After providing space to the Bunnell administration, rent-free for almost five years, The Flagler County Commission’s patience with Bunnell city government has all but run out. On Monday, the commission informed Bunnell that it must move out of the Government Services Building by August 1, or start paying $2,400 a month rent, retroactive to June 1. The county would also charge Bunnell $100 for every government meeting the city holds in the GSB’s chambers.
The Government Services Building, jointly owned and run by the county and the school board, doesn’t lack for space. That’s why the county originally extended its rent-free generosity to the city. That happened when the city’s old city hall could no longer be occupied after severe rains, and the city did not just then have money to pay for repairs. The county agreed to take in most of the city’s offices, rent free, on the assumption that the arrangement would be very temporary. That is, a matter of months.
The first none-month agreement was extended to two years, then extended again, even after Bunnell received $99,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Administration to fix its city hall’s roof and move back there. Instead, the city conducted its repairs but moved its police department into the old building, and assumed that it could extend its stay with the county.
Further delays set in as the county and Bunnell discussed the possibility of using the old courthouse as a Bunnell city hall. The county actually conveyed the courthouse to Bunnell, only to see Bunnell vote last month to return the courthouse to the county, because it was in too poor a shape. (The county commission was discussing the future of the courthouse later in its workshop this afternoon.)
Aside from charging rent and a fee for government meetings, County Administrator Craig Coffey proposed moving Bunnell offices from parts of the GSB to other parts, enabling the county’s Economic Opportunity Department to move into the spaces currently used by Bunnell, on the third floor of the GSB. Coffey would also expect Bunnell to entirely vacate the space in seven and a half months—by the end of December.
Commissioners appeared ready to immediately accept those recommendations, with one commissioner’s caveat.
“I would ask that the board delay any new fees 60 days because I know they’re actively looking,” Commissioner Nate McLaughlin said. Bunnell has been looking at such places as the Atlantis shopping center on U.S. 1 and other places, though some of those places are no longer available . “I’d appreciate another 60 days of generosity.”
“Why?” Commissoner Barbara Revels asked.
“Because they’re actively looking,” McLaughlin said. He expects that by August 1, Bunnell will have found alternative spaces.
The additional generosity did not sit well with the administrator and other commissioners. “It has gone out for a while,” Coffey said. “I’ll go along with whatever you decide.”
To Commission Chairman George Hanns, the commission chairman, the situation reminds him of a movie where a brother in law moves in and never moves out.
“They haven’t met a single deadline in five years. I’m sorry,” Revels said.
Bunnell City Manager Larry Williams sat in the audience as the commission discussed the matter at the Emergency Operations Center Monday afternoon. McLaughlin said Williams could speak on the matter directly. Other commissioners declined to hear him.
In the end, commissioners agreed to extend two months’ generosity to Bunnell, but only on the assumption that the city will, in fact, find new digs by August 1. If the city does not, then it will be charged rent and meeting fees, retroactive to June 1. And it will be expected to vacate the Government Services Building by Dec. 31, regardless.