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Using the state’s default formula, the county would use the bulk of the money to expand the jail.
The Flagler County Board of County Commissioners reached a 3-2 consensus Monday afternoon to put the half-cent sales tax continuation on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
No formal vote was taken at Monday’s workshop, which lasted nearly four hours, but the ordinance will appear on the July 16 regular County Commission meeting agenda for a final vote.
The proposed continuation of the half-cent sales tax will be for 15 years and will switch to the Florida Department of Revenue’s default formula — which will increase the county’s portion and decrease the amount each municipality receives.
County Commissioners Milissa Holland and Nate McLaughlin weren’t in support of Monday’s outcome.
Holland repeatedly said she would support the idea if the commission agreed to keep the interlocal agreement distribution.
According to the Department of Revenue, the half-cent tax generates more than $4 million per year, of which the county receives 29%, or about $1.2 million. Based on an interlocal agreement, the city of Palm Coast currently receives about 64% of the tax, or $2.6 million.
Commission Chairwoman Barbara Revels would like to see some sort of phase-in process “so the initial brunt of the change would not hit the cities as heavily.”
Earlier this year, Revels proposed the 15 years with a phase-in process over a six-year period. The distribution would stay the same for the first year, but by the end of the sixth year — assuming the total revenues remain the same — Palm Coast would get a little more than $2 million. Flagler County’s portion would go from $1.2 million to $1.8 million. Every year for the first five years, each city would see a slash in their distribution by about 5%, according to Revels’ plan.
McLaughlin didn’t think voters would give their support of the 15-year time period. Instead, he proposed 10 years.
With the state’s default formula, the county would collect about $18.4 million over the next 10 years — $6.7 million more than the current formula, which would net the county $11.7 million.
Although the County Commission didn’t agree to a set-in-stone six-year gradual change, county officials agreed Monday to “share other monies during the first couple of years.”
The main reason the county wants to restore the default formula is to expand the jail, which county officials say must be completed.
The Flagler County Inmate Facility, which was built in 1990 and opened in 1991, is a 132-bed facility featuring three cell blocks and a 14-bed women’s unit.
In 2011, the Inmate Facility averaged 151 inmates, about 14% over its capacity. Because of overpopulation, county officials say jail expansion must be a priority.
For the second time in about four months, Circuit Judge Raul Zambrano spoke before the County Commission at Monday’s meeting, confirming that the judiciary process in the county is being hampered by the overpopulation at the jail.
“From our perspective, (I) just wanted to point out to you that the approach the judiciary has had is to put bandages on the issue and keep it going as long as we can,” Zambrano said.
County Administrator Craig Coffey presented a plan Monday that would essentially double the size of the jail within three years. The goal is to add between 130 and 240 beds, Coffey said.
The cost, however, remains undetermined. According to the presentation at Monday’s workshop, the cost could be anywhere between $16 million and $20 million. But Holland feels as if the cost estimates are still very preliminary.
“That’s my frustration,” Holland said after the meeting. “It seems like we’re working off an assumption of what a projected cost will be, and I don’t think that’s fair to voters who will be making this decision.”
Coffey’s hypothetical timeline included design and permitting to begin in January 2013, construction until December 2015 and occupancy by 2016.
If the voters turn down the proposal in the fall, the County Commission could still enact an alternative sales tax with a supermajority of at least four votes.
No matter the outcome, though, Zambrano confirmed something needs to be done.
“Jail is a necessary tool,” he said. “Jail has a remedial factor in society. ... I try to do what’s fair and what’s just under the circumstances, but I am sensitive to the fact that you are having this issue and I don’t want to put your county in dire straits.”
Contact Andrew O’Brien at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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