It was mid-December, 2010. The Palm Coast City Council had gone to Graham Swamp for a ribbon-cutting, opening the swamp’s 2.2-mile trail, among the last of the city’s treasured parks plans for a while.
When the council got back to work that morning, its then-manager, Jim Landon, revealed that the city was out of money for new parks. But rather than raise the sort of fees that could generate more money, he laid out a plan that would freeze the fees at their level in 2010 or reduce them, though they hadn’t been raised in years.
The non-residential fire impact fee was eventually reduced from 54 cents per square foot to 24 cents per square foot. The parks impact fee for a residential home was subsequently reduced from $1,321 to $849. The county was mired in the wreckage of the housing crash. The idea was to spur new growth. (See the city’s 2012 policy analysis.)
By then fee collection had dropped dramatically anyway. In 2005, the city had collected $3.6 million in park impact fees. In 2010, it collected $267,000. Fire impact fee collected peaked in 2006 at $1 million. By 2010, collection was down to $61,000. The council agreed with the plan (though it wasn’t enacted until the following year), thus significantly reducing revenue from so-called impact fees, the one-time levies on new construction that defray the cost of new parks, roads, fire houses and schools. (See an explanation of impact fees here.)
Today, the Palm Coast City Council voted to raise fire and park impact fees for the first time since then, though in two of the three categories that will see higher fees, the word “raised” is a misnomer: aside from the residential fire fee, which unquestionably is a new high whether or not inflation is taken into account, the other fees were returned to their previous levels, before the city discounted them significantly, or merely matched where they should have been had they kept up with inflation. The council discussed the fire fees at a workshop last week.
Revenue from the parks impact fee would pay for new community and neighborhood parks, paths and trails and “special use facilities.” Namely: a new community center. Revenue from the fire fee will first pay for a planned new fire station in Seminole Woods. “I would say this fire station is within three years,” Deputy Fire Chief Bradd Clark said in an interview on Monday. The fire station would cost around $3 million and could be entirely funded with impact fees, as would its fire trucks, but not the $1 million-a-year cost of running it, with nine additional firefighter-paramedics.
The residential fire impact fee was raised to $367, from $160. The commercial fire impact fee was returned almost to its pre-2011 level: 59 cents per square foot, up from its current 44 cents per square foot, though in inflation-adjusted dollars, the fee the council adopted today should have been at 64 cents just to keep up with what it was in 2010. In other words, the real, inflation-adjusted value of the new fee remains below what it was in 2010.
The council raised the parks impact fee from the current $849 per residential home to $1,549. The 82 percent increase is a bit deceptive: the fee today in large part restores the $1,264 fee that was in effect until 2012. The $1,549 fee was recommended in a study a decade ago. And in inflation-adjusted dollars, even the $1,549 fee is just $50 more than the inflation-adjusted $1,264 value. Put another way: the parks impact fee the council approved today restores Palm Coast’s previous fee and adjusts it for inflation.
“So basically what we’re proposing to do is take away the discount,” Council member Bob Cuff said just before the vote.
In future years, both fire and park impact fees will be automatically raised in accordance with annual inflation, the council agreed.
The votes were 5-0 for the fire fees and 4-1 for the parks impact fee, with council member Jack Howell in dissent. “Do you think given the currency of the economic downfall that we’ve experienced and the projected long-term requirement for it to get back to being robust, that we can do both of these impact fees?” Howell asked of the fire and parks fees. “I just want you all to think about that.” He did not have support.
The fee structure relies on periodic studies the city conducts so it can defend its fees if challenged in court. Palm Coast Mayor Holland referred to the decision of a previous council to reduce or limit impact fees.
“That was left to future councils to consider when to modify that decision,” City Attorney Bill Reischmann said, “to continue to leave it reduced or to bring it back up to an amount that is supported by the study that you have before you today.”
Mark Langello, a board member with the Flagler Homebuilders Association who attended the meetings with city officials on impact fees, said the association was pleased with the approach on fire impact fees, though he had questions about the commercial impact fee’s “blanket approach.” He said the use of commercial space would more likely dictate the demand for services: a building with a lot of activity in it, such as a restaurant, may have more fire calls than a space with far lesser active use, which would then penalize or overcharge certain developments, inhibiting that sort of development. Another HBA member echoed Langello’s request to “further evaluate” the commercial fee.
