At the County Commission today, it was a tale of two meetings: one on earth, another somewhere more twilight-like.
There was the two-hour workshop focused on the sheriff’s and the clerk of court’s budgets. Questions by commissioners and a county administration firmly standing its ground on methods and numbers kept Sheriff Rick Staly on his heels more often than not. By the workshop’s end, it seemed clear the sheriff’s request for 15 additional deputies might not be compatible with a commission looking to trim its tax rate a little, and share the pain.
Then there was the 14-minute, barely advertised, no-agenda special meeting immediately following the workshop (an old custom at the county that may meet letter of the state’s Sunshine law but not its spirit). At first it looked to be a mere ratification of the workshop discussion. Commissioner Dave Sullivan made a motion to cut $1 million from the budget and let the administration figure out how. That $1 million cut, in Sullivan’s proposal, would have to be shared between the county administration and the constitutional officers–the sheriff, the clerk of court, the tax collector and so on.
Implicitly, that meant the sheriff would not get the $662,000 he was still asking for, and that he might have to make do with even less. It was a clever way to take cover: the sheriff’s request could not be funded in its entirety, but nor could the other constitutional officers’ full budget requests.
Then Commission Chairman Donald O’Brien jumped in. He insisted he was not “pandering.” But his amendment to the motion–never formalized, never presented as such–appeared to do exactly that: he not only wanted to cut $1 million from the budget. But he wanted to give all the constitutionals everything they were asking for, the sheriff included, and force the county administration–that is, county services such as fire rescue, roads, bridges, parks, library, code enforcement–to absorb what would amount to $2 million in cuts, as Sullivan estimated, but likely more.
“I’m not pandering, I think I respect you as professionals,” O’Brien said of the constitutional officers. “They’ve put the time and effort into their budgets and looked at them carefully. I don’t believe they waste money.” But by requiring the county administration to shoulder all the cuts, the implication was that the county was wasteful and could afford the cuts.
Sullivan was perplexed, as he would be when he talked of the motion after the meeting. “What you’re saying is fund all of that, which would be another $1 million,” he told O’Brien, “and still give a one-tenth of a percent on millage rate, which is another $1 million, so they’d have to find $2 million in order to do that.”
“Yeah,” O’Brien said.
It was as if, start-struck by the constitutionals in the room–Staly and Clerk of Court Tom Bexley–O’Brien had not heard a word that his own county administrator had said.
“I agree that we shouldn’t place the burden of balancing the budget on the backs of the constitutionals,” Petito had said. “But I also feel that it shouldn’t be placed solely on the Board of County Commission. We all have unmet needs, and we’re all in the same situation. And whatever direction the board chooses to go, whether it be the need to tighten our belts, I would suggest that it’d be across the board.”
It fell on deaf ears. As had Petito’s more detailed examples.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you of the backlog and deferred capital projects, deferred facility maintenance and preservation as well as the amount of deferred capital equipment replacement that we currently have on our list,” Petito said. “We also have to take into consideration a few of the known conditions that we have coming up over the next few years. With the construction of the new Sheriff’s Operation Center in the Bunnell library will come some added operating expenses as well as the need for additional staffing on the operations and maintenance side. With the increase in sheriff’s deputies will also come a need for increased maintenance staff, primarily some of your support functions such as information technology, and fleet maintenance.”
“Additionally, we are many years behind in fire rescue. We’ve addressed this previously, with regard to facilities, and we have the impacts of the ‘Safer’ grant coming up over the next couple years.” The county last year won a three-year grant fully funding 15 additional firefighters. But the grant is non-renewable. “And again, that’s 15 firefighters, roughly approximately $1.2 million, that we’re going to have to absorb in the coming years.”
“I think that it can be said that we all are experiencing a need for increases in personnel due to impacts of a growing community,” Petito said. “On the board side, we have had several positions that we would have wanted to include, however, due to budgetary constraints, and possibly our conservative approach to things, these positions had been deferred as they have been previously. We put a lot of things on the side. And we continue to do that.”
The presentation by County Financial Services Director John Brower also appeared to have fallen on deaf ears.
