The consultant Palm Coast government hired to analyze the city’s stormwater system’s needs is proposing a 102 percent increase in homeowners’ stormwater rates over the next four years, from the current rate of $22.27 to $45.16, what would equate to an annual bill of $542–more than what some homeowners pay in city property taxes.
The plan also foresee a huge expansion of the city’s stormwater operation as a business within a business, taking over work currently contracted out, adding costs, personnel, responsibilities and debt.
The City Council is willing to approve a substantial rate increase, but not as much as the one proposed, or at least not on that accelerated schedule. “We’re uncomfortable with the magnitude of the percent increases,” Mayor David Alfin said.
The council would prefer stretching out the increases over more years, rather than in just four, or offsetting at least some of the increases with a reduction in property taxes, or, the one point they all agreed on Tuesday, eliminating some of the more expensive components of the plan, including adding some of the in-house crews, at least for now. Council members are leaving the door open for reintroducing those components in later years.
Council members were told by their administration that they have to adopt a plan at least 90 days before October 1, the date the new fiscal year kicks in, and that the plan should include some rate increases. That appears to be inaccurate. They were never told that, even without council action, an increase is scheduled anyway: the city is at the tail end of a five-year rate increase it adopted in 2018, the last time it doubled stormwater rates.
Nick Klufas, the only council member who was on the council in 2018–and voted for that plan–was absent during Tuesday’s meeting.
The city had previously conducted a stormwater fee study in 2018, when it resulted in a 47 percent increase in fees spread over the next five years, including the current one. The monthly stormwater fee was $11.65 in 2018. The fifth year of that five-year plan kicks in on Oct. 1, with the rate going up to $23.95, a 7.5 percent increase–more than the projected rate of inflation.
neither the consultants nor the administration’s Carl Cote, the director of stormwater and engineering, told the council that that increase is on the books. Rather, while the consultant at one point vaguely alluded to the coming increase, both pressed for the new plan, which would pre-empt the scheduled increase with a steeper one, for 2023-24, of between 21.5 percent and 51 percent (or a monthly fee of $27.07 to $33.64, depending on the council’s approach).
It is based on that plan that the council gave its administration direction on Tuesday. The council wants the administration to come back with a plan that scales back some of the proposed increases, at least for next year, while the council is challenging itself to find ways to offset some of the increase with a decrease in the property tax rate.
The study was the work of Henry Thomas and Murray Hamilton of Raftelis Financial Consultants, and was presented by Hamilton, with Cote at his side.
According to the consultant, total stormwater revenue in 2022 was $700,000 short of what the system needs. That’s the case again this year, he said. That includes $800,000 in right-of-way mowing costs, which means if that cost was no longer shouldered by the city, the operating deficit would be erased. Mowing amounts to $1.20 to $1.25 in monthly charges per home, assuming all properties are paying it. In the same meeting, the council agreed to shift that cost to the owners of vacant lots.
Based on the city’s calculations, the stormwater system’s maintenance alone, costing $5.1 million this year, will rise to $8 million a year from 2024 through 2027. The city is planning to build a Maintenance Operations Center for $11.1 million. It is accruing $2.5 million a year from stormwater fees to that end. At no point in the discussion was that plan considered optional.
The city’s consultant outlined five options–notably identified as “priorities,” not as options–ranked in a way that would accumulate costs as each subsequent priority would incorporate the costs of the previous one. They are as follows:
- Paying for ongoing maintenance of $56 million through 2027 (which includes setting aside $2.5 million a year for that new building and a $2.8 million loan for vehicles and equipment purchases). Personnel costs would increase by $2.2 million per year, with the addition of one ditch crew and one freshwater canal dredging crew.
- paying for $41 million in capital improvements, including expanding canal capacity, freshwater dredging, pipe replacement, and so on. (It assumes a new loan of $38.1 million, which would have to be service from stormwater fees).
