Residents: Let us vote

By: 
Nov. 11, 2010

Landon: Building a new facility would save $240,000 per year in rent.

The residents who attended the Thursday, Nov. 4, presentation revealing the city’s plans to build a new City Hall agree: Let’s take a vote. But as it stands right now, the decision whether to build the proposed $10 million structure is in the City Council’s hands.

When the city of Palm Coast incorporated 10 years ago, its city offices were located at the Palm Coast Community Center. It has moved four times since, and is currently entering the final year of a three-year lease at the City Marketplace, formerly City Walk.

The Palm Coast City Council wants a permanent home. City Manager Jim Landon delivered the second of four town hall meetings Nov. 4 to explain the proposal.

Creative accounting could support funds
“We’ve been nomads when it comes to city offices,” Landon told the crowd of nearly 200 residents last week.

The proposed 40,000-square-foot building would be located in Town Center, with an estimated cost of $10 million, or as Landon pointed out, $250 per square foot. The two-story building would house all of the city’s current needs, and would have room for expansion, according to Landon.

At the meeting, he pointed out that currently, the city is paying $240,000 annually for its lease at City Marketplace. And that money is coming from residents’ taxes.

To stop the drain on tax money, Landon and city staff have devised the plan to fund the new building through dollars the city already has. The funding breakdown: building department fund for $1 million (10%), utility funds for $1.2 million (12%), capital projects fund for $2 million (20%) and the State Road 100 Community Redevelopment Area for $5.8 million (58%).

Landon said it will be more beneficial to the city long-term to own rather than rent. Landon explained that it makes sense for the city to proceed with building the City Hall now because construction costs are down. The project also would create temporary construction jobs — all without raising taxes.

In 2005, 82% said ‘no’
In 2005, the city proposed a 70,000-square-foot City Hall building with an estimated cost of $22 million. Approximately 82% of the voters opposed it.

Tom Lawrence, chairman of the local Tea Party movement, said five years ago, the City Council reached out to voters for permission.

“After you go out to the public with these four meetings, will you then go out with a referendum to build or not to build?” Lawrence asked Landon.

“In Florida and in Palm Coast, (the charter) states that if you borrow money long-term and you use property taxes to pay it back, you have to get voter approval,” Landon replied. “The state and city law say that if you don’t borrow money long-term and don’t use property taxes, then your elected officials make the decisions.”

One resident shouted out: “Then they will be elected temporarily!”

But the plan is devised so it doesn’t issue debt. Without debt, taxes won’t be affected, and therefore it’s the City Council’s decision.

Mayor Jon Netts is in support of the City Hall plans.

“If I were confident that everybody would sit down and look at the long-term vision and analyze this — sure, why not put it on a referendum,” he said. “This is the same old story. You elect people to make the best judgments they can on behalf of their entire constituency.”

County Commissioner and former City Council member Alan Peterson was also in attendance, and though he agreed the city needs a new City Hall, he said it should be a referendum item because the residents deserve a vote.

The next town hall meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 15, in the Buddy Taylor Middle School cafeteria.

PERSONAL VS. POLITICAL
After the meeting, City Manager Jim Landon noted that even though state statute says the decision to build City Hall belongs to the City Council, many residents now feel that, because they were allowed to vote in 2005 and this time they won’t have a vote, the city is eliminating them from the process unfairly.

Because of that perception, Landon sees building the City Hall as politically risky, regardless of dollars and cents.

“From a business standpoint, there’s no question it makes sense for the community and the organization,” he said. “It’s a quandary: Do I do the easy political, emotional thing, or do I move forward and continue to recommend what makes good business sense?”

At the meeting, Landon said he has often reflected on the question “Why now?”

“I will tell you that if I was talking from my own personal interest … I hope we don’t do this,” he said. “If you were talking about what’s good for Jim Landon and his family — it would be go home and quit talking about this. However, that’s not why I’m being paid those high dollars.”

CHANGE OF HEART
Ted St. Pierre, a Palm Coast resident and Tea Party member, was vehemently opposed to the proposed City Hall building when he attended the Nov. 4 town hall meeting. When he left later that night, it was a different story.

St. Pierre said he didn’t want it and the city didn’t need it. But, after the meeting, he got to thinking.
“Now’s the time to build because prices are just right,” he said.

The next day, St. Pierre called City Manager Jim Landon and said that residents are wary about promises made by city government.

St. Pierre suggested that a citizen oversight committee be established to oversee the construction of the building step-by-step to ensure promises are kept.

The group wouldn’t be appointed by the City Council, but would be volunteers. Landon and Mayor Jon Netts have asked St. Pierre to champion the committee.

The presentation also made St. Pierre realize something else. An outspoken critic of Landon and his salary, St. Pierre now said he’s worth every penny.

“I thought (Landon) was overpaid, but that man is working for his money,” St. Pierre said.

Contact Andrew O’Brien at andrew@palmcoastobserver.com.