Palm Coast City Council members Tuesday evening agreed to suggest budget cuts ahead of Thursday’s budget hearings in hopes of possibly lowering the proposed 15 percent property tax increase, after hearing from about 30 residents who complained about their taxes. The council did so after some of its members again degraded into a screaming match after Council member Eddie Branquinho challenged Ed Danko to roll back the 151 percent raise to his and other council members’ salaries he’d supported.
It was another ugly moment that ended with Danko telling Branquinho to get on a plane back to Portugal, and a boiling over of an unusually heated tax season that hasn’t lacked for clumsy marketing on the council’s part: Mayor David Alfin’s defense of the tax increase last week, using a prop of Garfield, the cartoon character (and one-time marketing tool for ITT’s sale of Palm Coast lots, in the mid-1980s) appeared more condescending than instructive even as much of the debate has been undercut by misinformation and exaggerations inflamed by a candidate for council (Alan Lowe) whose homesteaded property is paying zero taxes.
The overwhelming majority of property owners in the city, including almost all of its homesteaded property owners, will not see a tax increase of more than 3 percent, commercial properties will not see an increase of more than 10 percent, but the revenue generated by the city will be about 15 percent higher than if the council were adopting a tax rate that would keep revenue flat, even though the council is keeping the tax rate flat. Under Florida law, even when the tax rate remains the same, if revenue increases, it’s a tax increase.
The majority of the tax burden’s pain is being felt by people moving to Florida and experiencing local tax bills for the first time, without the protection of homestead or other exemptions. It can be a sticker shock. The city attorney tried to explain the disparities, attributing the shock to how state law dictates the value of properties with and without exemptions. “So if you’ve recently moved here, or you are coming from another state, you’re going to see certain increases that other residents don’t have because they’ve been long term residents of Florida or they don’t meet any of the required exemptions under the statute,” the attorney said.
Some 30 people addressed the tax increase over the course of an hour-and-20-minute public comment segment, reflecting, ironically, the popularity of Palm Coast: they’d moved from Oklahoma, Michigan, New Hampshire, Idaho, elsewhere in Florida, all in the past couple of years and were among the residents pushing the city’s population near the 100,000 mark (it is at 94,000 by the latest census Bureau’s estimate). But they were among the people calling the tax increase “unconscionable,” “abominable,” “ridiculous,” speaking of “mistrust” of the council, and saying things like: “I’m very sorry that we moved into this town.” “I wish we could impeach you.”
One resident spoke of moving to Palm Coast last November from Michigan, and discovering that her property tax would not carry over the previous owner’s values “protected” by the Save Our Homes cap on tax increases, resulting in a 247 percent tax increase. She described how neighboring properties pay widely disparate taxes, based on their exemptions. “The differences are eye-opening. I struggle with this disparity,” she said. She did not say what her property tax bill had been in Michigan. Another spoke of moving to town “10 minutes, or actually two weeks,” and seeing two successive tax increases, making him regret his move.
The tax increase was again and again paired with the council’s recent raise, a raise of unprecedented size and guile.
“No. Let’s not raise taxes. But guess what? Next year alone,” Branquinho said at the end, “fixing your roads: $7 million. Fixing the roads. Actually it’s more than that.” The proposed streets budget is $8.4 million, up from $7.5 million this year. On the criticism about building a new public works facility, he said: “Have you seen the conditions for the last 20 years that the people work at public works? To the point that we have to come up with a new building, these people out there couldn’t even keep a computer in a room because it was raining in those rooms.” He said taxpayers are feeling the effects of surging property values, with his own home going from $230,000 when he bought it to close to $600,000. “That’s mind boggling,” he said.
Danko said he would vote against the tax increase at next Thursday’s budget hearing. “We do need certain things. We do need police. We do need firemen. We do need EMTs. We do need roads. We need clean water. But there’s a lot of things that we can hold off for at least one single year. We have suffered a lot,” he said, calling for rolling back the tax rate for this year. “I have not heard one person on this council. Not one single person say hey, we can make a cut right here,” he said, his voice rising to within shouting range. But other than proposing a hiring freeze and not hiring a $5,000 social media consultant, he had no other cuts. (He proposed suing the contractors of Holland Park’s broken, $5.1 million splash pad and scrapping the whole thing, but that wouldn’t save money so much as attempt to recover it, though the city is currently spending more as it decides what route to take: repair, replace or discard.)