But he said the sheriff’s budget alone doesn’t reflect all that county taxpayers are paying for law enforcement related services. The financing of construction of the new Sheriff’s Operations center, a project of “upwards of $20 million,” has required the reallocation of a portion of the jail’s debt service to be paid for with half-cent sales tax revenue.
Brower estimated an additional $2 million is paid for sheriff’s related services that are conducted through the county’s IT, general services and fleet services budgets. “These costs are not included in the budget, however, they’re real for us,” he said. Once the Sheriff’s Operations Center is completed, for example, the county will assume a recurring cost of $280,000 a year for support and facilities. In Hansen’s words, it’s “that stuff that we do for the sheriff in our budget that doesn’t show up on the sheriff’s budget.”
“I’ll be glad to take that $2 million, and run those services myself, if you’re willing to do that,” the sheriff said.
Brower said the county needs to grow by about 4 to 5 percent in generated revenue, primarily from property taxes, to maintain the county budget at its current state–without adding employees or new recurring costs. “That’s at the current millage rate,” he said. But for 2022, the constitutional officers are asking for amounts above their pro-rata share– “The supervisor of elections is asking for another $160,000, the clerk a little over $300,000 and the sheriff $662,000,” Brower said. “Any increases to one office will require a decrease in some other area.”
Brower had explained that constitutional budgets grow in proportion with revenue growth, alleviating “competition for general fund dollars and any angst between constitutional officers.”
The sheriff disputes the share, saying it projects his department at 5 percent less than where it should be, and below that of other counties he cited–enough to short-change him by $3 million. He said one way to work out the budget problem facing the commissioners was to fix the proportionate share going to his department.
Brower didn’t buy the argument. “Math is a funny thing sometimes,” he said. “I would argue that the percentage was not–is not–wrong, that to add $300,000 or $3 million, from a different funding source, to give you a higher percentage, would be inaccurate, actually– because the board has other funding sources and other funds too. So if we were to add those, arguably, the percentage for the sheriff would decrease.” Brower said he’d had conversations with Mark Strobridge, the sheriff’s second in command. But the budget hasn’t changed “because it’s not staff’s responsibility to change the budget at this time. It’s the board’s responsibility to make any changes to the tentative budget. That’s it. The information I’ve given you is accurate.”
All of that had been discussed during the workshop. In the special meeting that followed, it seemed irrelevant.
Commissioner Greg Hansen immediately joined O’Brien, asking for both a cut in the property tax rate and the full funding of the constitutionals, at other county services’ expense. But he asked a procedurally important question? “Do we need to modify the motion to specifically say that the Board of County Commissioner budget is going to absorb?”
Other commissioners didn’t think so. “Each commissioner will have their own recommendations I would assume on Monday,” Dance said, speaking of the next workshop, potentially leaving a way open for different compromises. So formally, the commissioners voted unanimously on Sullivan’s motion, without O’Brien’s amendment, though it wasn’t clear most of them knew that.
Hansen himself had, during the workshop, said something that directly contradicted his stance during the special meeting: “I think everybody has to share,” he’d said. “Not just not just the county budget, but the constitutionals would have to share in that $1 million reduction. I think it’s worthwhile to at least do the drill.” (At the previous meeting, Hansen had no recollection of a vote he’d made on resetting meeting methods in the meeting before that. But weeks had passed. In this case, mere minutes had passed between the workshop and the special meeting.)
The County Commission is responsible for funding the budgets of all the constitutional officers, who each in turn submit their budgets and defend them, if necessary, before the commission. The county is far from poor this year: a nearly 10 percent increase in property values would generate a substantial increase in revenue, assuming the commission kept its property tax rate flat. There’s no question that all constitutional budgets and county departments requesting increases will get some, if not much, of those increases, but given the commissioners’ wish for a symbolic tax rate reduction, the increases may have had some limits.
Staly did not leave the presentation to someone else. He grounded his request in the University of North Florida study he commissioned in 2018, in a demographic analysis that projects significant growth already ongoing and exploding ahead, and dispensing with a series of “Myths,” such as imagining that deputies are focused exclusively on crime-fighting policing (as opposed to vehicle crashes, Baker Acts, suicide and suicide prevention, and so on).
