+ Districting Commission won’t color outside the lines
I have just returned from a public meeting on redistricting (June 2). I am shocked at the whole experience.
The chairman did a disservice to the citizens who were in attendance. It was appalling to see the committee members’ complete disregard for the laws.
From the very beginning, they admitted that they were told what to look for and what to disregard — this in apparently private meetings, which may be a violation of the Sunshine Law.
When asked why the committee was not made up of members from each of the four areas, as required, the committee members simply ignored the question.
In spite of the fact that the agenda indicated public comment would be allowed, the chairman didn’t want to allow it. Another member concurred, saying they were going to vote for the plan they wanted anyway.
Only three citizens were allowed to comment. A fourth member of the audience walked up with his request form, and the chairman said he wasn’t going to allow any more comments. He never asked if there were others who wanted to speak, nor did he announce that the time for comments was over.
The room was set up so the committee members had their backs to the audience and the speakers. When a comment was made that you couldn’t read the visual aids, even from the front row, they ignored it. Hearing was difficult because not everyone at the table had a microphone. That comment was also ignored.
I asked the committee if someone could tell me why the members had preferred Option 2 over Options 3, 4 and 5. I could not get an answer. When I asked if they could bring up the maps that illustrated the other options, the chairman said, “No.”
He repeatedly refused requests to show the other maps, even though they are public documents. Another member stated that they had reviewed the documents before the meeting, and they agreed to select Option 2 but could not explain why Options 3 and 4, which also met the criteria, were not selected. The only “benefit” to Option 2, he said, was that it better fit the boundaries created by Interstate 95 and State Road 100.
Last, when questioned about the official time frames within which the process should take place, the members admitted that they had not been met but refused to comment on the effect it would have on the upcoming elections.
I do not understand the rush to do this. What is the hidden agenda behind this? I am sure that this will end up in the courts and costs taxpayers money that could be better used to meet community needs.
+ Fence at Ralph Carter Park will be ineffective, bad precedent
It does not matter what kind of fence you put around Ralph Carter Park, criminals will find a way to penetrate it. Then, we will be constantly doing repairs.
How about all the panhandlers at the exits getting on and off Interstate 95? Sometimes it is a husband-wife team at the same intersection. This is one of the reasons I moved out of South Florida! I am a veteran who is hurting for money; is it legal for me to stand on a corner and panhandle? If not, then why is the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office ignoring this problem, as well as security at Ralph Carter Park?
Is that what Palm Coast is coming to? We are going to have to fence everything recreational?
One more thing: Two weeks after I closed on my house in Palm Coast (which was five years ago), the headlines in the newspaper read “Palm Coast out of water 2013.”
Is there any progress on the saltwater desalination plant being made, or is it that they don’t even know where they are going to build?
Editor’s Note: According to officials working on the Coquina Coast Desalination project, the site has not yet been selected.
+ Enterprise Flagler, Chamber of Commerce respond to Economic Summit critics
During the past two weeks, two lengthy editorial letters about the recent Economic Summit meetings have been published. Given that both of these letters contained factual errors, the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce & Affiliates and Enterprise Flagler would like to take this opportunity to respond and offer clarification:
“Newspaper articles are driven by quotes by either Enterprise Flagler and the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce & Affiliates, oriented toward industrial development.”
Fact: Enterprise Flagler and the Chamber are active participants in the Economic Summit, a collaborative effort that includes representation from business owners, local citizens and elected officials. The goal of this initiative is to improve the local standard of living through business investment, higher wages and skilled employment opportunities, adequate infrastructure and an attractive quality of life for all of our citizens.
From a longer term perspective, the collaborative group is also focused on creating a healthier balance in our tax base and lessening the reliance on residential tax payers.
Today, 88% of our property tax collections are funded by residential homeowners. A healthier scenario would call for residents to pay between 65% and 70%, and commercial/industrial to pay the balance.