- Adding in-house crews to repair or maintain freshwater canals and weirs, some of which are new, not needing maintenance, some of which are older; making city crews available to work 246 days a year for cross-city improvements and weir sites mowed twice as often. Personnel costs would increase half a million dollars a year. “So we’re providing jobs, it looks like,” Alfin said, in addition to improving maintenance. The city would have to buy $270,000 worth of vehicles and equipment.
- Adding in-house crews for concrete and road-asphalt projects, and adding to existing crews that maintain swales. The study projects reducing the amount of time the city would have to wait to complete work on projects: a 6.75-day wait on asphalt projects and a 10.2 day wait on concrete projects. It’s not clear why such waits, which are not unusual or even long, would be burdensome for the city. On the other hand, in-house crews would be available 246 days a year, increasing work availability by 122 days, but also increasing costs: nearly half a million dollars in vehicles and equipment, $400,000 in additional personnel costs, all in addition to the previous priorities’ costs. (The current cost of contracted services: $375,000 a year). The city is especially behind on pipe replacement.
- Add in-house swale maintenance crews and staffing. This priority, which Cote described as more “aesthetic” than essential, would incorporate the four previous ones, bringing total new vehicle and equipment costs to $6.9 million and $5.1 million in additional personnel costs. The city would have two additional swale crews, one additional vacuum-truck crew for cleaning swale pipes, and two other additional crews for different operations.
The presentation included the brief flashing of a graph showing “projected revenues at existing rates.” The graph was misleading, if not dishonest: it shows flat revenue at just under $16 million a year through 2027. That’s simply not true, as Murray himself had said minutes earlier: the city has built in an 8.2 percent increase in 2023, a 7.5 percent increase in 2024, and annual inflation increases after that. The graph ignores the study’s own projections. A different slide showed a slight increase in current funding, but by including only a 2 percent cost of living adjustment per year. That’s not unreasonable–pre-pandemic inflation had some years of zero increases–and the Congressional Budget Office projects a return to 2 percent, but only by 2027.
“We believe that city council should consider adopting the proposed stormwater rates under priority five, which would become effective on October 1 2023, and then each October 1 thereafter. Beyond 2027, the annual index would be applied with a minimum adjustment of not less than 2 percent per year,” Hamilton said.
“So, significant increases that we are presenting to the public,” Alfin said.
Other council members in one degree or another were not willing to go that far, with Ed Danko willing to adopt only option one for now, and Pontieri willing to go as far as option four, but option five was a wier too far.
“It’s great if we bring a lot of stuff in house and we’re able to provide better services and more control and get things done. However, I’m not willing to do that for a 50 percent increase to our taxpayers in a four year period,” Danko said. It is, in fact, a 102 percent increase, as the city’s consultant had noted to Danko moments earlier. “Nobody gets a [102 percent] increase in their social security checks or their paychecks or the rate of return on their investments. This to me seems unacceptable. And I can’t go along with this based on this amount unless somebody convinces me that we’re going to be saving an awful lot of money during that period of time. And rolling back our taxes, just to give relief to another tax we’re putting over here is completely unacceptable to me.”
Danko said removing some of the additional crews for swale maintenance could reduce costs.
Pontieri took a more expansive view. “In doing this, are we making an investment in kind of avoiding some pretty expensive, unforeseen or I guess catastrophes down the road that can cost our taxpayers a lot,” she asked Cote–a question to which she already knew the answer: the city’s consultant, fronting the administration’s wishes, had already answered it, as did Cote again: “It’s a lot more costly to go ahead and repair a pipe failure than it is to line those pipes or to to stay ahead of it,” he said.
Pontieri then seemed to channel the words former Mayor Milissa Holland used in 2018 when she successfully pushed for a doubling of the stormwater rates back then. “I don’t want our our residents to have to pay more money each month. But the fact of the matter is, this is an investment,” Pontieri said. “This isn’t something that we’re saying okay, we need to fix issues right now with these monies. This is investing in the future of the health of our city going forward.” In return, she wants clearer accountability from city staff.
