The Palm Coast City Council in a disorderly special workshop meeting this evening agreed to fully fund the Flagler County Sheriff’s request for 10 additional deputies for city policing, four more than it had originally budgeted. But that’s as far as it got in agreeing to a new budget. The rest remains a churn of conflicts as the council nears its deadline of approving the budget and next year’s tax rate in the first of two public hearings next Thursday.
A bare majority agreed to lower the property tax rate. But that majority, which includes Mayor David Alfin, has yet to agree to what extent the tax rate may be reduced, and to what extent to reduce the city’s reserves to pay for the unusual profligacy of committing to more recurring spending while reducing the tax rate, ensuring less revenue.
Despite Alfin’s efforts to find consensus, the workshop reflected a frayed council that, as matters now stand, doesn’t have the votes to approve the budget come Thursday. The reason: Council members Nick Klufas and Eddie Branquinho are against reducing the tax rate. They want it kept where it’s been for the past three years. Alfin and Council member Victor Barbosa are for reducing it some, though they’re not saying how much.
Council member Ed Danko, who boxed himself in during his election campaign by pledging to drink antifreeze before raising taxes, is proposing going back to the rolled-back tax rate, the rate at which the city would take in as much revenue next year as it did this year. Only adopting the rolled-back rate or a rate lower would safeguard against a tax increase. Under Florida law, even a reduction in tax rate that brings in more revenue than the previous year is a tax increase.
That leaves the council potentially deadlocked. If Danko won’t vote for anything but a rolled-back tax rate, neither Alfin and Barbosa on one hand nor Branquinho and Klufas on the other have the third vote to break a 2-2 deadlock, with Danko in the opposition either way. A council member is going to have to give: either Danko will have to break his pledge, or one of the other council members will have to concede some ground. Klufas could conceivably give ground on the tax rate reduction, assuming it’s not more than symbolic and the reserves aren’t plundered to accommodate it.
Much as the administration tried to get more clarity from Alfin, he said he was looking for a tax rate “somewhere halfway back to the rollback. That would be exciting, I don’t think that would be possible,” he said.
“Just to remind you again, and I’ll be happy to show it to you,” Danko told Alfin, “You ran as a conservative who won’t raise taxes. Do you really want to break your promise to the voters right out of the gate? I would hope not.” Danko specified in an email later that he was referring to a campaign flyer that headlines Alfin’s claim that he won’t raise taxes. In a pre-election interview, Alfin’s answers on taxes were more measured than a categorical no-new-taxes pledge. “Deciding an outcome before data analysis may lead to an incomplete and false conclusion,” Alfin had said in answer to a question on taxes during his election campaign. “Predetermining an outcome based on incomplete data analysis is a recipe for mistakes on a $230,000,000 budget.” Either way, Alfin didn’t take the bait.
Danko, back from quarantining–he wasn’t sick, he says, and remained unmasked this evening–was also back in full, rude form, taunting the mayor and insulting Branquinho (“to hell with you,” Danko told the councilman, when Branquinho tied him to unruly members of the public that compelled the city to install costly security measures. “Why don’t you go back to Jersey where you can be a Democrat again,” Danko told him, or rather yelled. Council members are ostensibly non-partisan.)
Danko had started the meeting by proposing the tax-rate reduction, eliminating merit raises for employees, eliminate new hires and eliminate funding for the projected expansion of the city’s tennis center. He had forwarded none of those suggestions to the administration so the finance department could be prepared.
“This is the first time we’re hearing about them,” Klufas said, “and it puts our staff in a very difficult position because their job up to this point has been give us presentation after presentation on exactly how the dollars are being spent, line item by line item. This is the first time that this is all–you want to cut this, that’s great, but now it’s the 11th hour, and none of these things have been brought forward. And now you’re putting a lot of pressure on employees.”
