Ratifying a proposal by Chairman Dave Sullivan, the Flagler County Commission on Monday approved building a new Sheriff’s Operations Center on an 8.4-acre site south of Commerce Parkway, within sight of the Government Services Building Complex.
The 50,000 square foot operations center would be built there by itself, not next to a library, as previously planned, thus giving the operations center room to grow in the future. But the decision means that the county is again relegating the planned library to a lesser priority, as it’s frequently been over the years. The south branch library will now be built across the street, on land currently owned by Bunnell’s First Baptist Church, and pending resolution of ongoing negotiations between the county and the church over acquisition of church acreage there, and the settlement of a $58,000 debt the church has owed Flagler County since 2017.
The county has the money to build a sheriff’s operations center, or at least the means to secure that money, with the county’s sales surtax generating much of that revenue. It does not have the money to build a branch library: the surtax revenue goes only so far. The urgency and politics surrounding the need for a new operations center are more pronounced–and consequential to public safety–than those surrounding the building of a new library. That, too, is likely playing into the calculations of Monday’s decision.
The commission’s decision brings more certainty to a start date on architectural design and construction of a sheriff’s operations center, potentially bringing to an end by late 2021 the sheriff’s nomadic existence since the agency’s evacuation from the previous operations center in Bunnell. That building was plagued with mold and other sick building-like problems that had made dozens of employees sick. Much of that operation has been temporarily relocated to the county courthouse.
“I just want to get this morning, we’ve taken a long time,” Sullivan said, prefacing his motion to get the sheriff’s building sited on the former library site, and have the planned library move across the street, pending land acquisition there. Sullivan used the word “eventual” in reference to the library, underscoring that perennial uncertainty.
There may have been some interest in waiting for the land negotiations with the church to conclude. But County Administrator Jerry Cameron cautioned: “If we are waiting to see the outcome of our negotiations with the Baptist church, that would delay the project probably three months, to get that fully in place and to get that property closed.”
Cameron and others, including architects, had already established that building both the sheriff’s building and the library on the same site on the south side of the street might work in the short run, albeit with cramped parking, but with many drawbacks. The commission had bought the site for $546,000 three years ago to build just a south branch public library there.
Jim Ulsamer, the library board’s chairman, wasn’t enthusiastic about the library being behind the operations center rather than fronting Commerce Parkway. “People go to the library because they want to. Often people go to an Operations Center because they have to,” Ulsamer said. Sheriff Rick Staly was concerned about tight parking conditions that would result. And neither Staly and Ulsamer saw no room for growth for either building if both were placed jointly on the south end of the Commerce–let alone having room to build a community center there at some point. That’s part of the county’s future plans as well.
“If you still combine us on the same property, which can be done, you are doing a disservice to a sheriff 15, 20 years from now, and the same thing with the library, because you will have landlocked them with no expansion,” Staly told commissioners. “So you’re almost repeating the same things that have been made historically. And from what I understand from the church, they are extremely interested in working out a deal with the county, but that’s for your county administrator to explain.”
The issue with the church is mired in the complications of land-use rules and distant agreements. In 2006 the county, Bunnell and the church penned an agreement allowing the county to Extend Commerce Parkway so the Government Services Building complex, including the Emergency Operations Center, would have a second way in and out. The church worked closely with the county, providing some of its land for the project. (Commerce Parkway is eventually intended to be a ring road, or bypass around south Bunnell, connecting State Road 100 with U.S. 1. It is expected to generate significant traffic at that point.) While the church provided some acreage, it also owed the county money for what it gained. The balance set by the county was $58,000, an amount the church has yet to pay. That amount is now playing into the negotiations over the county carving out additional acreage from the church’s existing 15 acres. A large segment of that acreage on the south end of the church is fallow.
“I probably would have lined up and had the deal closed on the property the church owns to make sure you had both locations secured,” Ulsamer said today. The uncertainty over a sure outcome favoring the county and the library has him concerned. “I’m very concerned because I haven’t been part of the negotiations. Maybe they’re proceeding with terrific good will and everything will be fine. But it does put the location of the library in jeopardy. So yeah, I’m going to be concerned until the deal is closed.”
Just a few months ago, none of those issues were a concern. The library was set to go on the acreage at the south end of Commerce Parkway, with a smaller sheriff’s district office planned there. The larger operations center was to be built on acreage next to the public library’s main branch in Palm Coast. But Sullivan changed course on that, asking the administrator to explore moving the operations center back to Bunnell and selling the Palm Coast acreage to pay for the project. Other commissioners went along.
The perhaps unintended consequence of the county’s prevarications placed the sheriff’s operations center and the library in contention for the same acreage. It’s been another example of commissioners’ chronic indecision and zigzagging. Staly picked up on the problem as he addressed them Monday.
“If decisions had been made long before tonight,” the sheriff said, “we would probably be moving into the new building probably the next month. We’ve been operating for two and a half years in a very decentralized, inefficient operation, and the men and women have been resilient, they’ve delivered more than a 36 percent crime reduction to this community in three years, and thanks to the clerk working with us we were able to get enough space cobbled together that we can do some initiative. But we have to get moving, we can’t wait any longer for these kind of decisions.”
