The County Commission wants one funding source and one decision-making body for certain aspects of economic development.
In two give-and-take, consensus-building workshops this week, the Flagler County Board of County Commissioners were able to find common ground on two elements of economic development that they hope will make the upcoming Jan. 31 intergovernmental meeting much more productive.
Commission Chairman Alan Peterson methodically led the discussion, starting with the basics. First, the commission agreed that certain elements of economic development are more effectively accomplished as a whole, with the cooperation of all the municipalities in the county.
“We need a huge hit to bring in jobs,” Commissioner Barbara Revels said. “We don’t need a bunch of fractured plans. I don’t think we’ll be one voice, one team (without a common funding source). I think we’ll see individual entities go off on their own. I think we’ll fall short when the big boy comes.”
Commissioner George Hanns agreed. He said: “If we have all the funds go into the different municipalities … they’ll all be competing with each other.”
A united effort, the commission agreed, means a united source of revenue (likely a proposed sales tax increase) to spend on specific projects that would benefit multiple municipalities.
The next question was who has control over how the common fund would be spent.
“We anticipate that this is not going to be particularly favorably reviewed by the city of Palm Coast,” Peterson said. “Everybody seems to want to control their piece of the tax revenue.” He said there needed to be a structure that would give all the municipalities fair power.
Revels agreed, saying the cities must have their own votes if they would be expected to agree to a common fund.
Peterson favored creating a new governing entity — potentially called the Economic Development Committee — comprising officials from the largest municipalities, which would have representation based on population. He said the Palm Coast City Council might have three voting members on this EDC, the County Commission two members, Flagler Beach one and Bunnell one. He stressed this was just a suggestion.
Revels suggested that the EDC, should it be agreed to by the rest of the municipalities in an interlocal agreement, would submit a budget to the county on a yearly basis as an additional form of accountability for how the funds would be spent.
At this suggestion, Commissioner Nate McLaughlin, who had been insisting that the County Commission be the final spending authority, said he could go along with the proposal.
The consensus: Specific funding requests for a common fund would not come to the commission; instead, the EDC would have final spending power, with the commission just one of the applicants, like everyone else.
IF YOU GO
The intergovernmental workshop on economic development will be 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 31, at the Emergency Operations Center. Each municipality will be presenting plans for economic development.
There will also be a 30-minute period for public comment.
THE ROLE OF ENTERPRISE FLAGLER
The Board of County Commissioners agreed in its three meetings this week that Enterprise Flagler needs to be more open to the public.
Commissioner Nate McLaughlin said, “I’m a fan of Enterprise Flagler.” But he also said it needs to operate more openly because the public views it as operating “in the dark.”
At the County Commission meeting Monday, Jan. 23, Commissioner Milissa Holland raised the concern that the county had no official contract with Enterprise Flagler, and therefore had no mechanism for holding the organization accountable for how it used tax dollars.
County Administrator Craig Coffey said he thought the reason for not having a contract was to protect the confidentiality of some of the private prospects that come to Enterprise Flagler.
County Attorney Al Hadeed said: “The mere grant of county funds to an organization to perform a function does not automatically render that organization subject to the open meetings law; however … you can never shield them from public records law where public monies are used.”
At the workshop Jan. 24, Holland suggested that maybe Enterprise Flagler meetings should be televised and open to the public.
“I don’t see why you can’t,” said Commissioner Barbara Revels, who also serves on the Enterprise Flagler board. She added that no one is turned away from the meetings, and that a wide variety of business people attend and propose ideas.
Enterprise Flagler has an annual budget of $250,000 with the county and the city of Palm Coast both contributing about $90,000. Private funds make up the rest of the budget. Among other things, the purpose of the organization is to attract businesses from elsewhere to relocate within Flagler County.