It had begun as a relatively routine discussion about Palm Coast’s fire department needing to perhaps more quickly replace three of its oldest fire trucks, in a fleet of 11 engines, or possibly go without two of them for a few years. In a city that had just six confirmed house or “structure” fires last year, that’s not unrealistic. The Palm Coast City Council’s discussion stretched along those lines—buy used? Lease? Go without?—for 45 minutes Tuesday.
But it was in the last five minutes that the discussion took a twist for the surreal, as local government relations go, going far afield into contentious tax policy thought settled two years ago, and into even more contentious disagreements over how city and county handle ambulance services, not to mention revenue, an issue never settled as far as Palm Coast is concerned.
The trigger was just as unusual: it was council member Jason DeLorenzo, never known until now to be the sort of insurgent who’d rattle city-county relations. But his proposal would slash at old–and for now cauterized–wounds.
He’d listened quietly for 45 minutes to Palm Coast Fire Chief Mike Beadle’s presentation, how the fire department has one fire engine built when Gerald Ford was still president and two others not much later: the engines are back-ups, so they’re rarely used. But two of them are so old that they break down and could need a tow truck before getting to an emergency call, a situation the city doesn’t want to face. Palm Coast is prepared to buy one replacement in 2016. Going without the other two for four to six years is an option, but not one the city is keen on.
The council directed Beadle to explore leases.
Then DeLorenzo spoke.
“Does the county have any equipment that they could lend us as a stopgap?”
Beadle: “I would have to say no because I know two backups that they have at the EOC [the Emergency Operations Center] that they use as back-ups. Would they loan them to us if they even have them, I would venture to say no.”
DeLorenzo: “Is fire protection not a requirement of the county? We have a fire service because we want a higher level of service. But protecting the citizens from fire is the county’s job, correct?”
Mayor Jon Netts: “Don’t open that door because I’m going to start talking about EMS service.”
DeLorenzo: “The county changed the formula for infrastructure dollars that we could have used to buy a fire truck.”
Netts: “Yes, they did.”
“They’re keeping a larger percentage of them.”
“Yes they are.”
DeLorenzo was referring to the county commission’s change, in 2012, in how revenue from a local sales surtax is shared between the county and the city. The county abandoned an agreement that had previously favored Palm Coast and adopted a formula applied in most of the state in similar circumstances. But the result was $500,000 a year less in revenue for Palm Coast, at 2012 tax-revenue levels.
DeLorenzo: “If we need a fire truck, it seems to me we should ask the county for a fire truck,”
Netts, laughing: “I nominate Councilman DeLorenzo to go to the county commission and ask them for a fire truck.”
DeLorenzo: “I will do that.”
DeLoreenzo got the backing of fellow-council members Steven Nobile and Bill McGuire.
DeLorenzo said that with mutual-aid agreements in place, the truck would benefit the county as well as the city. Conversely—though DeLorenzo did not say so—the mutual aid agreements in place between the county and local cities, an agreement that crosses county lines into Volusia and St. Johns counties in emergencies, Palm Coast would not be without extra fire-suppression support if it were to need it regardless. City and county cooperated closely in recent wildfire emergencies, including a day when Beadle himself was on the ground, behind St. Elizabeth Seton school, directing the county’s Fire Flight pilot in drop after drop of buckets of water on the Cypress Point fire that lapped close to city offices in April 2012.
“And someday,” Netts said closing the discussion, “when you go to the county, you might want to ask them how do we get to share in the EMS revenues.”
“Maybe those shared revenues could pay for the truck,” DeLorenzo said.
“Wonderful thought,” the mayor said.
DeLorenzo’s foray, if it comes to that, is not likely to go far: city and county both jealously guard their assets, tax revenue and water hoses not least among them.
And the council has already directed the city administration to explore either leases of fire trucks, for five to seven years (Chris Quinn, the city’s finance director, said such leases typically run seven years), or buying used trucks, though the cost and how the city would go about paying for them is the big unknown. The source of the payments is not a mystery: it would have to come out of either capital funds or the city’s general revenue, which also pays for the fire department, Quinn said.
“So you’re talking about a tax increase, then,” McGuire said.
“It really depends on how much we’re talking about,” Quinn said. “It may not be a tax increase. That’s why we say here we really don’t know, for kind of a stop-gap option, which the suggestion was, let’s at least go out there and see what’s available.”