Commissioners finally voted 5-0 to go with the sheriff’s operations center on the old library site, and the library branch on an eventual site on what’s now church property. That doesn’t mean commissioners can’t or won’t change their mind yet again. The sheriff isn’t likely to be assured of that direction until he sees the structure going up.
Hmmmm, a church has county debt, the land acquisition becomes a settlement of that debt at a bargain of a price. What about this facility ? Does it have mold spore issues, is this yet another direction of approval that is a knee jerk response ?
It’s a shame that the property across from Bunnell Elementary was left decrepit instead of being made into a library like the former owner wanted when he donated it. The home was recently knocked down, the trail leads to the Joanne King Park. I know that land was donated to the “city” but wonder why the land could not have been used for a library? Or if they are just going to knock down moldy Sheriff’s building, why not rebuild a library there? Either way, not sure if library will see the light of day anytime soon.
Pretty sad. You let a Staley push the county unit he got what he wanted. Then you’ll let the old center rot in bunnell. More bad decisions to piss away tax payer dollars.
Election time says
Sheriff Larry Jones will like the new headquarters when it is done.
C’mon man says
Larry Jones stands zero chance in beating Staly.
Never Staly says
Really? There were 3 people running for sheriff last time. If Sheriff Jones had gotten the never Staly votes that went to the independent canidate then he would have been within 5000 votes of Staly. After killing a man in the jail and all the other things Staly has put this county through I bet you there are more than 5000 of us Republicans that will never vote for Staly… Ever
James Manfre says
This decision will cost the county north of forty million dollars. It still owes seven million dollars plus an equal amount of interest on the existing sheriff’s operation center and this will add at least fifteen million dollars plus an equal amount of interest to buy, build and equip a new building. There is nothing inherently unhealthy about the present operation center. Any remaining issues with a minimal of remediation can be addressed. With the continued downturn in sales tax revenue due to the pandemic and the resulting holes in the county budget, this is another reckless financial decision by the county commissioners. Guess who pays for this. So much for fiscal conservatism.
Manfre, although this operations center is your major debacle from your short rocky 4 years, your time has come and gone (thankfully)….please stop. no one wants to hear from you anymore……………
James Manfre says
The decision to purchase and renovate the former hospital was Craig Coffey’s, the former County Administrator. This decision was made after the County Commission voted against building the new operation center at the site of the former Bunnell Police Department across from the Government Service Center which I supported. Although this building was bought in error and designed by the County’s architect with input from the sheriff’s staff, no one reported any illness while I was sheriff. When the county decided to demolish the moldy patient wings next to the operation center with the urging of Staly after I left office without a Department of Environmental control permit and a qualified hazmat contractor ( remember the picture of Staly on top of a county bulldozer during demolition), health issues began with sheriff’s office employees within six months. For a year the county and Staly suppressed the complaints from the employees until the employees , the public and myself pressured the commission and Staly at a public meeting to abandon and remediate the building.
not that im a fan of what is going on, but this all started when you were sheriff. its easy to point fingers now that your on the outside. You are the last person who should be talking about other peoples bad decisions. you put your deputies health at risk when you put them in that building. Oh and who was the interior decorator when the new building was finished?
Haw Creek Girl says
The majority of the taxpayers would pay 40 million to have another operations center with the assurance that you–Manfre–will never darken it’s door!
Jim, I see a few of Staley’s Slaves are commenting about your past Sheriffing . I saw NO problems with you. Actually, if you run this time, I would vote for you. I don’t care for the present BORING Sheriff.
Concerned Citizen says
You have no room to throw shade.
How many millions did you cost the county with your deal on the old Operations Center. And a less than stellar performance record to boot. Along with ethics issues if I remember right?
Please stop trying to be relevant. Your time has come and gone. And no one in this county really wants a rehash of those 4 years.
I will agree with Manfre on this issue. I don’t think it’s necessary to spend tens of millions more taxpayer dollars if the renovated operations center can be fixed. If it truly can’t be fixed, then cite your evidence. The report that was commissioned by the county seems to show it could be repaired relatively easily and at a much lower cost than a new facility. It’s true; there is no fiscal conservatism to be found in this county. The leadership continues to waste other people’s money.
I would like to know where the $$ for all these plans will be coming from on a time of financial crisis originated by a pandemic where the estimates of reduced revenue for all local governments due to lack of gas tax and other sales tax (shops, restaurants and bars closes) given the reduced use will be minus at least 25% or more as per published estimates.
Joseph Costello says
“There is nothing inherently unhealthy about the present operations center” is insensitive, incompetent, ignorant or a combination of the three. Anyone who purchases that building and stays within for any length of period, will certainly have damaging health effects that may last a lifetime, though that too will likely be shortened.
Water intrusion consistently rising from a flood plain foundation causing mold under rug and tile does not sound like a quick remedy. How about we follow the money and see who’s been paid for this death trap of a building unethical deal. Maybe they can be held financially responsible instead of trying to poison someone else. No amount of money can bring back the dead.
Despite all the naysayers, someone in county government finally got it right! It makes complete sense to build the FCSO in close proximity to the rest of the county facilities.
Just make sure there is plenty of space for a military equipment like tanks, APC’s, rocket launchers, etc. The use of surplus military equipment to outfit Swat Teams is beyond pale. This is what’s behind the Defund the Police movement.