TDC Favors Beverly Beach’s $32,000 Walkover Renovations, But Not Before Unusual Grilling
FlaglerLive | May 18, 2016
It took a little doing and a little grilling, but in the end the Tourist Development Council this morning voted to recommend awarding a $32,000 grant to Beverly Beach to renovate two of its four dune walk-overs.
Two Tourist Development Council members–Kurt Allen, the general manager at Marineland Dolphin Adventure, and Bill McGuire, who represents the Palm Coast City Council on the TDC, grilled Beverly Beach Commissioner Larry Mathies about the project, questioning whether the walk-overs would benefit tourists, and, from McGuire’s perspective, whether the town had attempted to get grants from elsewhere. It had, but for just $1,000 from the Florida Municipal Insurance Trust.
The walk-overs are located on State Road A1A near the Si Como No Motel and Oceanside Condominiums, whose residents are visitors and tourists. One of the walkovers is a ruin. The other is beyond ruin: it’s closed.
The tourist council’s so-called “Fund 109” grants are designed for just such capital improvements. The 109 Fund started the year with $1.9 million, drawn from the 4 percent sales surtax levied on all hotel, motel and other short-term rental charges in the county. (TDC money is taxpayer dollars, but the majority of it is drawn from visitors, and none of it is from the local property tax.)
More heavy-handed questioning of a local project than for subsidies to less transparent out-of-town organizations.
Currently, any local government is eligible to apply for two such grants of up to $150,000 each within a five year period. The fund underwrote the Flagler Auditorium’s recent addition of an LED marquee. It’s also paid for improvements to the Flagler Beach pier and two rounds of improvements to the Indian Trails Sports Complex, among other projects. In 2014 Beverly Beach got a $15,000 grant for another walk-over repair project. The county administration, which now oversees the TDC, wants to change eligibility criteria, with the total amounts to be awarded within five years “to be determined,” Matt Dunn, the county’s tourism director, said.
The grilling was unusual in that it was more probing than some of the questions Dunn fields from the TDC when he asks for equivalent or larger-sized grants from the TDC’s “discretionary” funds, and for events whose benefit to tourism in the county are much less documented or demonstrable, such as recent subsidies of $20,000 to $40,000 for conferences at the Hammock Beach Resort.
The questioning was also another example of many recent such examples of the TDC’s more heavy-handed approach regarding local projects, organizations and governments as opposed to its less rigorous or accountable approach when the applicant is an out-of-town organization, including for-profit organizations. That disparity is becoming more pronounced, in policy and spending, since county government overtook the tourism bureau from the chamber of commerce last year.
Allen and McGuire inquired of Mathies down to questions about the materials to be used, when construction would take place (after turtle season), whether the town has a “firm quote” for the $32,000, why Beverly Beach’s capital budget isn’t financing the project (the town’s budget can’t handle it).“Not to be smart or anything, but you want the TDC to fund $32,000 for a Beverly Beach capital asset and you don’t know how much it costs, but you think it might be in that area, is that a fair summation?” McGuire asked. McGuire is usually the TDC’s most stringent fiscal inquisitor. It was not entirely a fair assessment: When Beverly Beach did just such a project in 2014, the city spent $19,500, according to the documentation submitted to TDC members. Mathies said the city was prepared to fill in whatever extra costs the project might generate beyond the $32,000 grant, as it did in 2014.
“We have a choice,” Mathies said, “to either renovate these with a grant or close them down completely. We can’t afford even if we borrow money to do it ourselves, and truthfully, the two that we’re doing now, plus the one that we did previously are not used that much by the town residents. They’re used primarily by guests and visitors.”
Barbara Revels, who chairs the TDC and also chairs the county commission, reminded council members that Beverly Beach, thanks to a motor-home campground within its borders, “contributes from that facility alone a great deal on a very regular basis towards our funding.”
“Because Beverly Beach is saying that this is going to be an asset to the tourist community, I think it’s a great use of the 109 fund,” Tom Grimes, one of the TDC members–and the general manager at the Hilton Garden Inn–said just before the vote. Beverly Beach’s application was approved with McGuire’s dissent. The vote was merely a recommendation to the Flagler County Commission, which takes up the matter at a meeting later this month.