“We’re playing catch up,” Staly said. “We’ve made good strides in the four years that I’ve been sheriff, with your support, but we can’t stop now with all the growth that’s coming and the volume of calls that we’re dealing with.” On several occasions he was less complimentary of Palm Coast, with whom the sheriff’s office contracts for policing: Staly spoke more critically of the “sporadic” support for the Sheriff;’s Office in Palm Coast, though the claim isn’t necessarily supported by a continuing increase–if not every year–in sheriff’s deputies there: five in 2017-18, three last year, six projected in the coming year.
There were also misleading questions, as when Hansen asked–since Palm Coast accounts for 83 percent of the sheriffs’ call volume–whether Palm Coast was paying 83 percent of the sheriff’s budget. “No they’re not,” the sheriff said pointedly. Hansen’s question was intended to get just that reaction. But the exchange masks the fact that Palm Coast accounts for about 85 percent of the county’s tax base–every city resident pays significantly higher county than city taxes–which, in fact, accounts for the lion’s share of both the county’s and the sheriff’s budgets. Sullivan was quick to note the city’s contributions, and the inapplicability of comparing Palm Coast’s contract, say, with Deltona’s.
“Why would you fix what’s not broken?” O’Brien, the chairman of the commission, said. “You know, the financing aside in terms of the level of service and in the way you’re patrolling and handling the city of Palm Coast–I’m a city of Palm Coast resident and taxpayer–it’s not broken, in terms of law enforcement.” The sheriff agreed.
The sheriff cited the 197,000 calls for service to the 911 call center, with sheriff’s deputies responding to 130,000 of them, and deputies initiating 70,000 calls. Dance said he wasn’t “worried” about those numbers, since–measured by population–the ratios were lower than in other jurisdictions. But he wanted more details on “how you’re doing on a proactive policing standpoint, to reduce the number of calls.” He added: “ The data has got to be out there somewhere. So it’s just a matter of finding who provides that data on the calls.”
And the sheriff cited the staffing ratio, saying the department should be at 1.9 deputies per 1,000 population, instead of the current 1.7, though he said the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office was third in the state in that regard, when compared to similar-size departments in counties of similar-size populations. Bottom line: in 2018, he said, the department was 31 deputies short, and will need 78 additional deputies by 2025. “ I’m realistic,” Staly said, “you can’t afford it nor do the taxpayers want to staff 78 additional deputies, but we do need to work on deficit deputies and deputies needed for growth.” (There are 325 employees at the Sheriff’s Office, with 107 uniformed deputies.)
Sullivan didn’t want to be put in a position to say yes or no to 15 deputies. His job, he said, was to approve allocations, not details. “You determine the mix that you get, we don’t do that. That’s your budget that you get,” Sullivan said. “It’s your job to take the big button, the big number, whatever that number is, and then allocate it the way you need it. So I have some problem when you say you need 78 more over time to handle what you’re now covering with 107. Couldn’t you allocate or mix a little bit so that more would be [done] with the deputies?”
“We are very thin,” the sheriff replied, describing what he sees as gaps in coverage–one deputy for all the county’s waterways and canals, one detective working on cyber crime, both of whose beats are not manned when they’re off the job. He cited other examples.
“The way you run the department, that’s your job, not my job,” Sullivan said, going on to speak of technology as a help in reducing crime numbers. Staly agreed, calling it “a force multiplier,” but disturbance calls aren’t counted as a crime unless there’s a domestic battery, for example. “You can’t just look at ‘crime is down, we don’t need any more deputies,’” Staly said. “No crime is down. We want to keep it down.”
Sullivan kept pressing: he’d mentioned that Bunnell and Flagler Beach each have police departments and police officers of their own, though the sheriff’s ratios are based on the county’s entire population, including the two cities. “When a 911 call comes in, for something in Flagler Beach, who gets contacted?” the commissioner asked.
“Flagler Beach gets dispatched by my dispatchers,” the sheriff said.
