Facing another full house of law enforcement power and support, the Flagler County Commission this evening voted 3-2 to cut the tax rate by a tenth of a point and fully fund the sheriff’s budget request, closing what had been a $700,000 difference between the county’s proposal and the sheriff’s request. The result will be a $1.9 million hit on the budget the administration had submitted to the commission ahead of today’s public hearing, the first of two to adopt next year’s budget and tax rate.
But that’s a $1.9 million hit on, not a cut in, a budget that was set to increase substantially, and that will still do so, albeit not as much: Before today’s revision, the county budget for government operations and was to increase from $60 million to $69 million. Including all constitutional officers, the budget was to increase from $98.3 million to $113 million. The sheriff’s portion was to increase from a base budget of $28.5 million to $33 million, not including the $700,000.
The motion Commissioner Donald O’Brien proposed and that Commissioners Greg Hansen and Joe Mullins voted for calls on the tax rate reduction, which will trim $1.2 million in revenue, it requires to leave all cost of living raises intact and the sheriff’s budget as submitted intact, including granting him the $700,000 he’d asked for, for raises, that the county said it could not provide. The administration is to find that money “elsewhere,” O’Brien said. He did not specify.
The administration will have to submit a new budget reflecting today’s changes by the time the commission meets for its second and final public hearing on the budget on Sept. 19 at 5 p.m.
The switch was a surprise particularly in one regard: Mullins’s vote. Only last month Mullins voted against going that route. (See: “County Resists Sheriff’s Request for Additional $700,000 in Surprise 3-2 Vote, Heralding Shift.”) And minutes before tonight’s vote, Mullins had been saying that a cut in the tax rate was not possible: “To talk about cutting the millage rate, I don’t know how you do that, because it’s not going to solve the sheriff’s problem, it’s just going to create 10 more problems and fires everywhere,” Mullins said. Yet he did exactly that.
Commissioners Andy Dance and Dave Sullivan voted against the measure. Dance would have been willing to reduce the tax rate, but not provide the sheriff the additional $700,000. He called the combination “a bit drastic.”
This one-tenth of a mil cut will cost us in dollars $1.7 million, less money to run the county,” Sullivan said. “I am not willing to do that because I think it’ll cut services in the county and it’ll hinder” operations. (Moments later the county’s finance director said the cut in the tax rate would equate to $1.2 million in reduced revenue, not $1 million.)
The county may have been feeling the effects of Tuesday evening’s Palm Coast City Council meeting, when some 30 people addressed the council, some bitterly, almost all critically, over the very same proposal the county was putting forth: keeping the tax rate flat, though the county’s tax rate is a little less than double that of the city. The city holds its first budget hearing Thursday evening. (See: “After Din of Opposition and Another Screaming Match, Palm Coast Council Will Consider Cuts in Tax Hike.”)
The sheriff was first to speak, going right into the range of salaries starting above $50,000 in neighboring counties, compared to starting pay of $46,541 in Flagler. He again invoked the starting pay of $51,500 for firefighter-paramedics in Flagler, as an equivalent he was seeking. He stressed that he was not offering the comparison as a criticism. “My point is this: you can use reserves if you want to bridge the gap we have until the fiscal year 23-24,” the sheriff said, asking the commission to direct the county administrator to do just that, with $700,000, to close the existing gap between the county’s budget proposal and the sheriff’s budget request.
“If we don’t give them what they need, we will lose lives,” the Flagler County Drug Court Foundation President Michael Feldbauer told commissioners. Some used unusual rationales to speak of their support of the sheriff: bad drivers. Others exaggerated: “We’re getting more and more people in this county,” one supporter said, “and they need more and more deputies. Otherwise, it’s going to be a swamp area.” Actually, the sheriff is not asking for more deputies this year (not from the county: the Palm Coast contract is adding five more) so much as he is asking for money to raise pay, so the agency can more effectively retain the deputies it’s training rather than turn into a training ground for other agencies.