Holland had said it “provides for us to not only accelerate the program, but do it in a way which is much more methodical or strategic in enhancing our infrastructure.” But she was not aware it could double again five years hence. Rather, the city manager at the time said it would position the city to be ahead of the curve. Now, Cote was saying the doubling was necessary “to stay ahead of it.”
Alfin was supportive of the plan in the main. “If we look at inflation, which is where, at 6 to 10 percent, the increase here kind of mirrors what inflation is,” Alfin said. “I don’t the press and the media to exaggerate the percentages here.” But it was Alfin who was exaggerating inflation numbers and misrepresenting the proposed increase: He said the proposal’s net annual increase under the steepest option averaged out to 9 percent. It does not. It averages out to 25.5 percent (as the consultant corrected him). And the rate of inflation never reached 10 percent: it peaked at 8.7 percent last year, and is falling: today, the Commerce Department announced it was down to 5 percent and cooling.
When Alfin asked for a comparison of proposed rates with cities of Palm Coast’s size, City Manager Denise Bevan downplayed the approach. “It’s very challenging to compare us to St. Augustine versus another municipality of our similar size,” she said. “But we’re happy to keep any direction that council has and execute that.” She also noted that flood-control initiatives help keep homeowners’ flood-insurance rates lower.
“With that uniqueness, we still have to be considerate of what the the rate is, because people are paying it,” Alfin said. “But it is important for everyone to know that that this is a unique system.”
The immediate direction, as summed up by Alfin, was to enable at least the first four option in the coming year, not the fifth, while looking to the city budget for property tax offsets. But the direction lacked specificity, leaving it to the administration to translate it into an updated proposal. That will be presented to the council at a subsequent workshop.
On Tuesday, the chamber was almost empty during the entire discussion, as residents are still largely unaware of the rate increases in the works.
While willing to go with most of the proposal, Pontieri asked that it includes a measure of accountability, to the extent that the council could measure what it’s paying for and see the return on investment.
To a large extent, that evidence is no mystery, though the city achieved it with a significantly smaller operation than it is asking for: Homes have almost never flooded during severe storm events in Palm Coast’s nearly quarter-century history–not since some homes flooded slightly along Bird of Paradise Drive during Hurricane Gabrielle in 2001. The year of the three hurricanes–2004–caused no homes to flood, nor did Hurricanes Matthew, Irma Ian and Nicole since.
For Real says
What doesn’t the City of PC hire consultants for??????? They sure seem to hire them for everything they do. Taxpayers it is time to attend town meetings and see where our tax money is being spent.
For Real: I’m always hearing about how ITT had big plans for Palm Coast. Gee, where did all those plans, consultants were paid for, go? Those plans must be around somewhere, don’t y’all think? Would the city be wasting time looking for them? I mean, those were plans for a big city, with all things already considered.
JOE D says
I would vote that options #1-3 are pretty much necessary.
I would suggest a MODIFIED option 4. It looks like bringing “Everything” in house is just too expensive! That’s why private companies hire temporary and CONTINGENT staff ( so they can flex up when it’s needed, and not paying for excess staff sitting around when not needed). I agree with the article’s author adding what is a cutting a 1-2 week delay in asphalt and concrete finishing work isn’t worth such a large cost increase (I would take the savings and wait the extra 1-2 weeks for the concrete and asphalt finishing work). It also wouldn’t CREATE more jobs ( outside contractors currently do the finish work). It would just SHIFT the jobs from private (“as needed”) contractors to PERMANENT County jobs! Plus the need to buy ALL that additional equipment to support the increase in COUNTY EMPLOYEES, would be AVOIDED.
I know in MOST other ( including out of state) areas, the homeowners take care of their OWN SWALES ( or be given the OPTION of paying for someone else to do it…at these prices, I know which option I would pick)! And I would DEFINITELY charge vacant lot owners the full cost ( or fines leading to County tax lien SALES if necessary) of maintaining swales at no personal cost ( who let THAT go on for YEARS without being addressed) ?!?
