The Palm Coast City Council is in a 3-2 split that would approve lowering the property tax rate symbolically and increase the number of deputies the sheriff is requesting to police the city by more than the six the administration had been prepared to award.
The exact final number of deputies the city can afford, and the council will approve, is not yet clear. Sheriff Rick Staly requested 10 additional deputies from the city and 15 from the county. The county awarded 10, and is also lowering its property tax rate by a decimal point–more as a gesture than a substantial sauvignon to property owners, who would see a decrease of less than $20 in their bills.
The city administration’s budget was based on adding six deputies and increasing the city’s policing budget $1.2 million, from the current $4.25 million to to $5.28 million. Council members Nick Klufas and Eddie Branquinho were comfortable with six deputies. Councilmen Victor Barbosa and Ed Danko were willing to give the sheriff all 10 requested. Mayor David Alfin was to be the tiebreaker.
“I would very much like to see us reduce the millage rate modestly,” Alfin said of the city’s property tax rate, currently at $4.6989 per $1,000 in taxable value (a little less than $500 for a $250,000 house with a $50,000 homestead exemption). “I would also like to readdress the number of deputies that we have formulated for this budget. I’m looking to decrease the millage rate modestly and increase the number of sheriff’s deputies that we can find room for in our budget. Those are my two overall requests for the budget, knowing that we have a very short timeline left to manipulate and to move things around.”
He didn’t specify the number of deputies he was looking for, though lowering the tax rate and adding more than one or two more deputies appears improbable. In an interview, Alfin said he was seeking “as many as they could fit into the budget.”
At the same time, he was also clear: “Next year I would not look to entertain a request for deputies,” he said, though the statement should not be interpreted to mean that the sheriff couldn’t add deputies to his Palm Coast force. “I would love to rewrite the contract between the city of Palm Coast,” Alfin said. He is looking for a budget “tied to economic growth indicators. So, population could be one, there should be many. In other words, that budget will increase or decrease depending on these metrics. I would like to leave it up to the sheriff to decide how that budget is best spent.” The council should not be pegging its budget to the number of officers needed, Alfin said. That’s in the sheriff’s hands.
For this year’s budget, he’d not been pleased about the way the city had calculated its initial allocation. “I’m not thrilled with the way they calculated the six that are in there now because it was arithmetic,” Alfin said. “They had X number of dollars, they divided about what it costs for each deputy inside of six. That’s a little short-sighted for me. In other words, what do six mean to the sheriff? How much more public safety does six versus eight deputies represent? To me, it’s not just arithmetic.”
Alfin saw the spending on deputies as an investment in “what is coming, and we know that we have accelerated growth on the horizon, and some of these expenses may need to be made in advance to take advantage of what’s coming, and to manage our growth properly.”
Palm Coast added five deputies in 2018 and five last year. The six it was planning to add next year would bring Palm Coast’s total to 39, a 70 percent increase in manpower in four years–more, if the city adds to the total of six.
The additional deputies, to Alfin, are a means of providing additional back-up to deputies in various situations, back-ups that lower than chance of a deputy getting harmed. He also saw getting more deputies hired now, even if not immediately needed, as part of managing the “extensive learning curve” they’ll need as more houses and businesses go up, so they’ll be seasoned officers when the need is more pronounced.
Alfin asked the city administration to “take a serious look at our reserves, and our reserve policy to make sure that we aren’t being overly conservative.” The city’s reserve policy requires that fund to be between 10 and 20 percent of the general fund. It was expected to be around $9 million, just past the 20 percent mark, with only $650,000 appropriated for that balance in the coming year’s budget.
The first public hearing on budget adoption is scheduled for Sept. 9 at 5:30 p.m., the second for Sept. 22 at the same time.
Lowering the property tax rate in Palm Coast by a decimal point would equate to a saving of around $14 for the year, for a $200,000 property with a $50,000 exemption–not enough to warrant the reduction, in Branquinho’s view. “I think the millage rate should stay the same to give us what we need,” he said. He said there might be certain line items he wouldn’t mind cutting–like the money underwriting the relatively new security measures at City Hall. “Unfortunately certain groups make us need that,” he said, an allusion to meetings this year where incivility was rife and tensions high.