When the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office celebrated the opening of its new Palm Coast Precinct at City Marketplace a year ago, two highlights marked the occasion. The precinct was going to be more accessible to the public, and right next to the Palm Coast government offices. And the cost to the sheriff was going to cut the precinct’s bill in half.
The sheriff was to get four months’ free rent, then last July start paying $2,000 a month for the 2,600 square feet at Suite C-107, double the space of the former precinct in a more remote spot on Old Kings Road. Of that, $1,575 was for rent, and $420 to cover the so-called CAM fee, or Common Area Maintenance fee that usually attaches to mall properties. Sheriff Jim Manfre subsequently built his budget accordingly.
At the time, Manfre had no reason to take account of John C. Bills. Now he must.
Six months after that ceremony at City Marketplace, attended as it was by the entire city council and members of the county commission, Palm Beach Gardens-based John C. Bills Properties bought City Marketplace for $2.9 million. The new landlord then went to work, drastically changing some lease agreements that were up for renewal by upping rent so much that several tenants, including the biggest one there–the City of Palm Coast–considered leaving. John C. Bills was looking to increase the rent on Palm Coast’s 20,000 square feet by $138,000 for the year. The city protested and indicated that it would leave the premises before paying that increase, and John. C. Bills backed down. The new agreement on the table now is a $24,000 increase for the year, which the city appears ready to accept.
The city pays no CAM fees. “The City’s lease at City Marketplace has never incorporated a separate CAM fee. It has always been a flat monthly lease rate,” City Clerk Virginia Smith said Wednesday. The renewal agreement on the table does not include a CAM fee.
That’s not the case for the sheriff.
Last week, the Sheriff’s Office received a letter from John C. Bills setting out the new CAM fee request. First, John C. Bills is increasing the CAM fee 212 percent, from $420 a month currently to $1,312.73 per month. Second, the landlord is making the fee retroactive six months to January, and billing the sheriff accordingly. “An additional charge of $5,356.38 will also be reflected in your next statement for this difference due,” the landlord’s Scandie Mick wrote the Sheriff’s Office on June 5.
That’s in addition to the $1,575 monthly rent being charged.
Starting Aug. 1, rent is being increased on the sheriff’s unit by 3 percent, to $1,622.25. But with the CAM fee increase, the sheriff’s monthly costs will increase almost $1,000, and annual costs will go from $24,000 to $35,200.
The sheriff’s office never got notice that CAM fees were to increase before that June letter, Sheriff’s Attorney Sid Nowell said. He reacted the way other tenants have reacted when faced with sudden surges in rent or CAM fees from John C. Bills.
“I don’t think anybody anticipated these kinds of numbers,” Nowell said. “I don’t know what’s caused them to take this kind of approach. Maybe they’re trying to empty the place.”
When contacted by phone Thursday afternoon, Mick said: “Unless my boss authorizes me to speak to the media, I’m not going to be able to talk to you or call you back.” A message left on John Mills’s office phone was not returned.
The Sheriff’s Office may decide not to pay the retroactive CAM fee. “I have no recollection of any ability to retroactively assess the Sheriff’s Office an increase in the CAM fee,” Nowell said. “My recommendation is we don’t pay it at this point in time. So the ball is in the landlord’s court.” Nowell deemed the landlord’s approach “a little unusual way to do business.”