for the jail? Did you Commissioners think nobody would notice? Why not offer 10% over the asking price and tell Chuimento to take it or leave it?

    Build it at Town Center since nobody else is going to be moving there now that Section 8 housing is being approved there.

    You people need to learn to live within our means, not yours.

  4. there are three sides to every story says:

    Take care of fixing the library…. FIRST….it provides the best value for our tax dollars and more people rely on it every day than any other county service…the other projects can get in line behind the library….

  5. Anonymous says:

    Start with the library!

  6. Lt. Dan says:

    They sure know how to spend our money and still force the citizens to put up with traffic camera’s that have been ALTERED to shorten the yellow signal so more drivers are ticketed with NO WAY of facing their accusers in a court of law. More taxes…more taxes…more taxes…more taxes.

  7. Magnolia says:

    Let me correct myself: Offer 10% of what they paid to buy the old hospital, not 10% over the asking price. The way it is now, you look dirty and nobody wants you to do this.

    And I agree….start with the library. Open it up so we can see what is going on there. Make it a safe and clean place to visit again. If you can’t, then shut it down.

  8. Pete says:

    Flagler voters have big plans too?

  9. Anonymous says:

    People, the library? Really? How about the Jail. We are letting out criminals due to lack is space. That is a safety issue for the people of Flagler County and a priority. Who cares about the library. It should not already need a new roof. It is not that old. COMMISSIONERS watch how you spend our money. Everyone is watching you. If you are not acting fiscally responsible you are out next election. The people of the County are tired of your irresponsibly.

  10. tax payer says:

    Really start with the library? How about starting with saving lives on the west side of the county.

  11. Sherry Epley says:

    What does it say about the future of our community when taxes are more easily raised for jails than for libraries? Does no one understand that a much better library system will help to minimize the jail population? Once pot is legalized, the number of people in jail should decrease anyway.

  12. r&r says:

    Coffey is on a spending spree and no commissioners have guts enough to stop him because they all get a piece of the action and moneys..

  13. Anonymous says:

    I’m not a commissioner nor do I play one on TV, but here are some thoughts.

    About the old hospital: Why purchase this? I understand the Sheriffs dept. would like to move into it. Well how about moving into one of the schools that is going to close? From my understanding, these 2 schools are going to close regardless of the outcome of this school tax vote.

    The library: I do have mixed feelings about this. It really does get alot of use. Personally, I don’t know why in this day and age of computers. Is it possible to get a few estimates on the repair of the roof verses the replacement?

    The jail: This really isn’t an option. If we do nothing, the state will come in and force it upon us, perhaps even at a higher dollar amount.

    What we do need and I don’t see it addressed is, more firefighters/paramedics and transport vehicles. There are more times then I can count and almost on a daily basis when we need back up from surrounding counties. This worsens when our snowbirds return..

    No, I don’t think we need new/more baseball fields, at least not in the immediate future. No, we don’t need more parks.

    Another thing we need is sustainable business. NOT Target, Wal-mart, or Kohls. These stores employ part-time workers at minimum wage and give them 15-20 hours a week. Nobody can live on that. Maybe the commission should look into companies with 50 or more part-time employees and impose an ordinance of a higher minimun wage. Afterall, these companies are not providing any benefits to these people. Most of these part timers would be better off sitting at home collecting welfare, food stamps, etc.

    We elect people to be our voice, to solve problems in the present and look long term for solutions to what may become problems. Not to live in the moment and campaign again the minute they are elected into office. It is too easy just to say, WE NEED MONEY, lets get it from the taxpayer.

  14. Brad W says:

    Reality time . . . any and all of this takes money. Where does that money come from? Taxes. Namely, property taxes. And this is why the debate over the school tax is so very important.

    Although the funds are separate, it is extremely important right now to look at the larger picture. Continued growth with people moving here is extremely important. We’ve all felt the hard effects of a stalled local real estate market. So increasing taxes irresponsibly on existing homeowners to meet those needs is a sure-fire way of stalling that growth once again and this time would be really ugly at current values. Setting priorities, planning, being patient, and allowing tax revenue to naturally grow as the market recover and values increase (which is already happening) is the far better path the solid future.

    Jobs, overall quality of life, and affordable living are the key to a solid future for the area. Waste can’t be tolerated. And we can’t allow one area of our community to bleed homeowners because they can’t manage the resources handed to them effectively. And our local government can not be our biggest employer.

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