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Palm Coast Tuesday, Jun. 12, 2018 3 months ago

City of Palm Coast explores creating a taxing district to repair private seawalls in saltwater canal neighborhoods, if owners don't make repairs first

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Fire taxing district also an option. And: Mayor Milissa Holland expects most residents don’t understand that the city only makes up 22% of countywide tax bill.
by: Brian McMillan Executive Editor

Updated 8:02 a.m. June 13.

A resident recently asked Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland, “Why can’t you increase teacher salaries?”

Holland told the City Council on June 12 that the question was emblematic of most residents’ lack of understanding about the city’s authority to tax and spend. Of the total tax bill that residents receive every year, only 22% of it is paid to the city of Palm Coast; the rest goes to other authorities, including Flagler Schools, which is the board that could increase teacher salaries. (Although, unlike other taxing authorities, local school districts don’t set their own tax rates; the state does.)Budget Coordinator Lina Williams explained several options for taking pressure off the residents citywide.

Holland suggested that the city host a Lunch and Learn event at the Community Center to educate residents about city taxes.

Today, residential property owners shoulder 82% of the city’s tax burden to pay for services like fire, law enforcement and streets, and that is “a very high number,” City Manager Jim Landon said.

 

Saltwater canal district?

Budget Coordinator Lina Williams explained several options for taking pressure off the residents citywide.

One option is to establish an assessment district for property owners along saltwater canals. If a homeowner's seawall falls into disrepair, and if the owner fails to make those repairs, the city of Palm Coast could do the work and assess the property owner over time through property taxes.

"We would obviously first allow the the property owner to make the necessary repairs to their wall," Landon explained in an email after the meeting.

 

Mayor Milissa Holland explained it this way at the workshop: “It’s so people in the R-section do not have pay for sea wall repair for the people in the C-section.” She noted that some people on canals in the C-section “may not have the resources in one fell swoop to pay for the sea wall repair.” City Manager Jim Landon justified spending public dollars on sea wall repair because if it doesn’t happen quickly enough, “erosion causes problems in the canal,” and the rest of the neighborhood suffers.

 

Fire assessment?

Another way to increase revenue while reducing the general fund tax rate would be to shift funding for the Fire Department to a special assessment. It’s a common strategy for a city if its fire department serves areas outside of the city boundaries, Landon said; it's not something the city has employed in the past.

As it is now, homes in Palm Coast pay a wide range of taxes, but all residents need the same level of fire protection.

Using an assessment, Williams said, would mean “everyone would pay an equitable portion of the cost.”

The Palm Coast Fire Department, which operates independently of Flagler County Fire Rescue, has a budget of $7 million annually, or about 40% of the city’s general fund.

This story was corrected to show that saltwater canal property owners are expected to make repairs on their seawalls themselves. The city does not currently pay for any repairs but is considering options.

 

Brian McMillan has been editor of the Palm Coast Observer since it began in 2010. He was named the Journalist of the Year for weekly newspapers in North America by the Local Media Association in 2012. He lives in Palm Coast with his wife and five children. Email...

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