Last Updated: 6:54 p.m.
Flagler County’s meals for seniors program has been feeding the elderly in need since 1978, first at Flagler Beach City Hall and Bunnell City Hall. In 1983 it moved to Flagler Beach’s Wickline Senior Center on South Daytona Avenue, where it’s been since, rent-free. The Wickline Center was once owned by the county.
The building was ceded to Flagler Beach many years ago, on the condition that the county would continue using it for its daily senior program.
This evening, the Flagler County Commission voted 4-1 to end that long, rent-free relationship and approve instead a plan that would move the program to Church on the Rock in Bunnell and pay the church $3,000 a month in rent the first year, rising by $100 a month per year over the potential 15-year life of the lease, so that by year two, rent would be $3,100 a month, and reach $4,500 a month by year 15.
The county had use of the Wickline Center for nine hours a day for its programs, if needed. Its uses at Church on the Rock will be limited to just four and a half hours–a shortened time span Flagler Beach officials would have welcomed at their facility.
The county would also pay $300 a month in utilities at the church. The county says it budgets $11,000 a year for utility expenses there, but in fact, according to a billing document from Flagler Beach’s finance office, and even in pre-Covid months, the city has billed the county between $360 and $540 a month, so the county’s projected utility savings are not what it claims in the administrative memo to commissioners.
Put another way, the county will be paying Church on the Rock well over more than three times the rent it is getting for its own property at Bings Landing from Captain’s BBQ, where the rent started at $500 nine years ago, and is now $860 a month.
The county’s agreement with Church on the Rock was never put out for bids from other potential lease space holders. Al Hadeed, the county attorney, said the county is exempt from such a bidding process on real estate leases. (To defend against its breach of contract lawsuit against Captain’s, the county is arguing that there was no breach because the county never bid out the use of the space at Bings: the county in its pleadings to the court concedes it broke the law.)
County Commissioner Andy Dance, casting his first dissenting vote on a major issue, raised questions about the “due process” and transparency–or lack of transparency–that went into the county’s determination to go with Church on the Rock. He said the more than 7,000 square feet of space the county was renting “seems like an awful lot of space” for 40 to 50 people.
Heidi Petito, the county’s deputy administrator who’d been facilities director for many years, said the church site will save the county money on maintenance but conceded that “we don’t have anything to compare it to.” The county did not research other sites. She said Church on the Rock approached the county. It’s not clear how Church on the Rock’s personnel would have known that the county was even looking, since it wasn’t looking for a site. “For comparison’s sake we didn’t have another facility we could go to and say ok, what would your cost be per square foot.”
Pressing his points–he also raised the issue of rent being paid out of the county’s reserves, with no dedicated source of future funding–Dance said cautioned about the “trickiness” of public-private partnerships. “We have to be more cognizant of the transparency factor in public-private arrangements,” he said.
The county’s departure from Wickline was a surprise Flagler Beach city commissioners, who were not expecting it.
“We never as a commission asked the county to leave,” Flagler Beach City Commissioner Rick Belhumeur, who has been on the commission almost four years, told county commissioners this evening. “It was never a thought in the commission’s mind. In fact we wanted any future agreement to totally revolve around that program. It’s been there 17 years. So what we have here is a failure to communicate once again. We find out on Thursday that you guys are vacating or voting on a new location the following Monday. Two business days, after a 17-year relationship. It’s a sad day for me that our relationship is that weak.” (The formal relationship with the county started by agreement in 2003, though the county has used Wickline far longer.)
Two county commissioners–Greg Hansen and Donald O’Brien–disagreed with Belhumeur, saying they were under the direct impression from either attending Flagler Beach meetings or speaking with city officials that the city wanted the county out. County Administrator Jerry Cameron said likewise, attributing his sense to his discussions with Larry Newsom, who died earlier this year.
In May, after much discussion on the matter, the city asked the county to end its “interlocal agreement” with Flagler Beach on the use of Wickline, but only in light of the drafting to a new agreement that would cede the city more control on the use of the building. That is still what the city expected. At the city commission, which gives direction to the city manager, there was never a discussion about getting rid of the county, including with Newsom.
“At the end of the day the city takes control of the building,” but with a new use agreement, Newsom, the city’s manager at the time, told commissioners at a May meeting. “Based on the use of the building, I don’t see any changes we’re going to have with the county.” The county was using the building weekdays from 9 to 4. “We don’t see a reason to change that at any point in time.” The only difference, he said, was who controls the use of the building. “The use agreement, we still allow the county to use the building. Am I correct, Drew?”
“Yes,” the city attorney confirmed. (See the city’s agreement with the county here.)
“Once that happens, we’ll come back with that use agreement and we’ll basically go through with the county and they’ll sign as a user of the building, not as a manager of the building.”
“There’s still that chance they could say no, correct?” Commissioner Rick Belhumeur said at the time. Again, Newsom said the realities on the ground would not change–only the language of the agreement defining who controls the building.
