Rejecting the second wave of pleas and demands from residents this week for a substantial property tax cut, and decrying disinformation, the Palm Coast City Council this evening voted 4-1 to adopt a budget that would keep the city’s tax rate flat, but equate on paper to a somewhat misleading 15 percent tax increase.
That tax applies to a relative fraction of the city budget: the general fund, which pays for fire and police protection, street maintenance, parks and recreation and other such essential services, and which is just $28 million this year. It would grow to $33.4 million next year, a record single-year increase of $5.4 million driven by an 18 percent increase in property valuations–steepest in 16 years.
By state law, when a local government adopts a tax rate that will bring in more revenue than the previous year, it’s defined as a tax increase, even though the vast majority of property owners, especially homesteaded property owners, will not see anywhere near that steep of an increase. The steeper increase is driven by a surge in new construction.
The city is proposing to use the additional revenue to add five sheriff’s deputies, two firefighters and a fire inspector, increase the street-maintenance budget by $1.5 million and the parks and recreation budget by $1 million (compared to the current budget when it was adopted last year), and of course pay for the council members’ 151 percent salary increase, which starts in November.
Still, the more than two dozen residents who addressed the council this evening–calmly and respectfully, if with occasional hints of outrage–had a hard time with the pairing of surging revenue with the impossibility of even a slight reduction in the tax rate. They had no illusions (“I don’t think anything that’s that’s been said here tonight is going to change anybody’s opinion and you guys already know how you’re going to vote,” one speaker said toward the end of the public comment segment, which lasted well over an hour). They were less repetitive or even misinformed (there was some misinformation, to be sure) than illustrative of people coping with a broad array of disparities that undergird Florida’s byzantine of taxes, assessments, exemptions and fees, some of which apply differently to property owners depending on when they moved to the state, or how long they’ve been in their home.
A woman addressed the homestead exemption: “Everybody is homesteaded but the people that are going to pay this 15 percent are the landlords, the business owners, the people that we have to do business with to live, the shop owners, the salons, everybody else is going to have to pass that 15 percent on down to us.” That might have been true if it were accurate: in fact even those businesses will not see anywhere near such a tax increase, since commercial properties’ tax increases are capped at 10 percent, when their property values increase that much, and many will not see the sort of property value increases that cascaded over residential homes. (The Publix on belle Terre Parkway, for example, will see a 7 percent tax increase.)
Another resident, who’s been a local property owner for five years, noted the not-so-intangible but tax-like increases in city services: the doubling of the stormwater fee, the huge increase in the garbage fee, the continuously increasing water and sewer utility fees, which mask sharper increases by building in annual inflation “adjustments” (that is, increases). So even if homesteaded property owners are not getting taxed heavily, they are still the ones who bear the brunt of those other increases.
Many of those who spoke reflected the irony of Palm Coast’s attractiveness to new residents, thousands of whom have moved in in the last couple of years, and who end up being those paying the steepest property taxes, because they are at the ground floor of the homestead exemption’s protections. Some criticized that growth, essentially telling those new residents they were not wanted.
Most did not have specific proposals, other than a demand for a lower tax, and many did not appear to grasp the difference between a lower tax and a lower tax rate: even if the tax rate were reduced fractionally (the way the County Commission reduced its rate at a similar hearing Wednesday evening), there would still be a substantial tax increase. And just as many appeared to be there because they’d been driven there by the electioneering videos of Alan Lowe, the perennial candidate for a seat on the Palm Coast City Council, and close ally of Council member Ed Danko.
Danko was the dissenting vote. He asked for a budget that would go to the full rolled back tax rate of a shade over $4 per $1,000 in taxable value, as opposed to $4.61. But if the city adopted that rate, Council member Eddie Branquinho said, it would have to cut $4.3 million from the budget it’s proposing. He said even a hiring freeze (such as the one Danko was proposing)_ would yield only $1.2 million in savings.
