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From a New Branch Library to a West Side Fire Station, Flagler Commissioners Weigh Sales Tax-Funded Projects

| May 22, 2014

The Flagler County Library Board of Trustees is favoring building a new branch library rather than building an expansion at the existing main library. The county commission is considering devoting revenue from a county surtax to make that possible. (© FlaglerLive)

The Flagler County Library Board of Trustees is favoring building a new branch library rather than building an expansion at the existing main library. The county commission is considering devoting revenue from a county surtax to make that possible. (© FlaglerLive)

A new county fire station for the west side and the complete replacement of Fire Station 92 at the county airport: $4 million. Upgrading the county’s emergency communications system: $9 to $18 million. Adding 13,000 square feet to the public library in Palm Coast: up to $2.2 million. Building a new library for the south side of the county: $3 to $4.2 million. Rebuilding the skate park at Wadsworth Park: up to $1.5 million. Renovating the old county courthouse, now that it’s back in the county’s possession, and a huge liability: up to $5 million. Improving the county fairgrounds: $1.5 million. Paving county roads: $2 million.

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Those are just a few of the two dozen big ideas County Administrator Craig Coffey submitted to the county commission this week as potential projects the county could take on over the next several years, and pay for with the new revenue it is generating through the sales tax surplus the commission voted in, by super-majority, in November 2012.

The list doesn’t include two massive projects already being paid for with that revenue: the jail expansion, and the sheriff’s move into new headquarters at the old Memorial Hospital site in Bunnell. Those two projects will cost at least $21.4 million (by the administration’s estimate), and likely much more, since the jail expansion and renovation alone may cost close to $20 million.

“This is a pretty good snapshot, but I could really add another 10 or 20 projects if I wanted to. I hate to tell you that,” Coffey told commissioners on Monday. He cautioned that the cost estimates he attached to the projects are very rough at this point, and that the sales tax is not the only source of revenue that may be used for those projects.

Coffey’s intention: to get a sense from the commission of what projects it fancies most, so the administration can start prioritizing them and working on them. It was a sharp departure from previous recent years’ exercises, which saw the county, like most local governments, going through budgets for projects to cut, not to add.

“You don’t have to make a decision on any of this today,” Coffey told commissioners. “There’s nothing that’s beating down on your door. I’m going to offer you some suggestions to think about how to move forward on a few.”

The sales tax generates a little over $4 million a year, but the county’s portion is $2 million. So far, the county has taken in $3.4 million. The surtax is in place for 20 years. The money cannot be bonded, because the tax was not approved by voters at large, but the county has some financing capacity, so that, according to Coffey, “every $225,000 essentially finances about $3 million.”

Bottom line: after paying for the county jail and the new sheriff’s headquarters, the county commission would be left with just $6.9 million to $7.9 million to build with. That’s not much, considering the long wish list the administrator outlined. But it’s there.

“What I don’t want to do is do like we did with ESL,” Commissioner Barbara Revels said, referring to the Environmentally Sensitive Lands initiative funded by a special property tax voters approved twice. The initiative allows the county to buy and preserve environmentally sensitive land in the public domain.  “We dove out, got ESL re-upped, spent a ton of it right of way, and so as much as all these things are needed and going to be needed, I hate to jump out right away.”

The West Side Fire Station is among the commission’s priorities as it will lower ambulances’ response time  on the west side and reduce the number of times ambulances are tied up simultaneously across the county. “We could start down that road right now,” Coffey said.

Revels was struck by the cost attached to the project, which does not include the purchase of a new ambulance or fire equipment. “$1.5 million for a fire station size building is way too much money. That’s high,” Revels said.

“It depends if you have to buy land, it depends how much you have to fill,” Coffey said, speaking as if he already had his sight set on a particular property (and he reportedly does, on County Road 305 near the intersection with State Road 100).

Coffey also listed smaller projects such as improving parking at the Government Services Building ($750,000) and buying elections equipment for the Supervisor of Elections ($500,000 to $600,000), though grants could defer such costs.

But the projects that got particular attention were those related to the public library. One possibility is a 13,000 square foot addition to the existing Palm Coast library, which the library’s board of trustees is not recommending. Rather, the board favors building a new 16,000 to 20,000 square foot library somewhere in the vicinity of State Road 100, to answer the needs of some 20,000 library users.

“I would like to encourage you to at least go ahead on the library design,” Terri Jones, president of the Friends of the Library, said. “The Friends of the Library have always been very generous in supporting the library, and in that way supporting our community, and we’ve also provided a lot of items for the library throughout the years.” The sooner the county can secure the design, she continued, “the better it’ll be for us to go ahead and further raise funds for helping with this project, so I would really, really encourage you to do that as one of the top priorities.”

The commission was, if not committed to a new library, at least interested in exploring the possibility. Just last year, commissioners were wrestling with cutting library personnel’s hours and library hours themselves, to control their budget.