Sullivan said county residents have had a difficult year, need a break, and need a gesture from the commission, and proposed his tax rate decrease. “I think there are ways that we can show the people of Flagler county and the cities at the same time that we’re trying to do everything we can to reduce your tax burden, and we understand you’ve had a difficult year,” he said. To the constitutional officers, he said: “I think there are ways to say we can’t give you all you want right now.”
“Based on information from today,” Dance said, “I’m by no means in any position to set a millage.” He had many more questions to ask.
This board is quick to pass the buck to the departments instead of making the hard decisions, so what services should be cut: Meals on Wheels, Indigent Health Assistance, Adult DayCare, repairing and maintaining roadways? As Bugs Bunny would say, what a bunch of Maroons. Why does the board always give in to the constitutionals?
Please defend this police dept, even if only a little, they are taking over our town and taking away from much needed service, please evolve your thinking into the future beforebits too late
Start with their own pay, I mean that’ll add up quick especially paying all those communications peeps to do what exactly? Six figures? Yeah, no.
Been There says
All those communication/art/marketing positions are wasteful. The County handled getting the information to the public with just a PIO long before the Cameron sycophants got rewarded. I guess having your Masters in Public Information means answering public information requests while someone else gets to ACTUALLY do your job. All messaging from the County should come from the Public Information Office which should consist of ONE PIO and an assistant, including social media (it isn’t difficult to sync your posts across multiple apps and pre-schedule releases). This will eliminate three over paid positions with benefits, special privileges and additional considerations.
Back to the Splash Pad & Pickleball money, plenty for that, but keep the community safe from criminals & fires, sounds like budgeting priorities aren’t aligned for where they should be to attract families.
Just Saying says
That’s Palm Coast tax dollars not county
Mike Cocchiola says
So, Jimbo99, why don’t we just cut all services and amenities that make our cities clean, pretty, and active, and just have a sheriff’s deputy on every corner waiting for a crime to occur? And speaking of crime, why does the sheriff need more deputies when he brags about a 48% reduction of crime under his rule?
This request is just an outrage. It is an insult to our citizens and a power display by our cowboy sheriff. The BOCC would be out of their collective minds to consider cutting services in order to bend over to Staly.
I had a budget where I was employed, and that budget was always more than actually needed. Every department head knew that they would never receive full financing fir whist they asked for. It was always cut and there was always room in the budgets to cut. Staley is trying to build an empire here in Flagler. He needs to be controlled. The county has pissed away millions and steps need to be taken to control taxpayer money. Thousands of new homes are being built and still they want more tax money on top of the added taxes already collected. I think that’s called greed and mismanagement.
The thought occurs…no mention here of the monies being sent from the federal government. Where is that money going?
Been There says
Well, both Mullins and O’Brien’s businesses received grants from the first round.
Let the voters decide and I would bet, the majority would say, cut the salaries of these commissioners first.
Can’t cut the commissioner salaries because that is determined by the state and the greater the population of the county, the higher theBOCC salaries become, so pretty soon they’ll probably get another raise for very little time put in.
However, the sheriff’s department budget is way too much, and needs to have courageous BOCC to say no to the request and scale it down a bit and also take a look at how many sheriff’s office regular employees there are, if they all are necessary and maybe scale back some of those. However, I’m sure the BOCC gets a few favors from the sheriff’s department, so they’ll give him whatever he wants and to heck with the regular people who need certain services.
Can't believe it. says
Typical of the Board of Commissioners, with the exception of Commissioner Dance. They don’t do their own “due diligence”, irresponsibly spending on one bad project after the other (Sheriff’s building, Sears building, Bank building, giving away a Bings Landing to “their friends”, without coming any where near fair market rent, Bay Drive Park, which they couldn’t afford from the beginning). They’re just plain lazy and inept. They want their salary, benefits and retirement, but they don’t want to spend any time analyzing the consequences of their decisions. And lets not forget Al Hadeed, the biggest loser, not doing his job, which is to protect the taxpayers and The County from the lawsuits of all these follies. Even as they operate as a cabal, they are ignorant and lazy, continually being exposed for their inadequacies. And now, they want to try to redeem themselves, by making it look like they are saving money for the taxpayers. We need a changing of these sloths, and soon. I’m not a democrat. I just call it as i see it.