Danko said the council should just tell the administration what it can spend, and have it fogure out how to divvy up the money, rather than let the administration shape a budget that the council then has little time or ability to pare down. Other council members objected to Danko’s characterization, saying the council has, in fact, been working on the budget for six months, with numerous opportunities for members to propose changes, reductions, shifts in priorities.
Dank was also misleading when he repeatedly referred to his proposed tax rate in the context of what he referred to as a “quarter billion dollar budget,” a rhetorical attempt to make it seem as if the city’s budget is bloated enough to sustain the $4.2 million paring he is proposing. In fact, the budget includes, for example, the $91 million utility budget, which consists entirely of fee revenue and debt. Same story with the $26.7 million stormwater fund, the $14.3 million garbage fund, and numerous capital funds driven by impact fees, none of which have anything to do with property tax revenue, or the property tax rate.
Where Danko was more on point was when he attempted to link current capital expansions with future impacts on the general fund, since future buildings will have toi be staffed. But Mayor David Alfin said that was not related to today’s discussion.
“The disinformation has been rampant,” Alfin said, “and it bothers me to no end that the factual information which is available and has been on our city website, every day of those seven and a half months, is not understood or even realized by all of our residents because I would invite all of the community to participate in the process every step of the way.” He agreed with Danko that the budget-review process could be “tweaked,” though even in that case, Alfin and others on the council–including Nick Klufas–suggested that the budget process is what council members make of it. (Flagler Beach devotes two full days to go through its budget, line by line, in workshops that went eight hours twice this year.)
“There’s not any fat to go through that you’d be able to chop off a million dollars here, a million dollars there,” Klufas said, acknowledging, however, the inequalities of the homesteading system–that byzantine tax structure bedeviling local governments in Florida. ‘It can go from several hundred dollars to five, six, $7,000 dollars,” he said of the way property taxes can change on a house changing hands.
“I don’t want to pontificate and reiterate what has already been said,” Klufas said. He said data-driven decisions led to the replacement of vehicles, for example (the city is replacing or adding 69 vehicles and pieces of heavy machinery), just as data drives the decisions on which streets to pave, to keep them from falling into disrepair. “A lot of these questions that have been asked and the justifications for a lot of these positions are explained,” he said. Going back to the rollback rate, he said, “worries me on where those cuts would come from. Are we not going to hire the seven emergency personnel that are going to help save, potentially, our lives or provide safety? Or are we going to be eliminating additional money from the street paving program? I think these are decisions that we are responsible for up here and that is the burden. But that is also why we sit up here, and we sit through these extensive workshops, so that so we understand exactly the justification for these things.”
In his closing remarks, and just before the vote this evening, Alfin–always a quick study in adjustments–acknowledged that using Garfield, the cartoon character, to illustrate a point when he defended the budget last week created “a distraction.” So he would argue for the budget without the prop this time. And he returned to the theme of a budget discussion at times hijacked by grandstanding and electioneering during an election season, at the expense of factual information. He had passed the gavel to Branquinho so he could make the motion for the adoption of the budget. He did, Danko repeated his old line about drinking anti-freeze rather than approving a tax increase, and the council took its 4-1 vote.
151% increase for council members salary????? Take money out of there.
Is it legal to tax people out of their homes?
Time to vote the growth & tax one’s out. They don’t hear the masses. They need to find careers elsewhere. There are 2 extremes, Mullins was one, the one’s that dance around the numbers and inflationary, all in an election & hiring process that the next batch of government career types aren’t worse than their predecessors that were replaced. Holland resigned, she knew where this was heading. Now we have the Alfin era. It’s nice that property values were inflated , that now we have a tax increase. 15% increase isn’t misinformation, it’s going to be applied to overinflated property flipping & overinflated new construction. The Fed shows no signs of backing off increasing interest rates, applied to the inflated prices, there’s nowhere to run or hide form it in America any more. Going without is what the masses will do to pay the blood money of taxation. And even more growth will be approved to perpetuate a lower quality of life. My 1st year in Palm Coast, the homestead didn’t apply, the next year I qualified, the taxes increased and have been every year ever since. In that time, pandemic shut down, and then the inflation of the Biden. And here it comes controlled recessions and this all started to get Biden-Harris elected. There’s no coincidence that any misfortunes of higher costs of living & inflation trace back to the coup of 2020.