The current property tax rate is $4.6989 per $1,000 in taxable value. A $175,000 house with a $50,000 exemption would pay roughly $588 for the year. The rolled-back rate would be $4.4593 per $1,000, or $557–a saving of $30, or less than a tankful of gas for most cars. The saving for property owners would be slight. The effect on the city’s budget would be significant. Each decimal point in the tax rate equates to $625,000 in revenue–or lost revenue, if the rate was reduced by a decimal point. If the tax rate goes back to the rolled-back rate, it would be a loss of $1.5 million in projected revenue.
The special workshop was scheduled because the council hadn’t resolved those questions in previous attempts in August, making this the most drawn-out budget wrangle in the city’s history: no council had approached its two legally required September public hearings, when the budget is approved and the property tax is voted on, without final agreement on either. That agreement is still lacking as the council moves toward those two public hearings, the first scheduled for Thursday evening.
The council’s indecision, including that of Alfin, left the administration perplexed, forcing Interim City Manager Denise Bevan to ask the mayor to be more precise about the sort of tax rate decrease he was seeking. The answer was still not forthcoming. Alfin said that would depend on the extent to which the reserves could be drawn down while still keeping them within the policy requirement that they amount to 10 to 20 percent of the size of the general fund.
The reserves are currently at just over 27 percent of the general fund. That’s not unusual for Palm Coast’s reserves: it’s the reason the city’s fiscal conservatism has been a long-standing characteristic of its budget management. Reserves are not designed to be spent on operational items–that is, recurring spending, like deputies or to fund a tax decrease. Reserves are typically used to pay for one-time injections, either for infrastructure expenses or, as was the case earlier this year, for subsidies benefiting the two universities that have set up satellites in Town Center–the University of North Florida’s Mednexus and Jacksonville University.
As things stood at the end of the hour-long workshop this evening (it had been scheduled for 30 minutes) Alfin directed Helena Alves, by way of the city manager, to bring back the latest calculations at Thursday’s hearing, leaving the council in a position to still be making additions and deletions at the very hearing where it is to adopt the budget resolution and tax rate on first reading.
In an interview last month Alfin, who was elected in last July 27th’s special election, mused about when his honeymoon period would end. This evening’s meeting was an indication that, if the honey hasn’t run out yet, it was at least getting occluded by flies to be visible much, or worth tasting.
The best thing I read was to stop funding the new tennis center update. Pour more money into a losing proposition makes no sense. Use the funds to fix the roads! Of course, that will never happen.
A huge majority of those funds cannot be used to fix the road, Dennis. Part of the problem is the lack of knowlege/education many residents have about what’s happening in the own city.
Morgan Monaco says
Raise the tax but more tax for the onwers of half million $$ +
Citizen in District 4 says
Instead of all the street lights that have been put up in the past year, how about improving the Swale System. Or even respond to citizens complaints about lack of Swale maintenance that has been sent to the former Chairman and acting chairman of the Council. I filed two complaints, including a video showing localized flooding because of the Swale and NOT ONE PERSON RESPONDED!
Concerned Citizen says
I thought they agreed to 6.
What did the Sheriff do to get the other Four? Lean on them?
Newsflash. The City of Palm Coast is a City in Flagler County. The ENTIRE county is in Rick Staly’s jurisdiction. And like it or not he is REQUIRED by law to provide services. How the City ever allowed themselves to be roped into a multi million dollar “Law Enforcement Contract” aka protection money is beyond me.
Attend, or at least watch, the meeting and you’d know. Gov’t revenue projections from the state increased income to the city by $470k’ish. That’s where the money came from.
Concerned Citizen says
Yeah I do pay attention.
I have never seen such a sweetheart deal in all my life.
Again people are missing the point. The Sheriff is REQUIRED to furnish these services. The city shouldn’t be paying extra money like it’s protection money.
Could it be incompetence? Our city council is full of amateurs.
Citizen in District 4 says
I’ve been reviewing the weekly statistics published from the Flagler County Sheriff’s office concerning police activities. In general, there are an average of 17 events or activities per week performed by the SO. That comes to 1 even every 9.88 hours. At $10 million dollars / 8,760 hours that comes to $1,141.55 per hour. If there is one event per every 9.88 hours that comes to each event costing $11,278.54…
Couldn’t money be better or more wisely spent?