“It just doesn’t come from the city,” Danko continued. “For those of us homesteaded it, it may be a small amount. But then you got the county, you got the schools, you got everything.” In fact, the school tax rate is declining, reducing Danko’s taxes on his W-section home by about $40. His overall tax bill is not expected to increase by more than $73, with $15 of that due to a surprisingly steep increase in the mosquito control tax.
Branquinho then took a swipe at Danko, saying a hiring freeze would mean no new firefighters, no new sheriff’s deputies (the fire department would add two firefighters and a fire inspector with the new budget, the Sheriff’s office would add five deputies to its Palm Coast policing contract, for a total of 48 after adding 10 last year, more than doubling the numbers from 2017). He then said the council should start with its own and cut its proposed salary raise, which will increase the budget by $157,000–more in subsequent years.
“I challenge Councilman Danko to do that,” Branquinho said.
“Why would you challenge me?” Danko interrupted, out of order, asking Branquinho why he wouldn’t challenge other members of the council and prompting Alfin to yell, “Councilman! Councilman!”
“I’ve just been called out and I’m going to answer,” Danko yelled.
“No, you’re not,” Alfin yelled back, gaveling. “You’re going to speak to me.”
“How dare you, how dare you!” Danko screamed, bringing up the way Branquinho stormed out of the council meeting in mid-July as Alfin attempted to stop him from speaking directly to Branquinho. Danko then finished with a chauvinistic flourish: “Why don’t you get on a plane and go back to Portugal.” (Branquinho, who is of Portuguese extraction, had just been visiting family in Portugal, but had participated in meetings electronically.)
The younger voices on the council were more measured. Council member Nick Klufas agreed with finding more items to cut. “If we really want to be respondent to the individuals sitting out in this audience, we need to identify things that we need to cut. We need to do that,” he said. He had no issue pushing back a “solar feasibility report” for a year, as it has been, even though he said it would be an investment that would end up “pay the city back.” He proposed pushing back a year saltwater canal maintenance.
“I’ll tell you no matter how hard I try, and I heard it from many of you tonight, I cannot keep the same budget that I currently have and maintain the same level of care and services in my home,” Council member John Fanelli said, before noting that he won’t see a cent of the coming raise, since he’s an appointee who’ll be replaced by the elected member to the council in November. He said there’s no fat to cut in the budget–and the park projects at Lehigh Trail and the coming Tennis Center expansion .will not include property tax revenue. ” A lot of the numbers that I heard tonight were not accurate numbers, not even close,” he said.
“I appreciate your challenge,” Alfin told Klufas. “I suggest that each city council member detail the line items that they would like to adjust or have the city manager adjust. Meet with [or] call the city manager between now and Thursday. And I’ll reserve my comments because quite frankly, tonight. The budget is not on the agenda. Our first hearing for the budget is this coming Thursday. So I would challenge myself and each council member: if there are line items in the budget that you will feel are exaggerated or are inappropriate, please reach out to city manager between now and Thursday.”
Branquinho still motioned to rollback the salary increase, but he got no second.
Alan Lowe, the candidate for a council seat, had started off the public comment segment. He had filmed a campaign video inside the council chamber against the tax increase, with Danko enabling him to get into the chamber over the weekend in an end-run around city policy. Lowe recalled the analogy Alfin had used last week to justify the tax increase, using a three-legged stool analogy (and a cartoonish Garfield prop), adding a fourth leg he said the mayor had neglected: the taxpayers paying for it all. ” Potentially, you’re forcing people to move away as life here becomes unaffordable,” Lowe said, in direct contradiction with current trends. “Garfield’s calling and he says he’s not in favor of the tax increase,” Lowe said.
Mike Cocchiola, one of the few speakers not to oppose the tax increase (and who started his remarks by referring to the “arrogance and a lack of good judgment” of the Danko-Lowe video), said that “nobody in the city is going to be paying 15 percent” more in taxes, the exception being new residents who don’t benefit from tax caps. Another spoke of the misplaced blame on the tax increase, as opposed to surging property values.