The administration and the council aren’t worried about day to day operations: those can be addressed whether the city is down three trucks or not. Those trucks are used as back-up, anyway, not as front-line, day-to-day engines. But Beadle raised the matter of so-called ISO ratings. ISO stands for the “Insurance Services Office.” It’s similar to an accreditation system. The ISO office visits fire departments and rates them according to an exhaustive list of criteria, from the number of fire hydrants to the number of engines in a department, the equipment available, and so on. The lower the rating, the better. Only a dozen communities in the nation (among them Las Vegas) have a rating of 1, Beadle said.
The rating affects property insurance rates for homeowners and commercial property owners. Generally, the higher the rating, the higher the premiums.
Palm Coast’s rating is a 4. The county’s is a 3. Flagler Beach’s is a 5.
Reducing the number of engines could possibly impact the ISO rating. “What would that mean to the residents? ISO rating is nice, it’s a bragging point, but what’s its utilitarian value?” Netts asked.
“I can’t answer, but our ISO number would go back up because we don’t have that back-up that they’re looking for,” Beadle said.
Beadle is right, but only up to a point: the ISO rating might go up to a 5, but any ISO rating below a 6, and between 3 and 6, will not change homeowners’ rates, a high fire official in the county who’s analyzed ISO ratings said. Commercial premium rates might be affected, but only modestly.
The council took no decisions Tuesday. But the administration—and DeLorenzo—have their marching orders.
The presentation is available here.
Robert Lewis says
I heard a story many years ago when the city became incorporated that county administration kept a fire truck. If memory serves me quiet well, I believe when this was a service district – they bought a fire truck. After the big fires the county kept that fire truck and never turned that over. I am sure there is lots of stories of bad blood between the county and city.
David S. says
Even though I was a vol ff in the largest county in maryland (prince george) their were many departments who could not afford extra engines I ran sometimes 20 or more fire calls daily. The city of palm coast runs mostly medical calls and the county can step in if needed .I feel thats a waste of taxpayer money at this point.
Why can’t we rebuild one of the trucks engines and drive line, that would only be a fraction of the cost and the truck would run like new, I understand we need new equipment, so you have two options, raise taxes a bit (which I am okay with) as long as the money is spent wislely, or go with out. They had all that rent money coming in from the red light cameras for 3 years (over 300K a year) where did that money go to? spent like they always do, spend and then complain you are broke.
These “Jerks” need to be challenged, the Counties ISO Rating is lower than the Cities, yet we have more personnel, more equipment and only 20% of the area to cover. Why not simply tell the County we are seriously “Thinking” about doing away with our own Fire Department, how long will it take you to ensure coverage while maintain your 3.5 Rating? And Oh by the way we’re already paying for fire protection so don’t go looking for more revenue.
The fleet would last longer if the engines were not used for personal errands. There are often trucks, empty and engines running, hidden away between the Publix and the former Peoples First bank in the Palm Harbor shopping center.
I don’t go to Publix often, but when I do, half the time I see different units parke there with engines throbbing.
Fireman work 24 hour shifts and are entitled to eat. If they leave the station they have to bring the truck in case there is a call while they are out. Not really personal errands. Now as far as the engine running, I’m not for that, but never seen it.
Rick Belhumeur says
Flagler Beach is buying a $600,000 fire truck with infrastructure dollars that they received using the same formula that’s used when Palm Coast gets their money. That formula is based on population, meaning that Palm Coast gets fifteen times more Infrastructure money than the tiny city of Flagler Beach. If Fire Apparatus are a priority, then don’t spend your money on other things and then whine because it’s gone.
I totally support the City of Palm Coast on this one!!
When we demanded and voted incorporation given the lack of services the county was providing the residents of Palm Coast until 2009, while we were the 800 pound gorilla contributor to this county taxes, the city charter created was too magnanimous to the county….
Everyone look at the city versus county taxes we pay yearly to Suzanne Johnson our tax collector and is pathetic that this county give the city of Palm Coast residents only 20% of our services while collecting from our home taxes 200 percent of what we pay to the city of Palm Coast. Example my property tax bill this year paid the county $1,090 and to the city $540. City of Palm Coast gives us all our infrastructure services except the Sheriff, Tax Collector, Court and SOE and for that City contributes to the Sheriff a couple of millions or so additional a year, as I recall. That is the reason why the county afforded those Taj Mahals in Rte. 100 Moody Boulevard and the derelict Mori Houseini utility plant for Halifax Plantation and that I. Bank/Legal firm owned hospital…and all the airport Ginn hangars and Cakes Across building, that they say is their “self sustained enterprise” now, after they stick it to us for decades.
