The latest sniping between Flagler County and Palm Coast has ended, for now, with the two sides appearing to move past their differences over the planned construction of an I-95 interchange at Matanzas Woods Parkway.
But there are still a lot of moving parts, and missing money: Palm Coast has $700,000 to acquire properties required for the Palm Harbor extension. But the majority of the money for construction depends on the county making good on its pledge to pay up more than $3 million that the city feels has been owed Palm Coast all along, dating back to development fees the county took in but never conveyed to the city.
The two governments battled over whose money it was last year until the county agreed to partially make good on the payment with its own money (the first $1.5 million), then wait on a reimbursement from the state Department of Transportation for the second $1.5 million.
Palm Coast City Council members asked several times during a meeting Tuesday what guarantees the city has that the county will come through with that second installment. They didn’t get any. It was hard enough for the city to finally get the formal draft agreement from the county (referred to in lingo as an “interlocal agreement”) setting out the terms of the payments.
City and county sniped at each other for several weeks over that, with Mayor Jon nets and County Commission Chairman Nate McLaughlin exchanging pleas, excuses and promises in letters from May to early June, until Palm Coast finally received the agreement late Friday.
“The City has kept up its end of the agreement, and we don’t understand the County’s delay in seeing this through,” Netts wrote McLaughlin on May 20. “We would formally request that you place this on the agenda of the next meeting of the Flagler County Commission. We truly need your assistance in moving this forward in a timely manner.” The county did not place the item on an agenda. “Timing wise,” McLaughlin responded, “the need for this new interlocal has fallen in the middle of many other key County projects we are working on, all of which require extensive time and energy by limited County staff.” (In fairness to the county, the county attorney had around the same time made a case to the commission for an extra attorney, because of the workload, but was rebuffed for now.) McLaughlin, who spoke of the time the administration had to spend away from the agreement to address “a variety of information given to the media, public and our commissioners to somehow pressure the situation,” promised a signed agreement by June’s end. That was on May 23. Netts, unsatisfied, wrote again on June 4 “to get a draft to us as quickly as possible.”
That finally happened Fiday, with some clarification.
“I can’t guarantee anything right now,” Landon told the council regarding the money expected from the county. “But the proposal I’m getting from the county administration is that within the next few weeks, let’s say 30 to 60 days, we should have an interlocal finalized. Shortly after that, $1.5 million will be available. They have indicated that they’re estimating that the second million-five will be reimbursed from the state to the county and therefore made available to the city within a six-month timeframe, which would allow us to keep moving forward, so we’re talking $3 million within let’s say six months to a year, which will allow us to stay on track with the extension of Palm Harbor. That’s really where our focus is.”
The Palm Harbor extension would stretch from the north end of Palm Harbor Parkway, northwest, toward the Matanzas Woods Parkway interchange, presumably easing traffic flow in Palm Coast from I-95 by splitting the traffic between Palm Harbor and Old Kings Road. The city is confident that it can go ahead with the extension even though all the money hasn’t been lined up. Old Kings Road is also to be widened. None of that money has been secured (aside from the design costs.) The lack of guarantees about Palm Harbor is worrisome to council members in light of the way the south end of the Old Kings Road widening project left the city holding the bag for almost $7 million it did not have *(and still doesn’t have) when speculative planning didn’t pan out.
“We’re not committing ourselves to something that will be a fiscal disaster,” Netts said.
“No, no, absolutely not,” Landon said. “You’re not approving anything that would put you in a bind that oh if the money doesn’t come in, now what are you going to do? What you’ve approved, you have money in the bank for, and then as far as construction that’s going to be a conversation at a future time, and we’ll have a better idea as to the timing of the additional $1.5 million or other funds available.” But even as he was reassuring council members with references to sales tax money and street-improvement-fund money, Landon was conceding that, past land acquisition, all the money is not in the bank, and its acquisition hinges on unanswered questions. “What you’ve approved so far we’re very comfortable we have that money. It’s the future, it’s the construction, but you’re not signing a contract at this time, we’re not bringing that to you.”
“It’s very complicated, there are a lot of moving parts,” Landon said. “That’s why when we brought it to you a couple of weeks ago we tried to bring it to you as a complete package. We’ve been working real hard on having all those different pieces put together. The serious missing piece right now is this agreement with the county on the impact fees.”
Council member Bill McGuire was a bit concerned about the Palm Harbor extension being finished ahead of the Old Kings Road widening. That, in any case, appears to be what will happen. “I’ve still got this moral fear that the interchange project on Matanzas Woods Parkway and I-95 is going to commence, and we won’t have done our projects with Old Kings Road to keep the traffic from dumping at Matanzas High School,” McGuire said.
But one of the reasons the Matanzas interchange has been questioned is its timing: it was planned during the boom years, when heavy traffic might have warranted it. That heavy traffic in the city is no longer building up. The city’s population has been stagnant. The interchange, at least in the early years, is not expected to add significantly to traffic flows, as it might have a few years ago.