Last Updated: 8:19 p.m.
Update: The Flagler County Commission Monday night voted 3-1 in favor of two new taxing open-ended districts in the Hammock to pay for long-running but not necessarily catastrophic drainage issues. The “assessments,” as the county administration refers to the new tax, will amount to up to a $75 annual fee for each property in the Malacompra basin, and up to $600 for each property in Marineland Acres.
Commissioners heard from some 18 people or so, most of them opposed to the project, almost all of them certainly opposed to paving streets in Marineland Acres.
“I would like to see this move forward,” Barbara Revels, who chairs the commission, said, lending support to a cap on whatever assessment, or tax, is levied. “I just think this is a vital, important project.” She cited the many recent years of efforts to that end by county government, efforts instigated by pressure from the two subdivisions to get the drainage issues under control.
“Other than maybe one voice I didn’t really hear anybody complaining about the way it is today,” Commissioner Charlie Ericksen, the lone dissenter, said.
Commissioner Nate McLaughlin recalled hearing innumerable complaints about the county not doing anything about drainage over the years–until it started to put the project together. “I am conflicted right now,” he said initially, but moments later said that in the name of quality of life, he was willing to vote–and move for–the project.
Commissioner George Hanns said tonight was the “first time I’ve heard this much dissension for this project since we started it,” and, as the commission’s longest memory, recalled witnessing residents of the two affected subdivisions pleading with commissioners to get something done.
McLaughlin’s motion was to eliminate any plans for paving, and to lower the cap beyond which the annual assessment may not go, for Marineland Acres residents. That cap was set at $600, or $375 lower than the county administration had proposed.
Commissioners enacted the taxing districts at 8:18 p.m.
Details of the project are in the earlier story below.
County Faces Some Opposition to $15 Million Flood-Control Plan, and New Annual Taxes, in Hammock
For years, residents of the Hammock’s Marineland Acres and North Malacompra basins have lived in a giant bathtub. It’s not a problem in dry months. It’s potentially disastrous in wet months or during tropical storms as water levels rise and the areas’ poor to nonexistent drainage system inundates streets and sends water lapping at homes.
For years, residents have been clamoring for county government to fix the problem. For the past few years, the government has been doing just that, mostly through the leadership of the late Commissioner Frank Meeker. By 2014, the administration had produced a three-phase plan that would, when built, manage the basin’s drainage more effectively.
The first phase is under way. But it’s going to cost residents in the form of new annual “assessments,” or taxes. The Flagler County Commission in a special meeting this evening is expected to approve those levies, which go in effect next January and will appear on property owners’ tax bills. The meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. at the Government Services Building in Bunnell, and will include a public participation portion. (See much county administration background on the issue here.)
The cost won’t be steep for the majority of residents—that is, those in the North Malacompra district—including Sea Colony—but south of Marineland Acres. The cost will be $30 in 2017, rising potentially to a maximum of $75 a year after that, indefinitely.
The cost will be much steeper for the residents of Marineland Acres: they’ll have to pay the $30 next year and the potential $75 every year after that. But in addition to that, they will have to pay an annual $900 tax in future years. It’ll be less next year: $435 for a developed lot, $220 for an undeveloped lot. But the tax will rise to up to a total of $975 for a developed lot in subsequent years, for roughly 20 years.
The North MalaCompra District includes 1,419 primarily single-family parcels over 390 acres. The 167-acre Marineland Acres District is expected to have 390 single-family homes, when fully developed.
The plan has drawn some support from residents affected, but it’s also drawn considerably more serious opposition, judging from the proportion of comments and emails sent to the county administration. “The real issue from the people who are opposing any further assessments for future development especially regarding drainage and paving,” wrote James Burke of Rollins Drive: “assessment funding and loss of our natural habitat.” Many residents spoke of the unpaved roads of Marineland Acres as a principal factor in their decision to move there. And as another resident put it, speaking of never having had his Ocean Street home flooded: “I pay over $1,000 a year for flood insurance and do not want to pay another $700 for flood drains.”
The money will pay for a so-called back-bone drainage system than would collect and drain water from streets in Marineland Acres down to a central trunk-line, to a pond, then through an outfall pipe that’ll take the water to the Intracoastal Waterway through the Malacompra district. That water-collecting system in Marineland’s streets will cost $3.5 million. The pipeline system will cost $2.9 million, with the trunk line and pond costing $2.5 million. By the end of Phase 3, with construction starting no sooner than the summer of 2019, streets will have been paved in Marineland Acres.