My county taxes were increased by the FCBOCC and Coffey in the last 2 years (2012 to 2014) by total $154 when the city in the same period only increase $17. Its time that we the citizens of Palm Coast demand a fair share of the tax revenues distribution at least for Palm Coasters and probably with the other cities is happening the same or worst. Are the citizens of Flagler Beach, Beverly Beach and Bunnell being gouged as well by paying this county 200 percent or more of our homes taxes and receiving 20% of the county services? They always come up with the excuse that they pay the Sheriff…we pay additional for that too while Palm Coast generates the 800 lb. gorilla of this county tax revenue. Please all resident tax payers in the Flagler County cities look at your homes tax bill and analyze how many infrastructure services the county provides you (20%) and will realize the waste of our taxes and the gouging. Some of these cities have their own police departments like Flagler Beach and Bunnell.
We should form a coalition of residents tax payers and demand that we get the proper tax revenue redistribution to our cities that give us 80% of our services versus the 20% of this county services we receive. In Palm Coast we have a deficient road paving maintenance for insufficient funds, and probably they keep us up in an insufficient maintenance schedule for that reason, also the quality of the asphalt renewed is poor to say the least also because maybe is cheaper to accommodate to the funds.
Chief Beadle is correct we need to confront the county and demand “were is our beef” . Often I been told that (though I love Florida) the good old boy system here out of Tallahassee over protects its counties.I say that takes place until the tax payers will revolt and start demanding a fair share tax redistribution for our cities from these over paid, money wasting counties…at least Flagler! Collecting 200 per cent of our taxes while giving us 20% of our infrastructure etc. services. What is up with that?
The tax payers residents of Flagler Beach are worst gouged than Palm Coasters as they pay their 200 % more to the county than to their city and still have to foot themselves their “own police department”…C’mon cities tax payers lets unite and demand if needed in Tallahassee a fair redistribution of our taxes before our cities will go broke and our city taxes will have to sky rocket to sustain our services.
Also our water front proximity or location pay double plus the taxes than the other homes….while the services we receive for that are almost none, except thieves visiting our properties to steal from the waters. No dredging, no enforcing seawalls docks repairs/derelict non licensed boat towed. Near zero services except some sheriff “occasionally” patrolling only. Then were the water front higher taxes we pay go to, other than our services?
Donna Heiss says
I am a supporter of a new fire truck and new Rescue trucks as well as more paramedics to man them. There are more than several times coverage has to be brought in from St Johns and Volusia.
The nay sayers have nothing to complain about if they or their loved one has a long wait time for rescue. I will gladly pay extra tax dollars for these services.
Wake up. You may be the next one that needs them.
Good points confidential
Palm Coast Resident says
If the City AND the County would stop using the fire engines along with the ambulances for medical calls and use the smaller medic units for them, that would save loads of wear and tear on the engines !
I have to say that Resident is correct…why do I see and ambulance with paramedics and a huge fire truck too, when there is no fire and looks like just an ill person wheeled out the house?
Carl "Willy" Laundrie says
I am a Firefighter and Palm Coast resident.
A citizen who owns an average sized home in Palm Coast will pay more for their cell phone or cable T.V. in a year than the amount allotted for Fire service from their property tax. When you put in prospective like that it becomes hard to argue against the importance of a properly funded Fire Department. When City First incorporated in 1999 it technically had no Fire Department of its own. Both of the Fire Stations located in the city at that time were funded and staffed with County Tax Payer dollars. While other parts of the County went without Full time staffed Fire departments Palm Coast enjoyed the benefits of a professional Fire department. Yes a special taxing district was established, but Palm Coast used it’s lion share of the resources. When the city incorporated the County Turned all of the buildings and equipment that had been in part paid for by developers, and in part by county tax dollars to the City. The 1 engine they did keep, was an old FMC.
The City council needs to be realistic about its options with regards to funding Fire equipment. Ask yourself this: is a city owned Golf Course more important than Fire Equipment?
There is a simple reason the city contracts with the Sheriff’s department for law enforcement. It’s too expensive to start and fund its own Police Department.
As the county grows in population the problem of Fire Department funding, Firefighter pay, response agreements, and scope of emergencies will grow with it. The most cost effective option would be consolidation of all fire services within the county.
I support Chief Beedle’s efforts in trying to improve his department. I would support a raise in taxes to provide for better equipment..