Revels favors going ahead with the design phase of such projects as a new branch library, an expansion to the Carver Center, formerly known as the Carver Gym, in Bunnell, the revamping of Wadsworth Park, and the “prototyping of a fire station,” as well as carrying out more pressing needs like sewer repairs at the Government Services Building. Once a project is designed, it can sit on a shelf, shopping for revenue sources, the administrator said.

In the end, commissioners decided to rank the projects individually over the next couple of weeks and turn them in for the administration to tally by the June 2 meeting. At that point the commission will presumably have a clearer idea of its priorities.

Sales Tax Revenue Options (2014)

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10 Responses for “From a New Branch Library to a West Side Fire Station, Flagler Commissioners Weigh Sales Tax-Funded Projects”

  1. Jennifer says:

    A proposed station on the west side is sorely needed. However, will get come at a cost of further reducing manpower on the fire engines as a way to re-allocate resources as they have now done with station 31 in Korona?

    On Monday, the commissioners stated they wanted to look further at the situation with manpower for the Korona station and yet it went live on Tuesday and removed two people from the fire engines from a staff of 3 to a staff of two…below the minimum standards.

    According to NFPA 1710: Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments (2010 ed.) it is recommended that each company be staffed with four firefighters, including a company officer, and that the company officer must remain as part of the company; they can’t stay outside the building as command. The standard further outlines that one firefighter will staff the pump, one firefighter will secure the water supply and two firefighters will advance the hoseline.

    The additional ambulances are desperately needed, but planning for stations and equipment without planning for additional employees is short sighted and dangerous. Coffey’s response was that the cost of putting new employees at the Korona station would be $500,000 and to expect to raise taxes if that was the way the commissioners wanted to go. The station has gone live and yet it is not ready…I believe a couple of years ago the chiefs recommended purchasing property adjacent to the station for a new septic system if that station became staffed. The septic system was never installed.

    Another item to consider is the ISO (Insurance Services Office) rating for a department. This directly reflects if a homeowners insurance will go up or down. Fifty percent of the rating reflects the quality of the fire department, including adequacy of equipment, sufficiency of staffing, level of training and the geographic distribution of fire companies. While adding stations helps with the rating, inadequate staffing will cause a lower rating.

    • Robert Lewis says:

      Explain why the Flagler fire department needs another ambulance at the tax payers expense. I was astonished when I heard the county administrator say our ambulances are being used for out of county transfers. I am shocked that the county is taking ambulances uses for 911 and sending them out of county.

      I have a great solution that will meet the staffing needs and reduce the amount of calls. Allow a private sector ambulance company to do the out of county transfers. Government has no business providing that service. If I called 911 and had to wait because an ambulance was going out of county for a transfer – I would be calling mr Coffey.

      Problem solves.

      • orphan says:

        Mr. Lewis,
        If you are referring to the proposed addition of a fire station out in the western area where one is SORELY needed, then I am going to guess that you have no friends or family out in this heavily populated area!
        We need a 24/7 firehouse out here in the most critical way!
        We are a conglomerate of people/housing here in Flagler County. We ALL pay for the county services that you seem to want to clutch dear to the heart of only particular areas. I find that attitude extremely boorish!
        What you may or may not understand is that the majority of homes out in the western areas of Flagler County are comprised of Manufactured Housing units. These are WAY more in need of a Fire Station within close proximity so as to respond quickly when needed than your concrete block homes within the city limits!
        Each Fire Station equates to an ambulance, as these persons are trained in life-saving abilities.
        We need more people who say “Let’s try to help” and less people who say “me-me-me-me”.

  2. InitialEnigma says:

    So a library nearby to the ‘S’ section so I won’t have to hike to the other end of the county to get a book? You all better vote for this!!! After the sidewalks I might be able to actually walk/bike there.

  3. Livesinpalmcoast says:

    That would be wonderful to have a new library off of state road 100!!!

  4. Yellowstone says:

    Two ideas; How about renovating/refurbishing the abandoned FAA facility? It could be used for a number of things – including the expansion of the community center, public library annex, a general meeting and recreational center, classrooms for adult ed and GED. It could be used in the interim as a assisted living facility – rather plowing down another preserve and building another.

    A new library – How about using the abandoned Books a Million for a new library. They wanted spce in that area, they also talked about a coffee shop . . . And folks already know that’s a place where books were found.

    So, what’ya gunna do Palm Coast? Plow down another pristine nature forest, or take advantage of what you already have?

    Just curious . . .

  5. Genie says:

    Wow, champagne tastes on a beer budget! I don’t suppose you’d have the courage to put any of these projects on the ballot?

  6. Just a thought says:

    An ambulance in Korona is nice but what about putting one where the majority of the population lives. We have no added an ambulance to Palm Coast for the 20 years that I lived here.

    • Jeff Dean says:

      Thats probably because the city of palm coast has 3 of the 6 ambulances of the county already centrally located in it, and when those 3 are busy they pull ambulances from other parts of the county, leaving those zones with a longer response time for an ambulance.

  7. JoJo says:

    @ Yellowstone

    FAA Facility is owned by Embry Riddle University. It was leased to FAA for management training but another City out of State received the contract..

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