In a surprise 3-2 vote–surprising as much for the way the vote broke down as for its outcome–the Flagler County Commission this afternoon resisted Sheriff Rick Staly’s request for an additional $700,000, opting instead to hope for “savings” during the coming year, either on the sheriff’s side or on the county’s side of the ledger, that could fill that gap.
The county and the sheriff for weeks have been stalemated over a budget gap of between $700,000 and $1.3 million, depending on how the budget was calculated. Last week the sheriff made a plea in person, backed by a roomful of deputies, sheriff’s employees and their families whom the sheriff had urged to be there, to provide the remaining of the sheriff’s budget request in addition to a $4.5 million increase he will be getting.
The commission appeared willing, and directed County Administrator Heidi Petito to prepare options to get there by today’s workshop, which had been scheduled a day after the primary election to remove the political element from the equation.
It may have done just that, if not to the sheriff’s benefit: Commissioners Dave Sullivan, Andy Dance and Joe Mullins voted to resist the sheriff’s request for now, pending vague savings ahead. They also, in the same motion, which Sullivan proposed, voted to keep next year’s property tax rate flat, which will equate to a roughly 14 percent tax increase for non-homesteaded properties.
Sullivan accepted a Dance amendment to direct the administrator to reach a deal with the sheriff on seeking and keeping any savings he manages through his own budget, the way other constitutional officers do. “If we do the same thing with the other constitutionals,” Dance said, “let’s get into a handshake agreement with the sheriff on the savings and returning it to him, which would in theory offset the $700,000.”
Commissioners Donald O’Brien and Greg Hansen voted against the motion. Hansen called it “mushy.” O’Brien was against adopting a tax rate that would not provide at least a symbolic cut. The commission will not adopt the official tax rate until September. Today’s vote suggests O’Brien will oppose it then, too, thus voting against the budget to be adopted. He will have that luxury, knowing that a majority of commissioners will adopt the budget and the new tax rate.
Mullins’s vote was the surprise: trying to repair self-inflicted damage from his own disrespectful and insulting encounters with Florida Highway Patrol troopers in recent weeks, he’d attempted to portray himself as the sheriff’s biggest supporter ahead of yesterday’s election. Hours after a lopsided loss at the polls, looking grim and diminished behind the dais, Mullins cast what proved to be the deciding vote against the sheriff’s request, Mullins’s fealty abrogated.
Staly was in the audience, and the room was again packed despite the 1 p.m. midweek timing of the meeting. But this time it was not just a sea of green, but a red sea on one side, representing a mass of Flagler County Fire Rescue firefighters, EMTs and employees, and sheriff’s deputies and employees on the other. The firefighters and EMTs were there to remind the commission that their salaries and their needs counted as well.
Staly had opened that door last week when he mentioned that the county should pay deputies as much as it paid firefighters–$51,000. The figure was only partially correct. Petito specified at the meeting that firefighters are not synonymous with paramedics, nor is their pay, though it’s the county’s goal to move all firefighters to firefighter-paramedics. Only firefighter-paramedics start at $51,000, while firefighters who are not yet paramedics start at $41,000. (Most of the department’s personnel are firefighter-paramedics.)
Jason Powell, Flagler County Fire Rescue’s union leader, was blunt as he addressed the commission: “I don’t want this to turn into an us versus them situation because we support and love our brothers and sisters in green. But you need to stop giving into the sheriff when it comes to his wants and needs for more money. Daily as firefighters we live and work in our fire stations that are less than adequate. Some were built in the right of way, not even on a parcel of land. They are prone to flooding and had to have to be repaired twice due to mold. We still use them.” He said none of the stations meet Florida building code, and leave firefighters vulnerable to carcinogens. He spoke of the needs for new engines, new ambulances, the inevitable overtime.
“We suffer from the same turnover as the sheriff’s office,” he said, before administering a backhanded slap on the commissioners: “Because we don’t have a vocal politician as our advocate and boss demanding more money, we have an appointed boss and the five of you elected officials, the advocate for the fire department and the rest of the county departments. So before you decide to give the sheriff’s office more money, why don’t you start taking care of your employees on the board side? When will you start advocating for them and making sure they have the necessary tools to do their jobs.”