I do not support the council’s unrealistic approach to the situation.
Retired FF says
Many of the residents have chosen Palm Coast to be home as a result of the quality of live here. Part of that quality is having first class services to include the Palm Coast Fire Department and its excellent level of service that is provided the citizens. Taxpayers don’t think much about Fire and Emergency Medical Services until they are needed. Look back at the wildfire seasons of 1985 and 1998. Palm Coast which was much less populated at the times lost many homes as a result of extreme fire behavior and not enough resources to combat the fires. When a brush fire breaks out now there is a sufficient response to the incident by equipment designed to contain the fire. If you do not replace antiquated equipment the response to those incidents will be greatly diminished and that will result in tax paying property loss. As far as fire trucks at the grocery stores, etc. I would rather have a crew stop by the store on their truck while returning from an incident or training to get what they need. The equipment is with them should they immediately respond to an emergency at YOUR HOUSE. I would have hoped that Palm Coast would have already had a vehicle replacement program in place, but with the squawking that most taxpayers make about even the slightest increase in the tax base it is no wonder there isn’t. In regard to the fire department responding to medical incidents, I would rather have a guaranteed response to my loved ones by a Palm Coast fire fighter that possibly having to wait an unknown time frame for the County Ambulance to show up from somewhere they may be. Do some research and you will find that many times the County Ambulances are not where they are initially assigned because of having to cover other areas or transporting patients as far away as Daytona Beach. SUPPORT YOUR FIRE DEPARTMENT!
I think we definitely should have up to date fire trucks. PC’s population is growing every day and the more people that live here, the more homes there are to possibly catch fire, not to mention our wildfires.
I think every resident has the right to feel they are as safely protected as possible. However, having the EMS AND the fire department respond to the same medical call is overdone and not necessary.
Regarding FF comments I also agree…that probably as I suspected our fire engines show up given the potential delay in the county EMS ambulance response after all this county never cared enough for Palmcoasters except to gouge us. My appreciation to our city fire department readiness to assist us. I still stick to that we pay this county in our home taxes 200 per cent of what we pay our cities when county only provides about 20% of our infrastructure and emergency services. No matter the rhetoric above of the former News Journal and later hired Flagler County Public information official Carl Laundrie above. He is also for us to pay more taxes other than getting the fair redistribution of already our overpaid taxes to Flagler County! I am against consolidation as I know well why we decided to become a city and “was because the county did not provide Palmcoasters with the services we paid in our taxes, while we provided the lions share of the tax revenue!!” Maybe the county should consolidate with city of Palm Coast fire services and have Chief Beadle at the helm instead. Sorry, but we Palmcoasters do not trust this county BOCC that is why we voted to incorporate in 2009! Yes is cheaper for us to pay extra about 2 million for the Sheriff services other than funding our own Police Dept. but at the same time we are funding county waste in our 200 percent paying more to the county than to our cities that give us 80 percent of our infrastructure services, That is the reality that most do not stop to see, no matter which color you want to paint it Mr. Carl Laundrie, recently retired and just replaced by the county with another former News Journal reporter Julie Murphy! Doesn’t this smell fishy?
Willy Laundrie says
I am not Carl Laundrie the former communications director for Flagler County. I am however his son, who has been a Firefighter/Paramedic for 15+ years.. If you read my comment carefully you will see I used my nickname “willy” to disguise myself from my father..
Due to critical calls involving patients with life threatening injuries or illness, the Fire apparatus will respond with the Ambulance to assist in patient care at the scene and during transport.. Normally an ambulance is staffed with 2.. 1 EMT and 1 Paramedic.. Someone has to drive the ambulance, while the other attends to the patient.. In seriously ill patients, a second care giver is required to assist in care..
It’s actually more cost effective to have the engine respond with the ambulance to those particular calls, rather than hiring a 3rd person to additionally staff the ambulance..
These opinions are my own, and do not reflect the opinions of my employer.
Jim Neuenfeldt says
Palm coast could always do what the City of Jacksonville did….They swallowed up all of Duval County except for a few cities that were already existing. Then they could tax everyone, keep all of the money and spend it where it is needed. It is a win win situation, because it reduces duplication efforts.
just saying says
As the city of bunnell found out, people have to opt into incorporation. I will not live in Palm Coast, I won’t incorporate into Bunnell either.
One question, is Palm coast able to provide ALS service? Is the county the only ambulance with a medical director that allows them to provide that level service? Maybe Palm Coast could let the county staff all of their stations and put the money from their ambulance service into the fireservice. Or does the county already have a strong showing of emergency staff inside the city?