One resident said he’d never spoken to a local government before, and only turned out not because of the sheriff’s issue, but because of his tax bill. But he said “some people will be affected by an increase in the millage,” meaning the tax rate, “increases of substantial amounts,” he said, though that’s not the case: the tax rate is not increasing. The county was proposing to keep its tax rate flat, resulting in more revenue for the county because of a surge in property and taxable values. Because the county is taking in more revenue next year than it did this year, it rates as a tax increase under Florida law. But most homesteaded property owners will not see a substantial increase.
Remarkably, Joe Mullins, the chairman of the County Commission for a few more weeks, misrepresented the matter even as he was attempting to clarify it: “Just to be clear, th city is dealing with a millage rate or looking at an increase, the county is not, we have capped it,” he said. “Some of the media that you’re hearing doesn’t explain that, a lot of the people get confused.” He wasn’t kidding. He then tried explaining the assessment system and said something likely to exasperate Jay Gardner, the property appraiser: that taxpayers should direct their questions to him. Gardner has spoken in the past of being unfairly targeted as the reason people’s tax bills are going up, when local governments are in a deflecting mood.
A property owner who’d owned a lot for 21 years locally unwittingly illustrated the matter of surging property values. He just built a house, and got a tax bill for $9,000. “I can’t afford that, so I’ll be selling my house,” he said. He was followed by another property owner who went through almost the exact steps, building a house very recently on a lot he’d owned and seeing his tax assessments surge. He wasn’t angry, not even critical of the commission or its proposed tax rate, but suggested that the way assessments are carried out should be re-examined.
He was alluding to common disparities that have neighbors on the same street paying hugely disparate tax bills, depending on how long they’ve been in their house–and to the fallout from the valuation boom: the median price of a new house in Flagler was $400,000 in May, double what it was only a few years earlier. For anyone buying new, without the accumulated protection of homestead exemptions, the tax bill will reflect the higher prices, if at the lower valuations of the property appraiser. Yet another speaker, also not critical of the county, said he wanted to know how the property appraiser arrives at tax assessments.
But it was nothing like the outpouring of criticism witnessed at the Palm Coast City Council Tuesday evening.
When Dance made the case for holding the line on the proposal the administration was putting forth, he spoke with some confidence that he would have the same vote line-up he had last month, when Mullins was with his majority. He also spoke of the sheriff’s request for the additional $700,000–and of the county’s relationship with the sheriff–in stark terms the sheriff had not heard before from a commissioner, though County Administrator Heidi Petito had defended her budget as staunchly.
Dance said the county is in catch-up mode on salaries for firefighters, which was done this year, paying for two new fire trucks, refilling reserves. “I would say that this budget that we’re proposing is a public safety budget,” Dance said. “A majority of our budget is allocated to public safety, not just sheriff’s, but through our Emergency Operations Center and our firefighters and we have to take all of those into consideration to do what’s best for the community.” He said the sheriff was getting a “record amount of funding,” even without the $700,000. It was up to him to prioritize the needs and pay his ranks first. “That’s [what] the frustration is, with a record number of funding, we shouldn’t have this conversation. And I think our system between the sheriff’s operations, the sheriff and the county, is broken. And as a county commissioner, I want to fix the process moving forward.”
He said the two sides should end up in a situation like the last few weeks at the end of budget season. “We need to know what the needs are, your goals, objectives for the Sheriff’s operations and trying and meet that as close as we can and not get into this end of the year situation where we’re trying to stack board meetings to influence decisions,” Dance said. “I would much rather get all that stuff done earlier in the process. If there’s a problem with the allocation system we got, we need to start looking at that. But pulling money out of reserves is not the answer. The answer is in a better process moving forward.” He had no objection to some relief for taxpayers, he said, considering an 18 percent increase in taxable values, which resulted in the revenue windfall.