Many spoke about the shock of seeing their tax bill differ so drastically from that of the previous property owner. Others spoke about the city’s recreational facilities like the Tennis Center and its coming expansion. There was criticism over the city ending its relationship with Waste Pro, the garbage hauler, in favor of another provider, paired with criticism about traffic, the ongoing housing boom, the addition of apartment complexes and the false claim that “they turn into ghettoes”). A lot of that criticism was intended as a contrast to the mayor’s and council’s claim last week that the tax increase was necessary to maintain the city’s quality of life. “Whose quality of life will I pay for? It’s not going to be ours on Florida Park Drive,” one homeowner said, referring to a road that’s draw perennial criticism for noise, pollution and speed over the years.
A speaker addressed the increasingly poor conditions of the roads that are “starting to look like Philadelphia.”
“I’d like to congratulate all of you on your salary raises this year,” another speaker began, “And I also want to talk about checks and balances on current projects.” She spoke of living on a fixed income and seeing all her bills increase before saying that the tax increase would “take dinner away from me,” which would not be accurate, since she would not see that increase: as a homesteaded widower, she likely qualifies for an added senior exemption to her property taxes. The same was true of another property owner who is a disabled veteran: he would qualify for an additional exemption.
Grow up and start acting like adults and do what it right for the taxpayers of PC. If you can’t work together resign and let us vote for a working council once and for all.
What happened to the impact fees on all this approved new growth paying for the infrastructure ?
It never pays for itself!
I attended last nights meeting. Not expecting the large number of residents that spoke out about the tax increase. I am PC resident of 23 years. I understand the state laws on property appraisals and homestead exemptions. My home is 2400 sq ft with a pool and my taxes are just under $1500 a year total. When we moved here, my taxes had been $1180 per year. Over 23 years, that’s not bad. I also own a home in PC that I purchased 4 years ago that my son and family live in. That doesn’t have any homestead exemptions. That home, 1600 sq ft, is more than double what I pay for my primary home. It falls into that standard taxing schedule. I understand that. My city taxes for my primary home, based on proposed rate, will go up $17.23 a year. $1.43 a month.
My wife and I, both now retired, often speak about downsizing our house. But when I look at the selling and buying and the change in taxes that would bring on, its significantly cheaper to stay where we are. Our taxes would triple on a smaller house in the same town. Our tax base would start all over again.
I listen to many new residents last night speak to their first tax bill. I feel that they didn’t get the correct information before they closed on their homes from their relator or closing company. They should have known that the property value resets when a new owner purchases that property. You don’t take the previous owners regulated value. You take market/appraised value. That happened to me 23 years ago.
Just listening last night I felt that many didn’t understand that its not just Palm Coast but also the County, which is the highest portion of the tax bill. I feel that people should be standing up to the county to explain why they aren’t lowering their rates and what services do they provide PC residents. I feel people of PC forget about the county and what they are paying for and not challenging what they get for those tax dollars. (Other than moldy buildings)
One last thing… I understand people get angry. People feel they need to get it off their chests and they should come to meets and express their feelings. But there are always those couple people, like one of the last woman speakers last night, who feel they need to make sure everyone knows they are there and get up and shout and spew ignorant, unprepared comments to elected officials just because they have been given their 3 minutes to speak. Then turn to the audience, smile and look for their approval. I must tell them, it doesn’t make you look good at all. Just the opposite.
I hope all those who turned out at the city meeting show up at the county budget meetings and express the same.
“She spoke of living on a fixed income and seeing all her bills increase before saying that the tax increase would “take dinner away from me,” which would not be accurate, since she would not see that increase: as a homesteaded widower, she likely qualifies for an added senior exemption to her property taxes. The same was true of another property owner who is a disabled veteran: he would qualify for an additional exemption.”
Pierre, please be a bit more cautious when making these blanket statements. Unless you have full knowledge of this person’s financial condition, you have no way of knowing if she would qualify for an “added senior exemption”. Such exemptions can only be claimed if said person’s AGI is/was less than $32,561. Even then it is only applied to those taxing bodies which have adopted an ordinance to grant the exemption and is capped at $50,000.