The Sheriff’s Chris Ragazzo, speaking as a representative of the deputies’ union, responded: “I too don’t want it to become an us versus anybody. I was a firefighter. I support firefighters. I think everybody deserves the opportunity to get the best of everything. But even after we got significant raises last couple of years, we’re still losing men and women to surrounding agencies. We’re not able to currently keep and maintain those that we need. We’re going to become a training stomping grounds. We’re going to hire them or we’re going to train them and they’re going to move on.” He urged the commission to find a solution, whether through the tax rate or other means.
Other than a stark, point-by-point outline of the county’s budget, pressures and limitations by Petito, those rank and file responders proved to have the most compelling arguments of the day, leaving the elected scrambling for a way through the administrator’s three options.
Petito framed the county budget within the county’s strategic plan, or long-term goals. She acknowledged rising tax revenue, but said the increase “has largely been negated due to the tremendous increases in operating costs,” while the county is taking measures in case of a recession. The budget, she said, “is fair” and takes in accounts “needs” ahead of “wants.” She noted that the county is not adequately staffed for its maintenance needs, the transportation department is understaffed because of low pay, and 24 employees have left for better salaries elsewhere.
Petito was echoing the same issues the sheriff had earlier this month, when he made the case for a higher budget. The county has 22 unfunded positions–$8.8 million–half of them for public safety. “We’re unable to do it,” Petito said. But as she accumulated the county’s list of unfunded needs, from sea rise protection to stormwater plans to dunes and beach management, her message was clear: every un-budgeted dollar that goes to the sheriff is a dollar subtracted from those unfunded needs.
The county got a $2.53 million increase in its expected revenue in June, when it got the final taxable value assessments, raising the county’s added revenue to $9 million. Almost half that revenue–$4.31 million–would go to salaries, health insurance and other benefits and retirement costs, and $2 million would go to reserves. The salary increases include those going to firefighters and EMTs. The rest would be parceled out between different needs, from building a reserve for the next emergency helicopter purchase ($250,000), to operating increases, and so on.
The sheriff is opting to abandon the county’s self-insured health plan. The county had planned to expand the employee health clinic at a cost of $428,000. The county no longer plans to do that. But other costs have eaten up what would have been that saving, from fuel increases to legally required minimum wage increases.
Then Petito, without changing tone, segued into what she portrayed as substantial county subsidies of the sheriff’s costs that never appear in the sheriffs’s budget: “An issue came up at the last meeting, it was mentioned that we carry a little over $2 million riding through the board side for items that are in support of our law enforcement,” she said. “This is a detailed breakdown of things that we would like to transfer back over to the sheriff.”
“These are the items that directly relate to his operation. This would be the utility costs for your water, sewer, your natural gas, your electricity, fleet repairs, which are currently covered under an interlocal agreement,” the administrator continued. And those costs, currently shouldered, or absorbed, by the county, were estimated at $1.52 million, Petito said. “It’s not that he’s unhappy with the service but I think that handing that money over to him provides more accountability at that level.” That includes IT services of nearly $700,000, utility costs of $200,000, and fleet repairs of $581,000.
She then shifted to the $40 million in “unfunded capital projects.” The county has $67 million in reserves, but only $6.2 million unrestricted. The rest can’t be tapped whenever the county has unexpected needs.
The county is operating on an overall $224 million budget, $133 million of it in the general fund (which pays for the sheriff’s office and other constitutional officers.) Public safety takes up $53.9 million of that, or about half the budget. Of that, 64 percent goes to the sheriff, 30 percent goes to Flagler County Fire Rescue. That funding does not include an additional $3 million for the sheriff’s jail, from sales tax revenue.
Petito presented three option. Option One would leave the sheriff $700,000 short of what he’s asking for, and the county $9 million short of what the administration would want. The Clerk of Court and the Supervisor of elections would also have over $350,000 in needs unfunded between them. For that option, the tax rate would have to remain flat.
Option Two would reduce the tax rate minimally, but would widen the sheriff’s budget gap to $922,000 and add slightly to the gap with the Clerk of Court. Option Three would again go with a flat tax rate, would fully fund the sheriff’s request, but that would put the responsibility of the $700,000 gap on the county, which would have to pare its own budget to make up the difference. “So really the only one that would be taking a true deficit on this option would be the Board of County Commission, which would be a $700,000 reduction in our budget for next year,” Petito said before turning the matter over to the commission.
“Well, if we take the $700,000, where are we going to take that? There’s no free lunch here,” Commissioner Greg Hansen said.
