Council members don't want to spend so much money to design a multimillion-dollar facility that the city might not be able to afford to build.
Commissioning a design for a new recreation center would have cost $99,500. But the actual construction cost would have been in the "tens of millions," according to Palm Coast City Manager Jim Landon, and that's one reason the City Council decided at a meeting July 17 not to approve the design contract.
The city had been considering building the proposed facility on city land near the Lehigh Trailhead at the intersection of Belle Terre Parkway and Royal Palms Parkway.
"A project of this scale and magnitude is going to take a tremendous amount of capital dollars up front obviously to pay for it," Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland said about the project during the meeting. "The city of Palm Coast has a policy that we pay as we go, we do not go into longterm debt in our capital projects. ... I think, frankly, this is very premature as far as spending $100,000 for a facility that possibly when we do have the amount of money that it would take to construct, we would have perhaps a different thought process on what would be wise to be placed in that type of facility."
Holland said she didn't see the logic of spending on the design now and potentially having it sit on a shelf for years, and she noted that in addition to the construction cost, the cost to run the facility could be significant.
"I am not in favor of spending $100,000 of our money today without having a true understanding of how we would generate enough revenue to build a facility and pay for it in cash," she said.
Councilwoman Heidi Shipley said she agreed and that she was concerned that the proposal had been placed on the meeting's consent agenda — the part of the agenda generally used for routine items that are passed together with a single council vote, without discussion of individual items, unless someone specifically requests that the item is "pulled" for discussion, as occurred with the recreation center item on the July 17 agenda.
Councilman Nick Klufas also said he thought that discussing the design proposal without more details on the total cost was "putting the cart before the horse."
Councilman Bob Cuff said he was "troubled" that the consultant for the project, Lose Design, was offering the financial analysis for the project "as sort of an add-on by another consultant."
"Obviously, how we pay for a facility of this scope is paramount in my mind," Cuff said.
Holland said she also wasn't sure the city has been marketing its current facilities, like the tennis center, as well as it could, and that it has other major costs to deal with.
"We have really big priorities that we need to address in this community, and stormwater is one that I really feel we need to solve," Holland said. "We had some very high rain events this last year that have caused some impacts on our infrastructure ... and the cost of improving that and maintaining that is astronomical. ... I think we need to understand all of theses issues collectively and then have a discussion as a council on how do we prioritize that spending."
Speaking during the meeting's public comment period, resident John Brady said the rec center is a want and not a need.
"We need to focus on maintenance: That’s a need," he said. "Building a recreational center? That's a want."
One resident, former city councilman and former county commissioner Alan Peterson, said he'd initially opposed the design project but had to some degree changed his mind, believing it would help to have at least some design work done on the proposed center so that it could be presented to the public and to the council for a decision on whether or not to move forward.
But that might not require the detail that the $99,500 design proposal had called for, he said.
Peterson also said he disagreed with the philosophy of paying for large, multiyear projects up front.
"What you're in essence doing is you're making the current residents and taxpayers pay for something that they might never enjoy," he said. "It seems to me that if you are financing a project that lasts for many, many years, then it should be bonded over, essentially, the useful life of that particular project, so that all the residents, present and future, can enjoy and pay for that particular amenity."
Palm Coast resident George Mayo said he agreed with Peterson that the city shouldn't restrict itself to paying cash for such projects. If the city moves forward with the recreation center project, he said, the city should set aside a room in the building as a senior center.
The City Council voted unanimously not to approve the proposed $99,500 design contract.