But it proved to be not enough to secure Dance–who at one point told O’Brien he didn’t think the votes were there for O’Brien’s motion–the three votes he thought he had.
My question is, does the city or county prepare a five year forecast of, at a minimum, their general fund, if not all major funds? It should include several scenarios. Show it at rolled back, at flat and at a reduction in the mileage rate and using solid forecast methodology of future increases in revenues and expenses, take it out five years to see. This will clearly show what their reserves will look like if they keep up with their recent trends. Why keep flying by the seat of their pants one year to the next without an experienced team that can provide reasonable assurances that they can fund what they say they can? Their job is not to just “balance” this years budget, but to ensure that it is sustainable going forward.
Let me answer that for you.... says
That’s the problem with all the Cities and County. None of the have City Managers and County administrators that do anything like that.
So the fly by the seat of their pants.
There you go bringing common sense and logic to politics…agree with you 100%
Ben Hogarth says
Do you have any idea how sensible that sounds? What’s the matter with you. This is Flagler…
Sarcasm aside, how the entire discussion played out last night was a little frustrating to watch. I believe Commissioner Dance and Sullivan were on the right track and had a sensible solution for the time being. How the vote went the other way so suddenly, especially after past commentary and the entire discussion points made last night is beyond my reasoning skills.
The point we have made these past couple of weeks regarding the Sheriff’s operations is that the County Commission does not set the Sheriff’s funding priorities – he does. It’s their job to provide a sustainable and balanced county budget for ALL elected bodies of county government. Instead, the taxpayers may save a few bucks, but their services will be cut in order to guarantee the Sheriff gets all he could dream for and more – once again.
I feel bad for County administration and staff who are now placed (once again) in an unfair position of deciding what to cut (in a year where property values dramatically increased). Between improvements in the finance department and better educating the public on the budget – I don’t know how much more could be improved in the communication between the Sheriff and the rest of the county. It just sounds like it’s a one man show and everyone else should kiss the ring.
That’s not good democracy
Great question! I think the picture says it best. The Flagler County Commission is four older white men and Andy Dance. The majority here is ‘playing’ at politics. The (soon to be departing) commission chairman is a constantly lying slum lord, and a national laughing stock for his stupid behavior. The majority of these fellows are showing up to meetings unprepared to do anything except report what they heard recently on cable television news. I doubt any county employee wants to get within 10 feet of any of these amateur political bozos for fear of losing their jobs due to a commissioners temper. Citizens of Flagler County are lucky to have County Administrator Heidi Petito and Sheriff Staley, true professionals who actually ‘run’ this county. The citizens of this county need more budgetary data analysis and forecasting and that data should be published somewhere where all citizens can view it.
Concerned Citizen says
Our Sheriff sure exerts a lot of political power over our BOCC.
Ben Hogarth says
Why indeed. Follow the money.
And I don’t mean taxpayer dollars at this point. Follow the campaign contribution dollars and “endorsements” during election season. You may very well have your answer in sight. It’s not exactly unconventional politic.
He really underscores this narrative:
“Malo hic esse primus quam Romae secundus”
“I prefer to be first in this place, than second in Rome”
-Gaius Julius Caesar, De Bello Gallico (The Gallic War)
Please the sheriff and take the worry out getting of speeding tickets, or fined for some other infraction.
Roy Longo says
That’s because he has the most political clout of any elected official throughout the county and all the cities. He is more popular than all of them put together and he uses that to his advantage, whether or not it’s in the best interest of the tax payers. The sheriff knows they will all lick his boots.
Concerned: The answer to your question is fear. Crime, heart attacks, etc. Sheriffs always need more, and more money.
Don’t ya just love that unbridled growth?
And once again, 3 of our commissioners bow down to the demands of the sheriff. Mullins voted yes because he does not care as he will be leaving and I do not know where Mr. O’Brien’s brain has been lately along with Mr. Hansen. These three will do anything to keep Mr. Dance from achieving a common sense approach to things. Keep trying Andy and good luck.