“You’d have to cut it from your reserves,” Petito said, “unless you decided to cut programs or some other funding at the program level,” making it a reduction in services.
“Taking from the reserves for a recurring cost is not prudent. Financially it’s not fiscally sound policy,” Commissioner Andy Dance said, pointing out a cardinal rule of budgeting that Hansen then explained: “If we do that, that just means next year we have to do it again. And then the year after that, and the year after that.”
“It would be recurring at that point,” Petito said.
Yet Hansen, in a contradiction, was opposed to the motion that would prevent a raid on reserves. If he was aiming for a tax rate reduction, a reduction of a tenth of a mil would have resulted in a $1 million “reduction in services,” according to the administrator, in addition to the sheriff’s $700,000 gap.
Sullivan proposed that the county adopt a tax rate equal next year and leave the sheriff $700,000 short, with the proviso that during the year, the county–or the sheriff–could find revenue that would fill that gap, whether through the county’s or the sheriff’s means. The money isn’t a guarantee, but a possibility.
“I find it amazing that we can’t find millage savings on the back of an 18 percent property value increase,” Dance said. Dance had taken the position that he would not accept a flat millage rate: he wanted some form of decrease in the rate, “even though it’s ceremonial.” And he expected all parties, all departments, including constitutionals, to have to do their share. “The next decision we make next year or two years down the road is going to be significantly worse. And that’s what I fear,” Dance said.
O’Brien had “philosophical problems” with Petito’s presentation and objected to Sullivan’s motion: the county was adding $9 million in revenue. The county delivered services this current year for an amount without those $9 million. “I don’t look at it like we’re at a bare bones budget here and we have to go into reserves for $900,000 or $700,000 to fund the sheriff’s request,” he said. (The $9 million increase in revenue awards the sheriff half that amount.)
He said he wanted a slight tax rate decrease of a tenth of a mil, that the sheriff should get an extra $900,000 he’s asking for, and that the county should absorb the cost.
That would grant the sheriff $5 million in additional revenue, Dance said. “At what point is it fair to all the constitutionals that if we if we reduce it, we’re not making the other constitutionals whole? And is it always us that’s playing catch up?”
Pressing for the first option, he would compromise this year: stay at a flat tax rate, showing himself–ever the pragmatist–willing to compromise with his own prior commitment to lower the tax rate by a tenth. Meanwhile the county could keep working with constitutionals, especially the sheriff, to find ways to keep the county from absorbing additional costs.
Last week, Dance was a voice in the wilderness on the commission, as he had been since his election, with a block of votes, especially the O’Brien-Sullivan-Mullins axis, usually arrayed against him. Today, he was squarely in a majority that bore his stamp, and that may herald the realignment of a commission that will likely soon replace Mullins with a Dance ally.
Call me Ishmael says
I worked for a large public institution for over 3 decades. It was routine for department heads to be told to reduce their funding requests by 5 percent come budget time.
We do it in our own personal budgets when necessary.
Don’t believe that the city will grind to a halt if departments don’t get what they want, especially the sheriff. Want to raise salaries? Look first to your own budget.
Dennis C Rathsam says
since the sheriff is such an inavator… Lets see some inovation…beside hiding motorcycle radar in bushes on Belle Tere. & the assholes that dress up as uncle sam & santa on palm coast parkway…. YA,ll have bigger fish to fry, than a guy late for work…. Kids smokin pot on the bus to Buddy Taylor, Gangs destroying our schools. Sure speeding is wrong but, not if your keeping up with traffic. If the city would get off its ass and address the traffic problem. Seems they turn their back on traffic to introduce more homes to out city, more homes… more people… more traffic….WOW isnt that amazing?
Sounds more like school issues than Law Enforcement Issues. What do you want them to disguise themselves as bus drivers and start arresting Middle School Students….lol..
Robert Joseph Fortier says
That seems logical…
Justin Case says
Since my kids go to BTMS I like it when they “hide in the bushes.” I see people every day doing 40-50 through the school zone – NOT COOL. I’m also pretty sure that “keeping up with traffic” IS wrong if you’re over the posted limit. If you are late for work, deal with the consequences, and leave earlier tomorrow.
