The municipalities agreed Monday, Jan. 31, to meet with a facilitator as the next step in economic development.
Although Palm Coast and Flagler Beach officials said they are not in favor of a county plan to increase taxes, the municipalities in Flagler County did agree Monday, Jan. 31, to hire an outside facilitator to lead economic development discussions at a future meeting.
The workshop was led by Flagler County Board of County Commissioners Chairman Alan Peterson, who started off by saying, “The goal this evening is to attempt to find out on a very complex subject where we all agree and disagree and to what extent.” After the cities made their own presentations, Peterson said he felt the municipalities were further apart than he had anticipated.
At the meeting, Flagler County and Bunnell stated they support additional taxes to fund economic development, while Flagler Beach and Palm Coast said “no.”
Bruce Campbell, acting city manager for Flagler Beach, said there’s no “magic bullet or elixir” to solve those problems, but he believes that the future of economic development should focus equally on maintaining existing and promoting new investments. It also should not impose a financial burden.
Campbell also said that if a tax increase is unavoidable, it should be by referendum vote, not a unilateral action by the County Commission.
Meanwhile, during Palm Coast’s presentation, Mayor Jon Netts touched on all the highlights of the city’s Prosperity 2021 plan.
“Economic development is not an end, it’s a means to an end,” he said.
The city’s approach is to focus on its neighborhoods and not attempt to dictate what other communities should do.
“The point is to know who we are,” he said. “We shouldn’t aspire to be something other than what we are.”
The county requested in a letter before the meeting that each municipality comment on possible funding sources for economic development plans. However, Netts never stated whether the city supports a tax.
Peterson pressed the issue, asking Netts again what the city’s stance was.
“There is no consensus in Palm Coast for additional taxes,” Netts responded.
The next step is for county staff to gather a list of potential facilitators to lead a discussion as free from politics as possible. The list of facilitators will be sent out to the municipalities for input. The date of the next meeting is still to be determined.
County Commissioner Milissa Holland said she thought the meeting was productive and put all the entities in a position to move forward to create comprehensive solutions.
“When you have an outside facilitator … you realize everyone is saying the same thing, only saying it in different ways,” she said.
Residents speak out
The packed room at the Emergency Operations Center featured many business owners and residents from throughout the county.
Some residents proposed more plans, and others expressed personal concern about the state of the county’s economy.
Bill McGuire, a Palm Coast resident with decades of senior manufacturing management experience, said Flagler County can’t compete with larger counties in offering incentives to attract businesses.
“I think we should promote tourism … and let economic development take care of itself,” he said. “I’m opposed to taxing us more than we already are.”
Toby Tobin, Palm Coast resident and publisher of www. GoToby.com, said territorializing isn’t expediting the process.
“I think we need to spend less time going around marking our territory and more time working together,” Tobin said at the meeting.
Also during public comment, one unemployed Palm Coast resident, Nickolas Davis, said taxes can’t be raised. He encouraged the public officials to follow the lead of the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce & Affiliates.
Flagler Beach City Commissioner Jane Mealy said comments from residents such as Davis and R.J. Dailey were significant.
“I loved how the young people stood up,” Mealy said. “We focus on the old people, but it’s important to remember them, too.”
— Brian McMillan contributed to this story.