A ‘homesteaded widow’ may receive a $500 exemption and a disabled veteran is eligible for an exemption of $5,000 and a total exemption if totally and permanently disabled.
There is also a 25 year residency exemption but I seriously doubt many will qualify for it as the market value of your home must be less that $250,000 which is pretty hard to find these days.
I have stated in another comment, the burden on taxpayers living on a fixed income is not just the property taxes but the huge increases we have seen in medical expenses (Medicare and supplemental insurance), gasoline, groceries, auto repairs, and fifty other items. As before, the only thing that has not gone up is the value of my savings account. When taken in totality, the added costs of everyday necessities may have been stretching an overburdened budget to the point that this tax increase may force her to miss a meal.
The fastest and most efficient way to reduce 15% tax increases is to simply reduce manpower by 18%.
Randy Bentwick says
What a bunch of complete clowns – and Danko is the biggest clown of all.
I know they don’t read these comments because they know that people here don’t support their moronic behavior but if any of the council members sees this comment I challenge ALL of them to act like adults.
John Netts and Frank Meeker would roll over in their graves if they saw these bozos on the council.
Danko is at it again.
It’s worth noting that the Flagler Appraisers Office reflects him claiming an over 65 low-income property tax exemption and a homestead exemption for a total of $100k in exemptions. He claims to only have an annual adjusted gross income of less than $32,541 to qualify for the low income senior exemption.
Peaches McGee says
Our current inflation rate is 8.5%. We may not like it, but our governments have to adjust as well, just like we do.
There is so much wrong with Palm Coast City Council it’s hard to know where to start…
Danko is a disgrace to the council. Allowing a candidate for council into the chamber to make an election video should be enough to get him removed or suspended from the council. This is a deliberate act on his part to show favoritism to his buddy, Lowe, and he should be punished for despicable behavior. And Lowe, while we’re on that subject, is a joke candidate. Sneaking into the chamber for a video as well as recently being warned by the Sherriff’s office to quit stating Staley or the department endorse him. What a pair of losers. No Lowe in November and Danko goes when he comes up for election.
On to the tax increase. Everyone’s property has skyrocketed in value this year. As a result, even with no tax increase, everyone pays more because their property is valued higher (except Lowe, don’t let that little nugget pass…). On top of that, to increase taxes indicates the local council has no willingness to operate within a reasonable budget. Everyone always wants more resources and they may be justified in the request. However, competent leaders look at these situations critically with a recognition that the pot of money is not infinite and some constraints must be made. Palm Coast should be able to operate within a budget less than required for a tax increase. If the people in the positions of authority within Palm Coast can not figure out how to occasionally reduce costs (what a thought!) then we have the wrong people in those positions. And the council, if they were doing their jobs properly, would be continuously challenging the city manager and her team to figure out how to do that. Only when all options are completely exhausted should a tax increase be mandated. And our “mayor” who is a complete bust failed miserably in making a case that the tax increase is needed. To argue we need more tax now for less taxes later is the weakest and thinnest argument I’ve ever heard. More taxes now will- without doubt – lead to more taxes later. I’ve seen no indication that this council has any concept of reining in costs and controlling tax rates. Interestingly enough, I have friends who live in the Villages and they tell me their taxes are going down next year and that isn’t the first time that’s happened. I suggest anyone go to the Villages and see how that property is maintained compared to our city. They are doing something right that our leaders can’t begin to understand or duplicate. We need better leadership. At a minimum, a tax increase should always be preceded by a good, logical discussion of facts and conditions that require it. Garfield just didn’t cut it.
Nephew of Uncle Sam says
They should take a good look at the Utility Departments request for replacement vehicles along with other other Utility Department wants. Look at the quality of those trucks (pick-up through dump) through town, they look pretty damn good and I see no reason for a replacement.