Until they collect enough impact fees for all this new growth, why would Flagler county be growing. For the house flipping, that’s pretty much one leaves & another replaces. New homes are popping up everywhere and those impact fees were supposed to pay for the growth. My question is why didn’t/hasn’t it. I warned of this back when the growth approvals started here. I knew the roads & infrastructure couldn’t handle this and yet they went “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead on that”. Biden’s Build Back Better was only seed money to get the ball rolling and that has dried up and stuff didn’t get done. We came out of a pandemic after the masses were bled dry of their savings. How did anyone that claims to be an expert not figure out that inflation was the only way this would be funded. Add we were forced into a Splash Pad that is non-operational & supposedly $ 150K fixes that $ 50K for the study. Then there’s the pickleball tennis center expansion. moldy FCSO building purchases. I think he one’s that came here form elsewhere as growth are freaking out because the government bent them over for higher taxes. Those of us that live here already are getting gaslighted too. This AM I drive in the traffic and it’s worse than ever around here. Before you had overpowered trucks & cars speeding around, now it’s bumper to bumper tailgating. The handful of roads N S & E W that are the main arteries of Flagler county, need to be widened before more houses are built & sold for more traffic. It’s been nearly 2 + years since the repaving. Somehow we spent all the money on a Splash Pad & Pickleball. FCOL, say “No” to the next stupid idea that infects City Hall or that County Government chambers like a next variant of Covid ? My worst fear is the next crew comes in greener and starts spending money based upon emotional sentiments than hard numbers & facts.
Fed-up with Flagler says
Everyday is Christmas for Stahly in Flagler County. What will he DEMAND next ?
Sad day says
What a train wreck. Not only catering to the sherrif’s bloated whale carcass of a budget that already includes multi-million dollar increase from prior year, but also forcing cuts in other services/departments that have seen minimal to no budget increases at all. Sad day for this community.
The sherrif and his Staff will have a nice new building, fleet of hundreds of newer vehicles and higher pay, while other departments are forced into cutting public services, using equipment 10-20 yrs old and a skeleton staff. Shameful of the sherrif for his continuous money grab and the 3 commissioner votes approving this charade.
Why can’t Mullins remove his hat, is he hiding Trump documents under the hat no wonder the fool lost the election!
Primary Elections Matter says
This is what the taxpayer gets when a complacent incumbent is re-elected. Can we somehow clone the always reasonable and thoughtful Andy Dance for the next election?
Been There says
What kind of cost-of-living raise are the County employees getting?
Here’s to hoping that the money he has been giving actually goes to giving the Deputies their raise. He has in the past, taken money away from salaries and transferred it over to capitol expenditures. I also find the timing of this request to be odd. Let me spell it out for you guys. The Sheriff made his budget for the year. If he wanted to give his people raises, he had the power to do so. Instead, he purchased a bunch of toys, took trips to the Texas boarder, purchased a fleet of boats, etc… Flagler County Fire Rescue was just approved for their raise not even a few months ago, and now the Sheriff is asking for more money. He has compared the sheriff’s office to Fire Rescue on multiple occasions in regards to pay. This is as simple as he never budgeted for raises, someone else got compensated, and instead of planning for a raise, goes to mommy and daddy for a bigger allowance. No other department in the county has this kind of opportunity.
But like I said, hopefully he’ll use this money to give the deputy raises. Wouldn’t surprise me if he purchased another Bearcat like he did last time that money was suppose to go towards raises.
Deborah Coffey says
Stop giving the Sheriff every single thing he wants! It’s becoming ridiculous…and is done at the expense of everyone and everything else that is needed.
Concerned Citizen says
The best way to combat this is at the polls.
Yet this County is resistant to change. And will keep re-electing Sheriff Staly for another 20 years. All because it’s what you know.