Fed up says
Look in the budget, the money is there. There is extra added to the unrestricted reserves and the capital improvement sections that the county can never spend nor complete in a year, as well as other places. Staff are being added in Petito’s old department and she only ever references those departments in examples. Should we build a library and add extra staff as well? Not smart people. Look through the budget and find the extra money, it’s there and is hiding in plane sight.
This is a rich area, why do we have dilapidated firehouses? These elected officials sound confused arguing about a tenth of a mill. What that works out to is a few dollars for each homeowner.
The financial situation for the county has moved beyond “fiscal conservatism” to a starvation diet where only the sheriff gets enough to eat. It’s unsustainable to “defund” the rank and file workers all for a meaningless talking point, “we cut taxes.”
Anything worth doing is worth doing well. If you’re only pretending to provide essential services why collect taxes at all?
I don’t deny the Sherriff but question why education has been near the last in the nation much less the county. Why did only one person mention this when Mullins requested a second motion to the Sherriff’s reqeuest during the meeting?
It’s time for the Staly gravy train to end.
I guess that Mullins has nothing but disdain for the Flagler County and its First Responders since he was voted out of Office by the Electorate.
The Kool Aid of Biden’s Build Back Better really. The inflation of 1 year & 7+ months of Biden. Can fund a non-operational splash pad, expand a tennis center, the growth in Flagler was warned about not having enough infrastructure for roads/traffic for the growth. Flagler Beach can’t afford July 4th fireworks, the beach is eroding, it’s just a mess of not having the money to grow. Any media care to report on the impact of Biden open borders. That build back better was seed money at best to start projects that will be nothing more than undone/unfinished projects.
Where I lived in South Miami, that’s what happened when the Bush => Obama bailouts of that recession happened. This nation has been in a recession and the cover up of Covid & anything else to pull off getting Biden-Harris in power and it’s no shock to me this is what is happening. I don’t believe for a moment that crime is down in Flagler County, why would there be a need to hire more Sheriff officers/deputies ? I get more homes, more people, but I think the better jobs aren’t for existing Flagler county residents, they are for the corporations that are relocating to the area and that’s an import of those employees. I’d like to know how many jobs have actually been offered to employees that were here in Flagler county at least 1-5 years before that new employer got a deal to relocate. The new hospital facility, where are all those doctors, nurses & administrative staff relocating from ? Volusia, St Johns, Duval counties ? Just before the Covid scamdemic, the Economic Development Department that was here to create jobs & lure employers to the area. That entire department & staff was terminated as ineffective. Just keeping the box score real.
Sometimes you have to say No, that should’ve been the splash pad & tennis center expansion for pickleball. The moldy buildings for the Sheriff. It’s almost too ironic that Staly declined/refused to be in those buildings, yet we read about the Fire Stations as moldy buildings where the firefighters are housed. Just not enough money to go around, Mullins put it the funds are drying up with consequences in another article’s quote of the situation at ground zero. Raising taxes on the rest of us in inflation like this nation has never seen and that’s not going to work either. The impact fees need to be collected & applied, the growth is a mess & now the real estate market is stalling, higher interest rates. Maybe Flagler county is still a “hot” market ? I think it will be able to pace the new hospital growth. But the council gave itself raises, Petito ended up getting an increase above & beyond Cameron compensation. That position was adequately funded for compensation when Cameron retired & stepped down and Petito came in as the interim. Another $ 15K for that to continue what Cameron had implemented. But inflation was the late 2021 battle cry. and it wasn’t even the worst of the inflation as 2022 has proven to be. They spend money like drunk sailors on shore leave. I hope the newly elected of Flagler County & City of Palm Coast don’t come in green and start giving away the farm in 2023. That’s been done enough over the last 3 years at least.
Been There says
I’m sorry, what does Biden have to do with the County budget? The splash pad and tennis center are Palm Coast amenities. The tennis center is expanding with monies from a tourism development grant which comes from state funds. The moldy sheriff’s building wasn’t moldy enough to be abandoned. It could have been remediated easily. That was just Staly playing politics because he didn’t want to live in Manfre’s house.
A lot of the money starts off as Federal funding, trickles it’s way to State level funding, then finds it’s way to local county & city. The growth of this county is from affordable housing, build back better and anything else. It’s a mixture of pots of money, just enough to get the ball rolling & then gouge the masses for what isn’t funded. The concrete pier for Flagler Beach, that’s going to come from Federal Money too, just like the dune replenishment from the hurricanes.
The last time I checked it was all Republicrumbs running this town into the ground !!!!
