Three keys to fixing our economy

Flagler County and Palm Coast governments must work together to help the economy grow.
By: 
May. 24, 2018

John Walsh

Publisher

In 2011, I attended the communitywide economic development summit held near the Flagler County Fairgrounds. Over 50 elected officials and staff from Flagler County and its cities attended, along with over 50 business people and private citizens. The dialogue was consistent: Our local economy was seriously unstable.

One revealing statistic was that residents, on average, consume $1.25 in government services, such as schools, law enforcement and fire response, for every $1 they contribute in taxes. By contrast, businesses consume only 80 cents in services for ever $1 they contribute. In other words, businesses help take the burden off residents and can keep tax rates lower for everyone, so our community has an incentive to encourage business development.

But, despite a much improved employment rate in Flagler County, the burden on residential taxpayers has actually increased 17% since 2010.

Meanwhile, our neighboring community to the south, Ormond Beach, has seen the residential burden decrease by 20% in the same time period.

Another variable to a healthy and sustainable economy is overall growth. Flagler County’s tax base has grown 3%, from $7.6 billion in 2010 to $7.8 billion in 2017. Meanwhile, our neighbors to the north, St. Johns County, have seen the tax base has grow 40%, from $18.4 billion in 2010 to $25.8 billion in 2017.

Where do we go from here? It is never just one thing that makes something a success or failure in business. Here are three things that can help.

 

1. Collaboration

A recent meeting was hosted by the Flagler County Department of Economic Opportunity in partnership with the Northeast Florida Regional Planning Council. The purpose of this meeting was to, once again, identify opportunities and challenges for economic development. The meeting was attended by nearly 100 private citizens, business leaders, elected officials and staff from Flagler County and its cities. The attendees were surveyed about several community issues, and No. 1 priority was the need for collaborative leadership of our elected officials.

This starts with quality political candidates. In 2018, we’ll vote on multiple county and city races — offices that set tax rates — including two Palm Coast City Council seats with no incumbents. Read all about it in our upcoming Election Guide, to be published Aug. 9. And, if you’re interested in running for office, it’s not too late: Candidate qualifying is from noon June 18 to noon June 22.

 

2. Diversify the tax base

In 2011, our community invested in the foundation to develop our economy and diversify our tax base from growth in nonresidential development by creating the Flagler County Department of Economic Opportunity. Since that time we have invested $2.2 million in the process and have enjoyed some successes along the way, including the construction of a 40,000-square-foot building later this month.

Still, this process has not been fast enough; the numbers show that residents are being burdened more and more in paying for services. Why are we not enjoying the same successes as our neighbors in Ormond Beach and St. Johns County?

 

3. Permitting process

The Flagler County Chamber of Commerce is currently working on finding the answers through a project called Permit to Product. The objective is to take an objective look at the county’s and cities’ development processes and compare them to best practices in our region and across the state.

The project will take a look at four development opportunities: horizontal, commercial, multi-family and single family. The idea is to create common data points that can be measured and compared to other successful communities. Some of the data points include land use, density, impact fees, permitting, approval timeline, landscaping, parking, signage and the inspection process.

It’s never one thing. To succeed in quality growth and diversifying our tax base, we need to elect candidates who believe in the collaborative process, who continue to wisely invest in our economic development opportunities, and who find and emulate best development practices.

Email John Walsh at jwalsh@palmcoastobserver.com.