For all the cost, Marineland Acres residents will end up paying only a portion of the cost of the system, projected to add up to $15 million when completed (annual operations not included). The administration puts the residents’ share of the cost at 10 percent. County government so far has spent $6.5 million to buy land, obtain easements, conduct surveys and engineering studies and obtain permits. The money was drawn from the county’s property-tax supported Environmentally Sensitive Lands coffers, sales and gas tax dollars, and $1.7 million in grants or legislative appropriations, though grants and appropriations may not be used for system maintenance. Those dollars may only be used for capital investments.
“The county needed to identify a source to pay for the operation and maintenance and chose to levy non-ad valorem assessments as the fairest, most equitable way to defray the costs from the properties that will benefit from the improvements,” a letter that went to property owners states. “The operation and maintenance assessments for the backbone system are expected to continue indefinitely.”
The special assessment district is the result of a confluence of circumstances that are all-too common in Florida’s coastal communities, where drainage issues are part of the landscape: the Marineland and Malacompra developments were built in flood-prone zones. The county had no stormwater system in place, nor a means of paying for such a system. And the more lots were developed, the more the problem was aggravated.
Unlike Palm Coast county property owners do not pay a stormwater fee. Many local governments levy those fees—which are indistinguishable from a tax—to pay for their drainage infrastructure. The fee in Palm Coast is $11 a month for a typical homeowner’s lot, or $132 a year. It’s assessed almost universally, with some exceptions for developments (such as Grand Haven) that have their own stormwater systems. The “assessment” in Marineland Acres and the Malacompra Basin will essentially be the same thing: a stormwater fee, dubbed an assessment.
Stanley Bond and Ann Wiles, who own a house on Atlantic Drive, oppose the plan. They bought a lot there in 1999 and built a house in 2014, when they were required to show to the county how they would contain stormwater on their property, so it would not run off. They say they did their job, restricting the size of their house as a result. “We also had to construct swales to contain storm water to our lot,” they wrote. “All of these requirements were significant additions to the cost of our house. However, in having contained the storm water to our lot we are no longer a source of street and neighborhood flooding. These new assessments put us in a double jeopardy situation. In effect we would be paying twice for flood control.” Their recommendation: either allow for exemptions or put the drainage proposal up to a vote of property owners.
They were echoed by other residents who wrote to the county administration, including Greg Ludwig, who spoke of his opposition to the plan absent a vote, and said commissioners would levy the assessments until they decide “that enough ‘blood’ has been let.”
“I know this area needs drainage,” Ludwig wrote, “but put it to a vote of the people it is for. The mission for our commissioners is to secure funding for such issues not ‘sick it to residents’ of Flagler without their consent.”
Gregory Andriate was more complimentary. The resident of Rollins Drive in Marineland Acres wrote the county administrator on Sept. 5 to applaud him with “unqualified support” for the plan. “Those of us who’ve followed your efforts in recent years truly appreciate the dedication and perseverance demonstrated in addressing and alleviating our flooding problems.” Ed Christopher of Flagler Drive was equally supportive. “I have been a property owner in Marineland Acres since 1995 and have spent more time in Rubber boots than I care to remember,” he wrote the administrator last week. “This project should not only solve our flooding issues but increase our property values and help preserve our vehicles as well. Thanks also for finding ways to help make this affordable.”
Some residents, like Paul Van Lengen of Moody Drive, wrote to oppose the plan to pave roads, saying that would add unnecessary costs to the project. Others, like Paula Rae Guttmann of Rollins Drive, urged commissioners to “not be swayed by the few that voice opposition to the road paving aspect. Paving will improve the quality of the ultimate runoff into our vital intracoastal & it also helps offset costs to property owners.”
Others, like Sharon Bodoh, spoke of sympathizing with neighbors (even though Bodoh herself has no drainage issues) but also opposed paving (“We built here because of the shell roads and beach atmosphere,” she wrote. “Don’t be so quick to take away one of Flagler County’s gems”) and suggested taking the project one step at a time to see if it yielded results before committing to the entire approach upfront.
Some residents were concerned about not having their questions answered—and, ironically, not being able to attend an open house on the issue because that was when Hurricane Hermine was bearing down on Florida.