Jane Gentile-Youd says
My heart goes out to Heidi Petitio and a big thank you to Commissioner Sullivan for trying.
Staley can take his $21,000,000 and stick it where the sun does not shine.
One of our self-centered sheriff’s TOP COPS ‘retired’ last week – a crying shame; a young talented hard working guy. This same top cop was ‘ordered’ to appear on Mullins wacko weekly tirade by Staley several weeks ago and who did not appear neither on his time nor his dime. He appeared on OUR DIME . His guys do a great job while he takes mostly all the credit for their years of dedication, training and devotion that have just about NOTHING to do with him being sheriff.
Any Flagler County commissioners who approve to cutting our necessary services but continue funding construction of the sheriff’s Taj Mahal should be removed from office for malfeasance – in my opinion.
How can Flagler County grow in a positive , productive direction with nothing but a big overblown unnecessary ‘police force’?
The Sheriff thinks he is GOD and unfortunately a few of our Commissioners agree. How do you all see this? Are you as infuriated as I am?
David Schaefer says
That’s what you get with another Trumper running this agency WASTE AND SPEND….
Roy Longo says
I am dismayed by the attitude of the commissioners. Give the constitutional officers all they want. But fire rescue still has firefighters living in at least four stations that do not meet basic building codes, let alone life safety requirements. I implore each commissioner to visit these stations. Maybe then you will have a better idea of how bad it is.
These police in Flagler County should wash the feet of our homeless once a week . Less cops , more social services
No giveaways for the “homeless by choice”. Did you forget when kids couldn’t even walk into the Palm Coast library because of all the homeless ? Try offering some a meal but they only want cash. We need more cops not less.
You seem to be the only one to feel that way. And yes I remembered when the homeless were illegally moved under false pretenses from the library, in fact let’s never forget how those in charge are willing to break the rules and laws when it helps their cause. Let’s hope the watchdogs come to Flagler County and get these tyrants in check.
Oh come on, the Sheriff needs 15 more deputies and he would also like:
New Brown Shirts and Brown Boots for all deputies
New Abrams Tank for those ” traffic problems ”
New Sniper rifles for ALL SWAT members
New Undercover Canine with bullet proof vests
New Spanish speaking robots ( We have an illegal alien invasion here in Flagler )
New Armor Plated Humvees for Traffic Control
What he actually needs is 20 hours of SPEECH CLASS
This is how it happens back where I came from, and this is how it seems to be developing here in my new home in “paradise”: The Sheriff gets more deputies each year, in response to fear of crime that barely exists, aided by cohorts in the county commission who hold the purse strings to your/my money, and eventually the patronage deputy sheriff and civilian jobs he doles out become a political force he, and they, control. Why are taxes so ridiculous up north? Sheriffs and school boards never have enough. Never.
“(There are 325 employees at the Sheriff’s Office, with 107 uniformed deputies.)” What? MORE than twice as many non-deputies as deputies? That should be REVERSED asap. THERE’S your budget and your police force right there. Property taxes are booming right now with all the new homes going up like wildfire. Be steady with the budget, not greedy.
@The men in your mirror
The characters in this tale were chosen by the rest of the characters.
Of the five members of the BOCC, one is actually looking out for you. One is a freak show. The other three are double or triple dipping retirees, who are as cynical and cunning as the like minded characters that installed them:
“…In The Devil’s Dictionary (1906), the American writer Ambrose Bierce cynically (but not inappropriately) defined the conservative as “a statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.” Conservatism must also be distinguished from the reactionary outlook, which favours the restoration of a previous, and usually outmoded, political or social order…”
When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.
— Edmund Burke
Everyone in this county has had to tighten up their spending these officials need to do the same. Every department needs to cut there budget do not give them any additional moneys. Do we really need additional deputies? You cannot drive a half a mile this county without seeing 2 to 3 deputies sitting in there cars with the engines running doing nothing. Think about it hard all departments need to cut back just like the taxpayers!
Yes, the SO is top heavy, get rid of some of the paper pushers and get them out on the streets. Stop taking patrol cars home to sit for hours and use them for each shift. Just a couple suggestions.