Langello was more disenchanted with the parks fee. “We have a lot of different issues we brought up to staff, we never really got them resolved,” he said, calling for a more extensive analysis of city needs on parks. The new fee could provoke a lull in development, he said. He also cautioned that “too many parks, underutilized, may cause drug sales, illegal activities, people may get mugged”–issues rarely seen in Palm Coast: the incidence of crime in the city’s existing parks, trails, paths and nature preserves has not been documented to be anywhere that would suggest that additional parks would lead to further such issues. But the HBA also noted that the parks study was based on an outdated master plan for parks: it dates back to 2008, with little input from the public. The HBA also requested that the parks decision be tabled until the council had a chance to handle the issue in face to face meetings. (Tuesday’s meeting was by zoom, with some council members at City Hall.)
“We do invest in quality of life, and our parks are part of that,” Holland said, countering langello’s connection between parks and crime. “I do have great respect for our home builders’ association and the input in which they have contributed to this process. There is a lot of thought that goes into this. But I just wanted to make it clear, because I know the comment around crime, there’s a lot of things the city does invest in, again not just specific to the law enforcement strategies, but really to provide [a] well rounded community with different offerings.”
The Palm Coast Fire Department, for its part, is developing a series of voluminous reports, starting with an overview of its 10-year plan, that reposition the department in line with a new philosophy emphasizing home-grown and trained and home-based personnel. The department’s approach is from the ground up, with rank and file personnel developing a considerable portion of the methods and procedures as they align then with goals set forth by Chief Jerry Forte and his command staff.
The more detailed plans, such as justifications for new stations, are based on an obsessively data-driven approach aiming to improve on the city’s response time in calls for service (now at 7 minutes on 85 percent of calls), and reducing the lag between the arrival of the first and second units at the scene of calls (the goal is 4 and 8 minutes, but many areas make it a geographical challenge). “We’re not saying for every thousand people we need a firefighter,” says Battalion Chief Kyle Berryhill, who’s worked on the department’s plans. Rather, he said, positioning stations and personnel where it makes most sense, drives the approach. Adding fire stations, including neighborhood stations, would help.
The Seminole Woods station would be built on land the city owns on the west side of Seminole Woods Boulevard, between the two intersections with Ulaturn Trail. It would be Fire Station 26, serving an area of the city where “some of the worst responses in the city occur,” with 66 calls in 2019 getting response times exceeding 10 minutes, according to a fire department analysis. “The recommendation is that city council move forward with building and staffing a new fire station on Seminole Woods Boulevard to meet the demand for service in this area in a way consistent with city council expectations and national response standards,” the analysis states.
James M. Mejuto says
It’s good that we’re raising fees on these ‘land developers.’ Raise them to the roof.
James M. Mejuto
Concerned Citizen says
Why do we need a new fire station when you have 3 or 4 less than a few miles from each other. And one on 100 at the Airport.
Here’s a thought. Currently the City and County roll full response on med calls. The main reason being that FFs are all Paramedics. So if you go on a lift assist you take a rescue and engine out of service. Because you might need the man power. As a retired FF/EMT I totally get it. But it’s a waste of resources.
Why not purchase two or three crew cab trucks and hire paramedics to supplement the staff you already have. Assign them to various stations so they are spread out. This way a Ladder or Engine isn’t rolling to help put someone on a stretcher for transport. And would be available for fire and MVA calls?.This county is way to fascinated with new shiny buildings. And at tax payers expense When there are cheaper options out there.
I know that Fire Flight is a county asset. But we need it back on 24 hour service rather than spring for brand new construction. Everytime someone finds a new way to spend money.
Average joe says
So if you have a fire truck and an ambulance go to a call and the fire truck people arrive sooner than an ambulance, that could be coming from further away, and save a life, that is a waste of resources? As a taxpayer, I am comforted by knowing the closest people are coming to help us regardless of what they are driving.
The Builders should be paying alot more impact fees to this County and then some.
Mike Cocchiola says
So, we say we want to bring in new business, then we raise the cost of doing business in Palm Coast. We don’t want to raise taxes on our citizens, so why don’t we cut costs?
“He also cautioned that “too many parks, underutilized, may cause drug sales, illegal activities, people may get mugged”–issues rarely seen in Palm Coast: the incidence of crime in the city’s existing parks, trails, paths and nature preserves has not been documented to be anywhere that would suggest that additional parks would lead to further such issues.”
I think the golden era of new parks are over with here. The only new park(s) that I’ve read about is Matanzas Woods and that’s really more a matter of converting an old golf course that has had nearly 15 years to overgrow to be utilized. It’s a placation for those that bought into Matanzas Woods to get the next round of con job to feel like the building of affordable rental housing nearby isn’t the next devaluation of their homes in that community. The only reason anything paved bike path goes in there or anywhere else for that matter is to attract renters as a lure in a brochure.