I can’t just agree to hand my money over for storm water management….just CARTE BLANCHE spending….with more detailed and VERIFIABLE information.
There needs to be MUCH public discussion BEFORE all these fees become PERMANENT!
Steve Naso says
Time to disband the city of palm coast.
Father forgive them for they know not what they do.
Steve Naso: I’m not gonna say too much, but stormwater was my last career. I’ve yet to see any public education here. Nothing about the Clean Water Act, or NPDES permits. The money amounts written here are insane. Well, don’t worry folks, the Chamber, realtors and developers want more buildings and people here, so your cost will be down to zero, right? After all, new tax payers will bring new revenue, as we’re always told.
The Matanzas River will get nastier, and nastier, but who cares?
Steve, I think you got it.
Increasing rates is part of living in this city. My question is will the money be used properly? If the money is used properly, I believe the residents in the city will be served properly. You all know there is always somebody with sticky fingers in the money pot. We will c what happens. A proposed increase in garbage collection soon and now the swales. Good job Republican leaders of Palm Coast.
Wake up people says
Another Republican controlled legislature out of control raising taxes and fees. Add this to the impending property tax increase for those public funded school vouchers of up to $8,000 per child, and the doubling or tripling of home owners insurance, and car insurance going up…FL is becoming unaffordable.
In a small town in MA, they pay less than $500 for home owners insurance. The property tax is higher but by next year, it’ll be cheaper than FL. The republicans that have led this state for the last decade plus led us into this nightmare.
All of a sudden they care about culture wars and books and LGBTQ people as their biggest concerns. YOU HAVE BEEN IN CHARGE FOR OVER A DECADE GOP WHAT CHANGED??? Oh yeah, the love affair with Orban from Hungary. DeSantis loves him. Has a man crush on him. Emulates him as seen in his sudden shift in these culture wars. Why doesn’t DeSantis fine hotels or shut down the sex trafficking that is happening in the state run foster system? The GOP has run that for over a decade. It didn’t just start. They’ve all turned a blind eye but now all of a sudden it’s the books and the queens and the trans people harming kids when states in the South allow marriage of 12 year olds. Come on! Come on people. This. Is. Fascism. Wake up.
Hookah Smoking Caterpillar says
OMFG… get a grip. HaHaHaHaHa
S. Peters says
@Wake Up People, thank you
Not being sarcastic but what small town in Mass., we are from Mass and friends and family members are constantly complaining how high H/O is and that taxes are paid quarterly because they are so high (we moved here in 95 taxes were paid yearly then, just wondering. Thanks
hey gee says
“I was so afraid of him coming in the shower with me I would wait until later in the night”
Ashley Biden Diary page 47
Dennis C Rathsam says
You cant compare P/C to St Augustine… St Augustine council members have a brain. Last one to leave P/C please turn out the light.
Wasn’t a recent purchase of how many new vehicles, in the 6 plus millions just made, now more vehicles and machines needed, what happens to the older vehicles, why now, why , why , why, let’s look at payrolls, let’s see salaries, let’s see transparency, let’s look at those costs, and let’s see both sets of books, we know it’s a double standard in government, because you say it, makes us very Leary , of the real truth!
Chuck Wagon says
All you have to do is walk in the city hall and has to do a public records request for all salaries of all employees, all vehicle purchases sold or purchased. Or just about anything you want is on public record and if you ask they must give it to you.
jeffery c. seib says
I guess the city council would be ‘uncomfortable’, I am more than uncomfortable, I am outraged. Piling on an over 25% increase in ‘fees’ a year is a poor way to run a city. We have got to do more with what we have and demand less from residents. Like one of the commenters many residents come from up north where taxes and fees are sky high, so they really don’t mind steep, for Florida, increases. Families with kids are already being hit hard by rising costs, don’t pile it on. The condition of Palm Coast is deteriorating while the prices are going up. It’s a bad mix. They need to live within their means just as we all do.
Doesn’t the city own the water system? Why not use some of their profits to pay for the increase? Also what about the owners of the vacant lots. Will they also pay more?