I scoff at the hiring freeze remarks made, City of Palm Coast fills quite a few positions with temp/seasonal interns anyway. We’d have to understand the real reasons why any other FT hire positions come open. Maybe those folks got tired of the dysfunctional employments of city of PC or county of Flagler ? Staly said he wants to train & retain. But that happens, people have stepping stones in their careers, that attrition will always be there to train and eventually replace. Governments are like corporations, not everyone gets a pension or the same square deal career.
Already high rents will be 15% higher shortly. Guaranteed.
Dennis C Rathsam says
To raise taxes during the start of this recesion, is a bad idea. The boom is over. Price of homes are comming down. The inventory is growing….How do the powers that be, expect the retires to keep comming up with more money? SS did go up, but not enough to cover the new taxes. Retirees make up 1/2 of the people that live in Palm Coast, we should get an additional decrease when you turn 70 years old, and have lived here over 10 years. We worked hard all our lives, saving for our golden years, our health is failing and we can no longer work everyday, food cost more, gas cost more, insurance cost more…What are we to do? One day the mayor, & the council will be in our shoes. I hope their city takes better care, of seniors, than Palm Coast does .
The City of PC Council and Mayor con artist that never listen to it’s taxpayers. We look forward when we get the opportunity to vote you all out of office.
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 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 grow.
Why do they keep caving in to Staly. No deputy in their right mind would want to go to Volusia or St. Johns County. Palm coast and Flagler County have to be two of the best places to work. Most of the time dealing with minor complaints from senior citizens. It’s a whole new world in those other counties where real police work is required. How hard can it be to have four deputies running radar on Frontier Drive. Everywhere you look you see them bunched up either just shooting the breeze or having lunch together. Even though there are two many of them I have never seen on on my street in twenty years.
You have no idea what the sheriff and deputies do on a daily basis. Yes, deputies and firefighters eat and have breaks, like any employee. I for one am happy that Flagler County will invest in fighting the crime that has only increased with the “affordable housing” built so far, and in providing well-trained firefighters to respond to medical emergencies as well as to fires. Sheriff Staly and Chief Berryhill have my full support. I expect that my opinion will not be published because it is not popular.
Retired FCSO says
As a retired Flagler Deputy I know exactly what they do and this county is the easiest county to work in. Most Sargent and above deputies make $90,000 and up. Staly is stealing from us all. Where else can you be 19 years old with no degree and make $50k a year and retire when you are 44 making $75k a year the rest of your life…Flagler County Sheriff’s Office that’s where!
Absolutely Ridiculous says
What the hell is wrong with this council??? Didn’t I just hear that they were going to reconsider?
Sorry boys, but you are making it difficult/impossible for the average working people and the retirees to
live in Palm Coast. The housing market is out of control, the pricing and rentals are unaffordable, yet
you can’t afford to move either because you have no additional income to move with!
It pains me to have to acknowledge that the only person who voted correctly on this was Danko!!
Danko is trying to do damage control by putting on an act of being a nice and understanding council person set on helping people. However, when a motion was made on Sept 6 to size down the HUGE pay raises they gave themselves, Nobody seconded the motion, including Danko. He wasn’t about to give anything up either. Two faced he is.
The Math says
Every homeowner received a notice of proposed property taxes in the mail. Your total tax bill is going down! Your total current total tax rate is 19.4681, the proposed total tax rate is 19.1291. That’s a total decrease of 1.7%. And that’s before the County lowered its rate.
If you don’t like the taxes, ask yourself why did you come here? Did you think all of this was FREE?
What you should be worried about is the fact that you have no control over the quality of the schools for the children in the community since your State representatives have been cutting funding them and not allowing us to have control over how much revenue they receive. Good schools will make your property more valuable. Time for a constitutional amendment so we can take back control of how our schools are funded and vote those idiots Renner and Hutson the hell out of office since they don’t represent our interests.