“We’re asking the county to agree because we cannot unilaterally dissolve,” Smith said.
The agreement is to continue “unless both parties are in agreement to terminate,” Mealy said, reading from the agreement.
The county has not terminated the agreement in writing.
“So just for clarity Larry, all this letter is going to say is, we want to terminate the current agreement, it’s not going to go into who is going to use the building, when, and all that,” Commission Chairman Jane Mealy said.
“Not yet, no,” Newsom said. “It’s going to be going to the administrator, and the administrator has to put it on the agenda” of the county commission, Newsom said. That step was never taken before this evening’s request by County Administrator Jerry Cameron–who has a cozy relationship with Church on the Rock’s pastor: he also worked out the church’s use, with rent, by the cold-weather homeless shelter–for approval of the lease with the church.
“They knew we were going to leave, which obviated the need to redo the rules,” Hadeed said today, but even today that’s not how the chairman of the city commission remembers it.
Mealy, in an interview today, recalled the May discussion and said there was never an intention to be rid of the county’s program. “No, we said we wanted control of the building but that they could continue the services they had. We did not say they should leave,” Mealy said. “I can’t say I’m unhappy about it, because then we can use the building all the time. With the agreement that we had we could only use it on the weekends or the evenings and we’re always looking for places where people can hold meetings or events, and that could certainly provide that.”
The details of the agreement didn’t move to the top of the work pile in part because Newsom fell ill and was not in the office for many weeks. “I guess it never came to the top of the pile for McFadden to deal with,” Mealy said, referring to Rick McFadden, the city’s interim manager, “and there was no big reason for it, but we did agree to change the kind of agreement we had with them. They were still going to be able to have the meals and hold whatever classes they were holding, or whatever events they normally would have, they could continue doing that.”
Most of those getting meals there were from the Palm Coast area, Mealy said. Joyce Bishop, the county’s health and human services director, said “99 percent” of those who participate are from Palm Coast, with only a “handful” from Flagler Beach. Bishop said Church on the Rock’s location by U.S. 1 would make transportation much easier both for the county and potential participants from the west side of the county, or those who might choose to drive to the site from palm Coast and might not have done so to go as far as Flagler Beach.
Hadeed said he didn’t have “knowledge what city commissioners knew or didn’t know,” the discussions he was familiar with being limited to the circle that included himself, Newsom and Smith. The situation changed since May, Hadeed said. “We had a draft [agreement] but then we decided we weren’t going to use their facility anymore,” Hadeed said. “The discussions that we were doing really were between the city manager to county manager, county attorney, city attorney, was to give us enough time to find an alternative side.” The agreement with the city could not have been terminated until an alternative site was found. “We were told they wanted to have complete control of the facility, which is not a problem for us, provided we could operate the program in another place, which they found.”
Hadeed said that since the Wickline Center was used for feeding the elderly, it had to abide by rigorous rules–hygiene and the like. If it were to be used by other entities, those conditions would be compromised. But the city has routinely allowed other entities to use the Wickline Center in off hours, including a church. It’s not clear how the uses of the more than 7,000 square feet Church on the Rock will devote to the senior program would differ, since the space is also used by the Sheltering Tree’s cold-weather shelter for the homeless, among other uses. But the county will benefit from a dedicated space for its commercial refrigerator and a freezer and a convection oven.
County Commissioner Dave Sullivan said he had a “little worry” about moving from a government building to a private building, but thought the plan sound. He said a lot of people have been going to Flagler Beach, “so be gentle with the people who are gong to make this change,” he advised the county administration.
I’m sure that in time the corruption, back room deal etc will surface.
Roy Longo says
Cameron is turning into the shadiest County Administrator we have ever had. He makes Coffey look like a saint. Coffey’s biggest faults were in his dealings with that shady real estate agent that cost the county a huge amount of money. Cameron has left Coffey in the dust. He is arrogant and has no respect for the employees that work for him. Now he takes a program the county is getting free and moves to where we have to pay a ridiculous amount of rent. I always laughed at those who said county officials were getting kick backs. Now I have to wonder.
Agree 1000%. We can do better at the county level and we must! I think we have a start to better with Andy Dance, now for the next round of elections we have to get serious!
FB doesn’t want any old needy people that take up space and are not contributing to their coffers around town.
The program is funded in a main part by federal dollars (that’s our taxes) as well as donations. I fear we who live in Flagler Beach will not be happy when we find out what atrocity the city mothers and fathers have planned for the facility.
Why all the secrecy if this is such a great deal? The commission is spending OUR money without any input. What’s the bottom line here? Who benefits most?
Those Captain’s BBQ people are the devil personified, doncha’ know. Let the Church fleece us taxpayers instead. That’s the way the Lord wants it. Flagler County is nothing if not hypocritical and “holier-than-thou.”
How will those with access to the site in Flagler get to a site at the opposite end of the county.