Stephen: Vacant lots have no impervious areas, therefore rain can percolate into the ground. The owners should pay less. Impervious areas contribute to rain runoff, which has to be dealt with.
Zito Offenheimer says
Laurel – you obviously understand the mechanics of this. Here’s my beef – when the CoPC adopted it’s Land Development Code they told us our Deed Restrictions were no longer valid and they decreased the building setbacks. Why? bigger houses mean bigger assessments which means more tax dollars for BIG GOVERNMENT to spend. YOU are one of the few that understands bigger houses mean less pervious area on each lot and MORE runoff . The engineers that designed this community took into consideration the amount of stormwater runoff based upon the size of the permissible building envelope (among other things) and designed the stormwater infrastructure to accomodate the expected runoff. Then these money hungry city slickers (that don’t know about anything except spending money) decided to mess around with the building setbacks. I’ve run the numbers and the decreases in setbacks, for example, at corner lot decrease the pervious area by 32%. Now they want you and me to pay for their GREED. Anyone on the Council that supports this increase is either ignorant or stupid.
Seems like every other story on Flagler Live is about another tax or fee rising. Who is going to pay for all this when most of us are forced to leave because we simply can’t afford to live here anymore? Don’t even get me started on some of the vanity projects being discussed.
Joe D says
To be sure, some increase is due to the volume of storm water coming through…although the article mentions no MAJOR flooding to Palm Coast during the past 4 + major hurricanes.
And EVERYTHING has gone up in price…but with inflation now running <10%, how can 102% increases be justified. Make sure vacant lot owners are paying for the services they apparently are getting “free”….if laws/regulations need to be changed…CHANGE them! The County Planning Board makes enough EXCEPTIONS to regulations on an annual basis, something similar could surely be done with water management. Those numbers and rationales need to be EXPLORED before such an expensive expansion of services, personnel and equipment are made at TAXPAYERS EXPENSE.
It might be nice to have the luxury of a “Mercedes” of systems, but a less expensive, just as effective “Ford” or “Toyota” (just joking) system might be what’s AFFORDABLE and REASONABLE NOW!
John Stove says
DONT BE FOOLED “Fees” added to our bills is a hidden tax on your property. They can add these Fees while telling you that “we lowered your property tax”…!
The City SHOULD NOT hire more internal staff and equipment with all of the costs associated with health insurance, vacation/sick days/ pension not to mention costs to own, operate and maintain more vehicles. Instead put out bids for outside contractors to come and do the work and put some strict criteria as to performance so that the City can enforce the work timeliness and quality…this has always been proven to be much cheaper.
Palm Coast has the second highest water rates in the state. Why?
Danm50: Palm Coast charges the unincorporated Hammock 25% more than it does within the city. It does not manage stormwater here. Thank God!
What? Need to buy more vehicles? Seems this town is always replacing their trucks every 2-3 years, it’s not like they get the abuse of old man winter and salt damaging them. More crews too? What so they can have 6 more people standing around and two sitting in a truck while the Gradall operator does the work?
It just goes to show, it really doesn’t pay to live amongst “the houses of the holiest.”
Just an observation.
Daniel Graham says
They keep building houses and taking up resources, let them pay for it, or stop expanding. We are tired of you creating work/jobs out of thin air to increase your own bull crap simply. Pretty damn simple, or, put a tax on NEW residents who have only been here less than a year, and leave the older folks alone on fixed incomes. Stop asking for pie-in-the-sky bull crap as well, and why are all of you so incapable of doing your own homework? Our electricity went up 40%, mortgage rates are horrible, and we are about to go into recession, so yeah, let’s expand and waste money. I’ll be at the next meeting.
Something else you need to stop doing, we have 4 fire stations, why in the world do we need a battalion chief? Really? Cmon man
Deborah Coffey says
It is past time for Palm Coasters to vote in ALL Democrats. Republicans have proven over and over again that they do no know how to govern. Their priorities are always wrong and that is why we continue to find ourselves in one mess after another. Stop voting for these ridiculous, self-interested know-nothings and you may have a working city.