Branquinho comes back from vacation and starts right in with the drama. I don’t hold anything against Danko on this, as Branquinho dropped a grenade on the dais. Hell, half the room walked out on Branquinho when he was lecturing the audience about taxes. It’s clear Branquinho is still in his self proclaimed “stunt” mode. The sooner Branquinho is gone, the better. This guy has bad intentions on his way out of office and it’s evident at every meeting since the one he walked out on.
David M says
When will we learn that we need to elect officials and hire people who can actually forecast and not just react. We put people in positions of authority, and they just line their own pockets or pockets of their friends. We need leaders who have a fiscal eye on the future and can budget accordingly. The wasteful spending we have going on in Palm Coast is disgusting. Holland Park Splash Pool, Pedestrian Bridge on Stae Rd 100, Pedestrian bridge on Belle Terre being replaced after 10 years and one fixit job only 6 months ago, astronomical vehicle budget in one year……..what is it going to take for us to realize we need people in positions who knw what they are doing?
A. J. says
Let me see, o the Republicans run and are ruining the city. This what we get when the wrong people are in charge.
As long as we have strong Trump Maga Rep clubs who run over everybody and bully their way into things, and Democrats who do very little in finding qualified candidates and campaigning and supporting them, Trumpism will win. Also the “regular moderate Republicans” don’t do much to help themselves either. Also, if Independents could vote in the primary without having to change to a different party, results might be quite different, as in better because Independents judge the person, not the party, Some of the candidates are very wealthy and money and power go hand in hand to get what they want.
Other people vote for who has the most prominent signs. Candidates for Dem, Rep and Ind Or NPA should be at many public events, talk personally to voters at the events and make themselves a friendly person a voter will remember.
The County provides additional services and most of the services are used by Palm Coast residents. So what services should the county cut; Adult Day Care, Meals on Wheels, Indigent Health Care, Rental and Utility Payment assistance. Instead of yelling about it, come up with some possible viable solutions. Just cutting people’s salaries is not going to amount to a substantial decrease in the budget.
Scott McKirahan says
No, getting rid of the enormous raises they gave to themselves will not solve the problem. It will, however, show that they are in it with the rest of fixed income people, having to pay more for everything these days with the same amount of income.
I do not understand how people are not protesting and making a huge deal about a self created pay raise that is clearly a slap in the face to all the City of Palm Coast employees. These elected officials do not care about the city they care about themselves and giving themselves a raise that is over the top. It is shameful.
The reason Alan Lowe pays zero in property taxes is because he married the widow of a 100% disabled veteran. If she would do the honest thing, and record John’s death certificate and notify the property appraiser, she would lose the vet exemption and be taxes appropriately.
Bill C says
Just curious… while I was mowing the grass along the swale in front of my house, City employees were mowing the swale grass on the adjacent vacant property. Shouldn’t that be the responsibility of the property owners? Does the City bill them for the service, or is it “on the house”, compliments of Palm Coast taxpayers?
Chuck Wagon says
The first (roughly) 15ft of the property is city property also known as a public right of way. This includes the first 15ft of your and my property. Once a home is built it becomes the responsibility of the homeowner to maintain, but while a property is vacant the city is responsible for maintaining it. There was a time that the city was charging vacant lot owners to mow the swale in front of their lot. I’m not sure if that is still happening or how the city can change a lot owner to mow to mow city owned property.
Yes, adjustments may have to be made, and wouldn’t it be nice to see a little negotiation before Danko goes off on another city council member and tells him to go back to to back to Portugal ? This is racism. And I am not a big fan of Eddie to be honest.
So this is what has come to? A councilman sneaking a candidate into the city councils chambers
Enough said ?
Celia Pugliese says
Danko was the only council member consistently opposing the 14% tax increase on all the city taxpayers.
His reasons very realistic voicing ours he voted against it. We should not be finding wish list but needs and if we all need to tighten our belts and denied the “wants” and just fund our needs ” so should city departmental heads. We are in hard times to all, people pleaded and 4 in the council ignore them.