Consolidate the governments and stop all the bickering and wasted spending.
Having a fire engine AND a medical vehicle respond to the same medical call is all about pumping up the response numbers and gives false credence to the need for additional expenditures for both personnel and equipment. Follow The Money.
Robert Lewis says
Interesting conversation, especially when it comes to consolidation.
Many moons ago, there was no City of Palm Coast and there was no Flagler County Fire Department. We had a small service district and had to beg for basic services in Palm Coast from the BOCC. We damn near lost our homes in 98 because of ineffective operations and lack of leadership in Flagler County.
In 1999 we incorporated into a city and a year leader the Palm Coast made its own fire department. So now people tell me lets incorporate, I tell them wow buddy slow down. If they consolidated who gets the shaft here? Me in Palm Coast because my fire people get moved to cover Bunnell or Flagler Beach? Or the people living in the Mondex who get a tax increase to pay for my fire service? We know that’s not happening, option B is more likely and then we go back to the old ways of 1998.
How are we saving money here in consolidation? Are we going to fire firefighters or paramedics? I am sure we just shuffle them around, again taking my fire engine away and giving it to someone else. How much money will we save? Is that cost savings worth it? I can go save some money and order a 5 star pizza – but I much prefer flavor, quality, great taste and great service at Mezza Luna.
Who is going to be in charge? Why is it whenever I come on to FlaglerLive and see pictures of a fire or something big there is the Palm Coast Chief right in the middle of it? Why do I never see the Flagler County Chief. Please excuse my ignorance, but I had to google who the Flagler Chief was. Why do I find more pictures of Palm Coast Chief Mike Beadle dressed up in his fireman gear and can not find a single one of Flagler Chief Donald Petito?
I think this whole county operation is a sham. Palm Coast is a great place to live and I love how beautiful my streets are. I love the idea that if I need help, they are on the way – and on the way quickly. I think Palm Coast does a much better job then Flagler County. The reality is it is so much easier to use terms like consolidation or arm chair quarterback when people haven’t got a damn clue on how things really work.
It is a shame Flagler County has recalculated revenue and prevented the city from making purchases. But if we do our research this has not been the first time Palm Coast has fallen victim to the evil hand of the BOCC. Palm Coast tried to obtain a certificate to run an ambulance in 2010 and then tried to purchase an ambulance in 1994. My favorite is when Palm Coast (service district) bought a fire truck in 1995 – the BOCC refused to purchase any fire equipment for it.
Try a google search – you will see how badly the people of Palm Coast have always been treated. No thank you with consolidation. I will keep my Palm Coast Fire Department.
David S. says
As far as I know when i was an FF in maryland this response with a engine and a rescue unit was a US Fire Administration law I forget when this was put in effect ,believe me the extra personell were mostly needed on all of the rescue calls.
I’d like to clarify a few points. When Palm Coast was a service district, its residents paid a separate tax for its paid fire personnel, road department, and code enforcement, even though the County actually controlled them. This was only one of the reasons Palm Coast felt it necessary to incorporate. ITT provided the stations. The County did contribute to Volunteer expenses, as it did with all volunteer companies.
Its interesting that now the County is paying for paid fire services in the unincorporated areas, which it would not do for Palm Coast when it was unincorporated. It means that the Cities in Flagler pay for their own fire service. And as they pay County taxes, they are also paying for the professional fire services for the unincorporated areas. Does any know that in Volusia County, residents in unincorporated areas pay a separate fire district tax for their professional fire service. Now that seems fair.
Robert Lewis says
I like the idea. The residents of Palm Coast, Bunnell and Flagler Beach should immediately stop paying taxes for a fire service they do not receive. Since, they are ultimately billed by the ambulance when they are carried off to the hospital. I think the unincorporated areas should pay for their own fire protection, and let the folks in the incorporated cities not pick up the tab for their work. Only seems fair….
The sky could fall too….there are citizens who drive vehicles with hundreds of thousands of miles on them and rely on their vehicles for further distances than what these fire trucks are used for. There is no reason to replace a fire engine just because it is a particular age. The city of Palm Coast is a relatively small footprint and they have other equipment that is newer that can be used as a back up so it isn’t like the city will go unprotected. Is this all now an issue because Flagler Beach is getting a new fire truck and the City can’t stand being out-done? We know Landon is behind this, but puts the Fire Chief on the horn.