City Manager Matt Morton proposed assessing the nearby properties, which are city water customers but otherwise in the county's jurisdiction, or seeking grant funding.
Under Florida law, utilities must generally relocate their infrastructure at their own expense when the infrastructure is in the way of a transportation project. But the city of Palm Coast is seeking other options for the community of Marineland Acres, which lies outside the city's boundaries near Washington Oaks Gardens State Park but is a city water utility customer.
"This project services a limited area, with a specific and limited benefit directly and only to the property owners of Marineland Acres. The system wide utility receives no benefit from this project."
— MATT MORTON, Palm Coast city manager
The community, which is unincorporated and falls under the county government's jurisdiction, is in the final phase of a transportation and drainage improvement project in which there would be more than 70 conflicts requiring the city's utility infrastructure to be moved, County Administrator Jerry Cameron said at a County Commission meeting Dec. 7. That would be costly, and there are only about 360 properties in the area.
"The city manager has taken position that, 'Hey, we understand the statute, but what we’re doing is getting a lot of the people who are not affected by this or benefitting from this to pay for this project,’ and consequently, he would like for this board to consider assessing the people that are benefitting from the project," Cameron said.
Morton wrote the County Commission a letter on Nov. 30, proposing either a special assessment or the seeking of grant money from the Florida Department of Transportation or the River to Sea Transportation Planning Organization.
"This project services a limited area, with a specific and limited benefit directly and only to the property owners of Marineland Acres," Morton wrote. "The system wide utility receives no benefit from this project. No other water or road system users either in Palm Coast or Flagler County benefit from this project."
He added, "The utility rates assessed at the statutorily permitted 125% of the base rate do not cover the cost of this project. Best estimate calculations show that if the entirety of the excess rate was apportioned for payment of the relocation expenses, and no interest accrued, it would take in excess of 60 years to repay the expenses associated with this discretionary utility move," with the cost falling on all other rate payers.
If the Marineland Acres residents were instead assessed a share of the enhancements, "the cost (for a 1-million dollar project) could be as little as $140 per lot, per year for the repayment life," Morton wrote.
County Commissioner Greg Hansen wasn't interested in that proposal.
"His entire letter is specious," Hansen said.
Hansen said that if there's a water main problem on one street, the city doesn't go in and assess the people that live on that street to pay for the repair because it only affects the residents of that street. The utility just fixes the problem.
"It's part of the utility’s responsibility to do that," Hansen said. "... This would be a huge assessment — a 10-year assessment. ... It’s their [the city's] responsibility to do this, and I think we need to hold their feet to the fire."
Morton had offered to attend a County Commission workshop about the topic if the commission would hold one. Commissioners decided to do so.
"I am confident that working together, with the best interests of all the rate and tax payers in Flagler County in mind, we can find more appropriate funding and reduce, to the maximum extent possible, the cost burden on county and city citizens," Morton wrote.