Palm Coast's partnership with the Flagler County Sheriff's Office is a win-win for Palm Coast taxpayers.
By Mark Strobridge
I am writing this letter in response to a few letters recently published where the writers believe the city of Palm Coast residents are paying twice for law enforcement, question the need for more deputies or believe it is time for Palm Coast to start its own police department.
Here are the facts: In Flagler County, the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) fund the sheriff’s law enforcement at almost $18 million dollars from countywide taxes that all property owners pay.
The Sheriff’s Office provides primary police services to Palm Coast and other services such as CSI, dispatch, SWAT, etc. The BOCC funds a basic level of sheriff’s law enforcement services for all county residents, regardless of where they live. By far, the majority of the sheriff’s budget, services and staffing are used serving residents of Palm Coast, which does not have a police department and is the largest city in Flagler County. This includes a district office, patrol deputies, detectives, records staff, 9-1-1 dispatchers and much more.
The city of Palm Coast contracts with the Sheriff’s Office for enhanced police service for its residents. This is the same reason the city voted to incorporate many years ago: to provide enhanced services demanded by its residents.
The sheriff’s contract enhances and improves the law enforcement services provided solely to Palm Coast residents and is above the basic service level funded by the BOCC. The deputies paid for by the city contract are assigned only to the city of Palm Coast.
Rightfully, if the city of Palm Coast wants a higher level of service for its residents, like Flagler Beach and Bunnell are doing, then Palm Coast residents should pay for it and not expect residents of Bunnell, Flagler Beach, Marineland, Town of Beverly Beach and unincorporated residents of Flagler county to further support Palm Coast police services with a higher countywide tax.
Costs of a police department
Ironically, the BOCC is providing basic law enforcement services to Palm Coast when the county is not required to do so. The Florida Supreme Court has already decided the issue of dual taxation. In the City of Palm Beach vs. Palm Beach County, the Florida Supreme Court determined it was not dual taxation for city residents to pay a countywide tax to support the Sheriff’s Office even though city residents also paid city taxes to support a police department. The court ruled that regardless of a city’s desire to support a police department, city residents still benefit from Sheriff’s patrols and other services, and therefore it is not dual taxation.
In other words, the county could stop supporting a defacto police department for Palm Coast and use the tax revenue for other county purposes, with no requirement to reduce countywide taxes. If this happened, Palm Coast would have to significantly raise taxes on its residents to start a police department, a cost of $13-15 million dollars annually, plus startup costs. While it is true the city could reallocate the $3.3 million paid in the Sheriff’s contract toward a police department, the city would still need to find additional revenue of over $10 million, plus startup costs. Currently, the city uses 40% of its general revenue fund toward its fire department while only 16% is used to support law enforcement contract. In the current budget year, the city’s new general fund revenue totaled $2.1 million. Of that amount, only $636,438 went toward law enforcement, while 68% of the new revenue went toward other city programs.
Another letter writer asked if the population to police ratio is reflective of the national average. No, it is not. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the statewide Florida average is 2.18 law enforcement officers per 1,000 residents. According to the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, the national average is 1.9 officers per 1,000 residents. Today, the Sheriff’s Office has 1.23 officers per 1,000 residents. With the five additional deputies from Palm Coast and 10 additional deputies funded by the BOCC, the Sheriff’s Office will have 1.36 law enforcement officers per 1,000 residents, still significantly below the national and state averages.
Fortunately for Palm Coast taxpayers, they are getting a great deal with the county providing a basic level of countywide law enforcement services. For comparison, the city of Deltona, an equivalent-sized city to Palm Coast, which also does not have its own police department, contracts with the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office at a cost of over $10 million dollars annually for sheriff’s police services. Deltona residents pay this cost in city taxes and pay the countywide tax to support the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office. I would suspect that Deltona residents are envious of the partnership between the Flagler County BOCC, Sheriff’s Office and the city of Palm Coast to provide cost-effective law enforcement services. Palm Coast residents are receiving law enforcement services at a fraction of the cost that most cities pay for contracting police services with a sheriff’s office or having their own police department. This unique relationship is truly a win-win for Palm Coast taxpayers.
Mark Strobridge is a division chief and public information officer at the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office.