In the more than two decades he’s been mayor of Beverly Beach, Steve Emmett said he’s never known of a local municipality donating money to the Flagler County Health Department. Monday evening, the Beverly Beach Town Commission voted unanimously to donate $10,000 to the health agency. For a town of 476 residents and total budgeted revenue of less than $250,000, that’s not a small sum.
It was Commissioner Jeff Schuitema’s idea, and it was inspired by the kind of work–and the kind of person–he sees in Bob Snyder, who heads the health department and has been a leading architect of the county’s covid response.
“You guys all know the story during vaccination time,” Schuitema (pronounced sky-ta-ma) told his colleagues at Monday’s meeting. “I set up with Grace pharmacy to come out and give vaccinations. Well, two days, three days before that, they found out they couldn’t give the vaccinations. We had it all set up for the whole town of Beverly Beach to get vaccinations. Mr. Snyder here bailed me out. The health department came over he had, I don’t know, 40 or 50 shots done in two hours. They were very efficient, very prompt. And I’ve been thankful since then.”
A plaque of appreciation was all fine and good. But it wasn’t enough. Last year the city received $107,000 from the federal American Rescue Plan, the first half of a $214,000 allocation. (President Biden signed the $1.9 trillion legislation into law in March 2021.) The city could spend the money on numerous initiatives, from Covid mitigation to public health to infrastructure projects.
“The DOH in Flagler is the second-worst funded health department in 67 other regions in the state,” Schuitema said. “This is because our allocation in state general revenue is based on population figures that are 25 years old.” Snyder has been working with Rep. Paul Renner, the Palm Coast Republican and soon-to-be Speaker of the House, to correct the matter, the commissioner said. “So what are these funds going to be used for? Well, one is to promote our pre-diabetes, diabetes education and treatment program.” (The commissioner noted incorrectly that “Flagler County has a highest rate of persons with diabetes compared to the state average.” The average fluctuates. In 2020, the last year for which figures are available, Florida Charts reports 43 deaths attributed to diabetes in the county, for a rate of 18.1 per 100,000 population, well below the state rate of 23.2. The previous two years though, Flagler’s rate was higher, and was again below the state’s rate in 2017.)
Schuitema cited a few other diabetes-related spending the department was planning. In an interview this morning, Snyder said he might also appropriate some of the money to repairing signs along A1A indicating where the department conducts quarterly sampling of ocean water to check for harmful bacteria (the signs were destroyed by topical storms), though he said “I’m leaning more toward direct clinical services.” At any rate, the commission motion that called for the vote also included a stipulation that Snyder, in one of the commissioners’ words, “comes back after six months and tells us what the hell you use the money for.”
There was no debating Schuitema’s proposal. It was a first for the health department, but not a first for Beverly Beach, which has had a giving streak for some years. “This is a small town with a good heart. That is our logo,” Emmett said, listing other $10,000 donations over the years–for ambulances to get GPS devices, for a first-responder crew that went to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, a smaller amount donated to the Salvation Army, and now this. ” I just would like you to remember one thing when you talk to anybody outside this community in your daily business over there at the county. The one thing that we stand up for is we say, we are a small town with a good heart, the town of Beverly Beach. Okay? And I tried to get that word out everywhere. Because I know it’s true.” (It’s also a small town that, thanks to an indifferent press–FlaglerLive included– that thinks Flagler’s world revolves around Palm Coast, Flagler Beach, Bunnell and the county, very seldom gets attention.)
“We’re blessed in that respect to be able to do this and we don’t expect other municipalities to do it,” Jim Ardell, the town’s manager, said this morning. “There’s a tendency to look at abuses of power and abuses of money in government, yet there’s very little said of the selflessness, the people who look to government to help, to try to do a good job.”
Snyder, who was present for the occasion, of course could not resist providing a few public health pointers regarding the latest and ongoing surge in omicron-led covid infections, which is breaking records locally and nationally, but appears to be less deadly than the delta wave. He assured commissioners that the town will have sufficient test kits for its residents.
“And I just want to thank you and all the commissioners, Jeff, I know that you are the coordinator and arranger of this,” Snyder told the commission, referring specifically to Schuitema. “So thank you so much from the bottom of my heart. Yes, you are a small town. Yes, you are a small community, but man, you all have a big heart. You are just wonderful people, and never in the history of the Health Department do we recall any municipality giving us a donation like this.” One commissioner asked for a plaque in return.
The town will be getting the balance of its $215,000 allocation in summer. It plans to use the money for air-handling upgrades at the town’s offices, to buy covid test kits for free distribution to residents, and possibly for some infrastructure work.