From this standpoint, industrial development is important, but so is making sure that existing businesses in Flagler County keep their doors open and grow. If we do not find a way to drive economic development, our county will hit a point where the only alternatives are to cut services or raise residential taxes.
The strides we are making today, and will continue to make with respect to economic development planning, will help prevent us from reaching that point of no return.
The economic development initiative is big news for Flagler County. That’s why the Palm Coast Observer and other media outlets have attended the meetings, followed developments and reported the news. It’s more than a Chamber or Enterprise Flagler initiative; it’s one that affects each and every resident of Flagler County and will ultimately enhance our quality of life.
“Discussions seem to be laying groundwork for funding yet-to-be-defined initiatives.”
Fact: Strategic goals with defined initiatives have been outlined and were presented at the most recent summit meeting, along with proposed budgets and projected returns on investment. We know that more discussion is necessary and that “game plans” will need fine tuning.
We also know, at this point, the preliminary budgets and returns on investments may be works in progress.
However, it is important to note that 79% of the projected three-year $7.1 million dollar investment is a variable expense that would not occur without study and performance-based requirements. No dollars would be expended before comprehensive study and analysis are completed.
The remaining portion of the investment would be spent creating an economic development infrastructure with well-defined and statistically supported projected returns on investment. This infrastructure will allow Flagler County to be competitive with other counties in Florida and similar communities throughout the U.S.
“I cannot help but wonder how much money Enterprise Flagler and the Chamber will contribute?”
Fact: Members of both the Flagler Chamber and Enterprise Flagler already contribute millions of dollars each year to our local economy in real estate and sales taxes. Further, members of these organizations individually own and rent homes, spend money at local restaurants and stores, and help create a demand for increased retail options for all of our citizens to enjoy.
“Why do Enterprise Flagler and the Chamber seem bent on altering that fine image of a growing retirement destination?”
Fact: When ITT laid out its plan for our community, land was also clearly earmarked for commercial, light industrial and office development. No community can survive long term with a concentrated investment in just one economic segment without inflicting considerable financial pain on its citizens.
In our opinion, Flagler County and its residents have suffered enough. In addition to retirees, Flagler County’s population includes about 13,000 students, 55% of whom are on free and reduced lunch because their parents are unemployed or underemployed.
Maintaining a “fine image” of a retirement destination is not putting food in hungry students’ stomachs or meeting the needs of our unemployed residents.
Both the Chamber and Enterprise Flagler seek to maintain positive attributes that appeal to retirement-age newcomers, while also attracting quality employers to the area. By offering residents good paying jobs, these employers will become valuable assets to our community. The goal is to strike a balance that will improve the quality of life for all our residents.
“The summit seems to be simply a highly publicized way of convincing our population of what local politicos and business advocates are feeding themselves, to the exclusion of what I feel our county and city population may want. Why must we have a grand scheme for economic development?”
Fact: By relying on a single industry, Flagler County put all of its eggs in one proverbial basket. This proved detrimental to the long-term health of our community, and since that time, Flagler County has held Florida’s highest unemployment rate off and on for more than two years.
More than 5,000 of our residents are unemployed, and hundreds, if not thousands more are underemployed due to a lack of quality job opportunities. We all pay the price for this “social cost” today. We pay for it in our current income and real estate taxes used to help support food banks and lunches at schools. We also pay for it in dollars that cannot by collected by home-owners who are unable to find work and contribute to the local economy.
Depending on how you define economic development, you are right that some things will happen over time simply due to population growth (i.e. retail stores and restaurants). Unfortunately, retail or restaurant jobs will not generate quality wage-earning opportunities necessary for a skilled workforce.
We invite you to be part of the solution as we collectively build upon our community’s strengths while also making Flagler County and its cities even better for the long term.
When you consider the facts, you may be surprised how much we have in common after all.
Lea A. Stokes
Chair of the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce & Affiliates
Co-president of Enterprise Flagler