Citizen in District 4 says
BTW, the above Flagler SO Reports were for Palm Coast ONLY.
As many new homes as have been constructed just on this street, if that additional property isn’t paying for the essentials in the budget, there’s a problem with the way that is being proposed & implemented. Everyone’s property just increased after a pandemic year and for the most part all anyone did was allow those properties to become a year older. Property values are higher and the cost of new homes is higher. These houses are selling as we’re being told Covid is killing off taxpayers.
And that might be another issue, home prices going up as pandemic property flippers look to make property flipping their means of income to replace the jobs they’ve lost. I suspect there’s a lot of Bush era like property flipping that is what got us into this mess over the last couple of decades, hyper inflation on the unaffordable housing, that leads to hyper inflation for everything else to become even more unaffordable. The rich will get richer and the masses that have zero control over their income will live in mismanaged poverty & just be poorer. Politician’s aren’t doing anyone any favors as the spin is moving the goal posts again and telling you the growth is better, yet it’s not better, the traffic is worse, as the spreading of Covid ramps back up simply because there are too many people packed into the area & on top of each other.
shy guy says
Spend the money on someone who knows how to adjust the traffic lights. They’re screwed up at most intersections.
Mike Cocchiola says
I would not like to see a tax increase in any form. Yes, It might look minimal to some, but we do have citizens, young and elderly, who live on the edge where every dollar counts.
I believe the council can avoid a budget battle if it just refuses to pump unnecessary funds into the already overfunded sheriff’s department. The sheriff cannot brag about a huge reduction in crime, then ask for more deputies. It doesn’t pass the sanity check. The council (and the BOCC) needs to find the courage to say no to Sheriff Staly.
I totally agree with Mike C. regarding the Sheriff request for more deputies for Palm Coast no need by now. I also agree with Danko regarding the employees raises, no need by now. I do not agree with either Danko telling Branquinho to go back to NJ and the DNC’s…No one should be using that political rudeness against anyone…specially against another elected official for a non partisan position like the city council and mayor.
I do not agree with the city further funding the Rte 100 CRA (town Center) depending where the funds come from over 2.5 millions..? Maybe the picker ball courts can be delayed for when Parks and Recreations increases revenue from the successful PH Golf Course operations and achieves the needed funds.
City should open the meetings for online attendance as well as the Delta Variant is raging among us as I know many residents do not attend the city meetings because the current unmasked and distancing lacking.
Concerned Citizen says
My question is?
What is the Council and Us as constituents going to do to address Danko? Why are folks scared of him? He continues to bully and no one try’s to stop it. Time to stand up to him.
Richard Huhn says
DON’T mess with the golf course. Mitch and his crew are doing fantastic job. It’s not broke so don’t try to fix it.
Jane Gentile-Youd says
Sheriff pays average of 5 Chiefs $101,000 a year each and 15 Commanders average $91,000 a year each ( according to records sent to me for the current fiscal year through Sept. 30 from Sheriff office)… Average Deputy Salary – you know the guys we see – who work the streets and do the real dirty work get paid an approximate in between $38,000 to $44,000 a year. The person in charge of ‘Criminal investigations is paid $44,000…… The Homeland Security contact whoever gets $38,000 a year.
His department way too top heavy – Population up 11% since 2016 ( 108,0000 v 121,000 today) but his budget up 40%!!! From $25 million plus to 34million plus. Crime down, NO , he does not need anymore deputies ;he needs to give a pay raise to the deputies he has and to stop pretending he is a nation unto himself. Lest we keep in mind that once pot is legalized probably half the green roof inn will be empty….
We do not need 13 Chiefs nor 15 Commanders in my opinion for around 300 total employees – and if we do there is something very very wrong in the entire operation. That’s how I see it. How do you all see it? (Oh yeah – and come election time I hope someone qualified – like a real police chief -runs to replace our current Sheriff who take the credit for his underpaid deputies work )