Celia Pugliese says
Our elected officials and their administrators (Carl Cote, DeLorenzo, Bevan) want 102% increase in our utility fees within 4 years. They need to stop using our utility as cash cow to benefit development like done few years ago the millions used for the widening and maintenance of the Old Kings Rd South and Boulder Rock to benefit the Town Center CRA and its developers and their lawyers projects, including the destruction and remodeling of ITT’s beautiful Whiteview Parkway lately to benefit the just approved 316 multifamily apts needed right of ways and turn lanes over the increased unit per acre rezoning. Growth is to pay for itself not by the homesteaded residents! https://flaglerlive.com/stormwater-rates-ahead/#gsc.tab=0 Thank you Pierre for the, as usual, very revealing and assessed editorial with lines like: ” The graph was misleading, if not dishonest: it shows flat revenue at just under $16 million a year through 2027. That’s simply not true, as Murray himself had said minutes earlier: the city has built in an 8.2 percent increase in 2023, a 7.5 percent increase in 2024, and annual inflation increases after that. The graph ignores the study’s own projections. A different slide showed a slight increase in current funding, but by including only a 2 percent cost of living adjustment per year. That’s not unreasonable–pre-pandemic inflation had some years of zero increases–and the Congressional Budget Office projects a return to 2 percent, but only by 2027″ Hope our council and mayor do not bow to these administrators and consultant skewed data and stop fleecing Palmcoasters my utility fee a month in a home for two 80’s residents is already higher than my power bill when the water we consume is free to be pulled off the ground and just treated for consumption, but they forcing us pay for growth! Lets stop these costly visions for expansion out west off Rte 1 to proceed benefitting the few in our backs, added to an arts venue of 73 millions and God’s knows how much a Y, besides donating our public land for it! We are supposed to save over 5 millions a year when no longer residents paying for mowing vacant lots! We need a clear accounting of revenues and expenses of our enterprise water utility…
Sad, it is all about driving out those that retired here 20+ years ago and whose retirements funds are not keeping up with all the costs increases this city finds to impose on them. The devastation of COVID left many struggling through a long recover; not all have recovered yet and the city makes their nightmare worst. Gas prices are higher than most surrounding cities, grocery prices increase regularly, medical cost up, etc, etc… The city should be looking for ways to ease human suffering of the retirees and the young families that moved here and not adding to it, where the elderly and parents have to buy leaser healthy foods which in turn harms the family’s health causing more medical bills. These increases target us all. Have any of you seen a pattern yet? Past administrations and the current administration seem to have anticipated things getting better quickly where citizens would not feel the pain as long, however all those ” kick the can down the road” critical projects are coming due after all the money has been spent on amenities to attract more home buyers in hopes of the home buyer helping in bailing the city out. Infrastructure crumbling, safety endangered by more and more cars on roads not designed for such large increases and yes more money being demanded to fix infrastructure that should have been fixed before spending a single dollar to attract more people. It is not going to get better as long as we accept this behavior from our leaders.
Dennis C Rathsam says
I have vacant lots across the street from me, one next to me that I just purchased, I have been mowing the grass now for 10 years. If I wait for the city to mow, the grass & weeds will be up to my knees. By cuting the grass, the snakes have nowhere to hide, so they go back into the woods. The new lot I just purchased, will not be developed! It will be home to all gods creatures. As the city destroys more & more of the land to build more homes, where are the animals to go? The bunny,s never hurt anyone, niether have the majestic deers. They were all here first! Im proud to step up & do something to help these poor critters, I understand progress, but do we need a house on every parcel of land in Palm Coast?
One person said it a few spots before i am making a remark its time to give the democratic
how longer will going to take this nonsense raise in everything, and then inflations of things on top of it.
It needs to stop, stop voting for republicans and give the Democratics a chance. Everyone of these people
and their backoff directories are destorying this city. ITS SIMPLE VOTE THEM OUT ALL OF THEM