I appreciate running candidate for city council Alan Lowe for his suggestion something that has been brought to council years ago by myself…and that was contested by councilman Branquinho regarding his vacant lot owned that paid $500/$600 a year in taxes while not needing school , law enforcement or fire services or call. Well Mr. Braquinho, just the mowing of your vacant lot right of way about 15′ o more feet by our city public works at a $20 or $25 discounted cost, as any 1/4 acre lot mowed is not less than $40 to $60 from any landscaping contractor at a mowing rate of 4 times a month in spring summer and fall total 8 months of grass and weeds growing per year, that cost only surpasses the meager taxes if $600 that city collects from you, so all of us as Alan Lowe said it, are funding the small 1/4 acre lots just mowing, imagine the free ride to the large land owned by developers! You Mr. Branquinho as well as any vacant lot land invested for profit and we, that bought our homes to live on them pay for the services cost that surpasses the taxes you pay in your invested vacant land as developers lands.
Alan Lowe is the one in these meetings speaking on our behalf and sure noticed that as well as Jane Gentile Youd running for county commission as well spoke in our behalf rightfully and realistically pointing at why our building permitting department directed by Jason DeLorenzo former Palm Coast Flagler Builders Association Director, with all the permitting of all this growth shows so little funding…well Director DeLorenzo lobbied successfully last year (based in the Tallahassee law) to refund the over funding in permit fees to the originators (developers and hope so residents as well) while many applying for a permit complain of delays? Then I say other than returning a couple of millions why he instead does not proper staff the permitting department to avoid delays offsetting with cost the over revenew ? Or we are supposed to pay for that too so developers receive a refund? Would like this clarified. Councilman Klufas denying funds for dredging…when the owners canal front homes pay 3/4 times the taxes of a comparable home not in the water and for no services rendered. What instead Mr. Klufas of your pickle balls and IT costly projects or millionaire engineer studies of expansion into vacant developers lands west of Rte 1, you did denied additionally the needs of the two traffic calming islands in Florida Park Drive and run around the Cimarron life saving sidewalk for their road front residents or why you want to stick 150 ‘ tall, 5G tower 160 to 300 ft from our homes in #7 Clubhouse Drive to serve the Colbert Lane HOA’s like Palm Coast Plantation and Grand Haven and others? You have plenty wooded, vacant land on Colbert Ln to erect it there and away from any homes! You are that IT in this council and responsible for these tower locations already fought off successfully inside the Palm Harbor Golf Course and you, council and staff try again but just few feet off outside the golf course? The value of our homes will depreciate 20. 50% or more and the health effects are shown already: https://www.berkshireeagle.com/news/central_berkshires/cease-and-desist-pittsfield-board-of-health-gives-verizon-ultimatum-over-cell-tower/article_ae03b92c-845f-11ec-87d2-cb79809c6f43.html
I only come to see that yours, council and some staff “vision and strategic plan” for our city is the current residents demise in some cases specially with this ill planned accelerated growth.
My wife and I bought a duplex in the W-Section and were very suprised by our $10,400 property tax. A lender gave us the impression that it would be $6,000. He is the preffered lender of our builder and should of known. This duplex is our homstead and I grew up in Florida. What’s happening in PC is no better than the blue states cities that are squeezing every time out of residents via taxes. I’m very disapointed in the local goverment here in PC. It’s time to vote for a change.
There is no reason for Flagler County Sheriff’s Office to hire a single person for any of their departments. They do not need vehicles, equipment or anything else. They do very little every week compared to what out Ems and Fire fighters do. If you look at their daily blotters they average 4-6 calls a shift and 100% of the time at least one of those is a Baker Act. If Staley would do the right thing and put his budget money towards an actual drug and alcohol rehabilitation program to stop the relapse rate which will slow the recidivism rate drastically. Instead of just recycling the 40 people that have were arrested 563 times for drug offenses from one of his famous roundups. I don’t think there’s a chance in hell of him doing that though since the he gets too much TV time and enjoyment from announcing his huge drug busts. He makes Palm Coast look as bad as Miami. This is a retirement community not Daytona Beach. Here’s an idea! How about you do random drug testing on ALL of your deps including the jail deps? You might be able to uncover a problem. Unless it’s not a problem you want uncovered???
You are not reading the shift report correctly. If you look at the top, it tells you how many “calls for service” they had in the shift. The night shift on 9/8 had 140 calls for service.