Robert Joseph Fortier says
That may be because most of the Republicans that do run for office here are extremists.
As the Minority Leader in my community up north, we didn’t operate such a shit show…we worked together in support of the constituents wants and needs.
Many in this group of current Republicans are in it for the paycheck, ego, and selfish needs.
I love living here, but fear that extremism may well take over our County if those who do vote continue to elect radicals and those not qualified for the job.
We CAN change this, but it requires that more people vote and that they actually study who the candidates are and what they stand for…before voting…Democrat OR Republican.
Randy Bentwick says
The money for the splash pad and tennis courts are a Palm Coast thing – not a county thing.
“Flagler Beach can’t afford July 4th fireworks, ”
Flagler Beach dropped the ball on getting Fireworks, not because they didn’t have the money. I guess you wouldn’t want to check that though.
Looks like the “SHERIFF OF NOTTINGHAM “ Stahly, over played his hand. Next time instead of ARROGANCE try TACT. Instead of BULLYING try RATIONALITY. Finally, the next time instead of FANTASY TRY FACTS.
STOP SELF PROMOTING AND COINING CHEESY CATCH PHRASES FOR SHERIFFS OFFICE FACILITIES.
Randy Bentwick says
Staly was probably going to use the money to have a statue of himself built in front of his new building.
…but not before installing another expensive camera and an extra monitor to observe those who might be looking at the statue of himself.
SO bought a tank recently, they have a bunch of armored mil vehicles actually. They getting a 24M building. I think they can find some savings….
that sheriffs building is actually closer to 40 million dollars when its officially done because staly bought even more land for a second building near the new sheriff’s office in Bunnel. and the county is spending 14 million on a new library. the flagler fire stations are disgusting but the palm coast fire stations are nice. Flagler county fire fighters get dealt crap every day, but they still come to work and serve the public. My best friend works for Flagler fire and the stories he tells would piss off the public if they knew how bad it was for them.
I always found it funny that Palm Coast (and I suppose Flagler county by extension) was so often referred to as “Mayberry.” I find that comparison even more humorous when upon reflection, one realizes that the sheriff of Mayberry was one of the few characters on the show to have a stable, secure job… of course the fictitious show was all about the sheriff and his life, so it’s understandable.
I support our law enforcement officers and emergency personnel, but I can’t help thinking this might be a case of life imitating art in some way.
Just my opinion based on an observation.
Color me surprised that Mullin voted against law enforcement. Despite his lies to the contrary, he is no fan of law enforcement. Just watch someone’s actions, NOT their words. He showed who he really was when he was recorded on video being abusive to law enforcement after being stopped for driving offenses. He only tried to get law enforcement’s backing to win the recent election, and it is obvious that most everyone, including law enforcement realized how much of a jerk he really is and refused to vote for him, so in turn and out of spite, he voted down the increase sought for law enforcement raises… no surprise he once again is showing his true color, which is a big yellow streak down his back. Let us hope he starts getting busy packing up his belongings and whatever stuff he has in all of his failed businesses so he can high tail it out of here, because he knows nobody in their right minds wants him around any longer. Sayonara!
Just so everyone is on the same page. Over 60% of the counties budget goes to funding the Sheriff’s Department. The Sheriff asked for money in order to give his deputies a raise. However, he wants to collect this money by any means necessary, including defunding other areas of the Board in order to do this.
Instead of spending 22 million dollars(or more) on the new Sheriff building, he could have spent 20 million instead and have 2 million dollars to give to his guys…
Want to see the power difference having an elected official has as a boss? The last Sheriffs building was said to have mold. So they abandoned the building and then purchased a new one for 22 million. Fire Rescue Station 92 was reported to have mold at the station. So the solution was to patch up the walls and put a double wide portable outside of the station for a few months. This station is still in use to this day. The county hasn’t purchased a new fire station for Fire Rescue in over 40 years.
The Sheriffs budget has increased on average 2 million dollars a year while all the other departments have relatively stayed the same.
The 60 percent figure is incorrect. Public safety, including fire rescue, is around the 50 percent mark.
Just went down Frontier Drive to pick up dinner. Four deputies with brand new motorcycles under a tree. One running radar the other three just standing there. I guess if Staly had his way there would be six of them there with one running radar.
Um, one runs radar and the others go do the stops on violators……..
Robert Joseph Fortier says