Is this another untaxed business taking advantage of government spending?
Is this another church business growth plan?
What have they done for the poor so far before pandemic restrictions have diminished collections?
Lance Carroll says
Now is the time to devote the Wickline Center space for a youth center staffed with proven youth mentors. That approach makes sense to me but, what do I know…
Lance Carroll says
The youth that congregate in the park at Wickline Center, around town and, within the county. Do you not realize there are young people in our community?
When you think things can’t get any crazier, the county drops free rent and cheaper electricity to be able to support a church. What happened to division of church and state. And why didn’t they give other churches and facilities an opportunity to place bids, even though not required? And why does everything begin and end with the County Administrator? Did someone name him King and we didn’t hear about it? This makes me furious.
Nothing to compare it to? says
Heidi Petito must have forgotten about the sweetheart lease for Captain’s BBQ that the article highlights. When the county is the lessee, the rates are ridiculously high; when the county is the lessor, unconscionably low. At least Andy Dance is demonstrating some common sense; let’s hope this continues.
Annette Engel says
They need to explain themselves! Why would anyone choose paying $3000 per month over free!
Denise Calderwood says
Another cozy relationship? I’d say it is and if there is smoke there is fire! Why no bid? Again. An inside deal from the start. Why not just buy the building for the previous asking price of 1 million dollars? There are other buildings or interested parties. The school board owns the A1A Center and a long time ago it was a satellite senior feeding site and three years ago the Former Columbia Club, now the Palm Coast Social Club approached the county to put the senior program there and that building could have been bought at that time for $360,000. Or leased for only $2000 a month.. just like the proposal to buy the former Palm Coast Yacht Club for the same price one million….but no we buy the Sears Building and Bank building instead This deal smells just like all of the other inside dealings that the citizens don’t know about.
Thank you Commissioner r Dance for dissenting.
Happening now says
Sorry you lost. ,You are right on all counts.
I,ll supply outhouses for the county to rent to place there for facilities. They could pay me say 5000.00 a month, and every month the rent would increase. That sounds like a great deal eh? Maybe hiring someone from a different state to run the county wasn’t so bright eh, you friggin morons.
Einstein, Cameron is from St Augustine, you’re thinking of the Palm Coast City Manager.
Correction: Flagler Beach’s interim City Manager is Rick McFadden, not Robert.
Thank you for the correction. Apologies to Mr. McFadden.
Trailer Bob says
I am starting to think that Commissioner Dance is about the only one who we can trust to be for the people.
Very decent man with a sincere concern for the county and its people. Glad I voted for him.
M Cruz says
Our senior citizens that use these programs should be protected And have limited exposure to COVID-19. Church on the Rock is a cold homeless shelter, and a church that has many attendees on the weekends. How will moving to church on the Rock be better for our senior program when there is more COVID-19 exposure, less hours for the senior program, and less money because of high rent? How will our senior citizens using this program be protected from COVID-19- when they are moving to a facility where they will have more exposure?
Any ideas on how we can fight this? The decisions are getting crazier by the day. Maybe a lawsuit?
Debra Clark says
Petito should have gone the same time as Craig Coffey. As far as any of the BOCC signing leases, have they learned nothing from past mistakes? None of them, including Cameron, should be allowed to continue to spend our money.
What an awful decision Flagler County made. The Senior center is a great place for low income older adults to socialize, find company, participate in activities and have a wholesome warm meal each weekday. Without it seniors would be less socially active, lonely, and hungry. The program being at the George Wickline Center for 37 years without rent has essentially saved them $36,000 a year and has put those costs into running the program. With the county forcing them to go to Church on the Rock it is costing over $36,000/year now and will cost $54,000/year in 15 years. The $36,000 that used to be allocated towards the program will now be used for rent and will take away from the program including open hours, hiring staff, and providing participants with one meal each day. Also, what a negligent decision to have the program moved during COVID-19 which will put seniors (most vulnerable population to COVID-19) at more risk for being exposed to COVID-19 because The Church on the Rock is more used and has more people in and out of it then George Wickline. The Church on the Rock is already used as a cold weather homeless shelter, a food pantry, and a church. It appears the county is not thinking about the health of its senior citizens or of ways to maximize costs. If they must move the program then they better be thinking about the health of the programs participants. The program is supposed to help increase the health of senior citizens, not put them at more risk for being exposed to COVID-19.
And the fleecing of the taxpayers by the FCBOCC continues that is why our county taxes are double what we Palmcoasters pay to the City of Palm Coast so they waste them in derelict contaminated overpriced buildings benefitting their cozy lawyers developers or realtors and now taking away a location convenient and free for the elderly for one that will cost us $3,000 a month plus. And the shenanigan’s kept being approved on our strained taxpayers pockets. We do not get a break. The latest is the all out war from the city to our garbage hauler Waste Pro workers based in complainers when so many of us are happy with the service…I see it coming with a costly change to the majority of us benefitting the very few….as usual.