City of Palm Coast Council Holds Special Workshop on Budget

city hall

Today July 25th, at 9am today, the City of Palm Coast Council held a Special Workshop Budget meeting at City Hall.  Three of the Council members, Alfin, Danko and Pontieri were present for the meeting, leaving Klufas and Hieghter absent for this meeting.

The floor was opened up for public comment, where the residents could come forward to speak. No one in attendance had any comments at this time, so comments were closed.

The first presentation was on the fiscal year 2024 proposed budget Water & Wastewater Utility, Stormwater, Building and Information Technology Enterprise Funds.  The presentation covered the operating budget for the aforementioned departments. This presentation went over the next years proposed budget, as well as the estimated budget for 2023 as of September. Utilities director Steve Flanagan went over the Water and Wastewater operating fund summary, including the estimated revenue of over $55 million in revenues for the year. This summary includes needs of the departments such as new personnel, healthcare costs, salary increases. Councilwoman Pontieri asked Flanagan why the salaries were increased for the customer service department. Flanagan explained that those salary increases were for merit, cost of living, and certifications obtained or promotions given. Pontieri also asked how many employees were in the customer service department for Utilities, to which Flanagan replied 18. She also asked what the COLA (Cost of Living) rate was, and the answer given was 4% is built into the budget across the board. Wastewater pumping and Wastewater Collection are two parts of the budget that in spite of normal salary increases for employees, and the rise in healthcare, these two departments saw a decrease in the budget.

Flanagan wanted to talk about the chemicals that were effecting the wastewater and the water plants. One of them is the Micro-C. This is a proprietary chemical and since 2021 it has gone up almost 100%. It has now stabilized. Polymer has also gone up about 30% and has since stabilized. Sodium hypo chloride or bleach has also gone up; since 2022 it was 75 cents a gallon and now it 1.38 a gallon.

Flanagan also went over the Capital Projects Fund Expenditures for the Utilities Department, which covered a 5 year plan for funding. This covers many issues including future expansion projects as the City grows.

Alfin asked about annexations, and Flanagan said that while sometimes they struggle to keep up, they can still keep up with capacity currently. Alfin also asked about the “old bones” to which Flanagan stated that yes, they are starting to see some issues of the “old bones” where things are needing to be replaced due to age. Alfin also asked if the amount of water being used per house has changed or has it increased. Flanagan has stated that our area has always conserved water well.  Flanagan also stated that in 2008 they, Palm Coast, has also just gotten into the reclaim water business. Flanagan also stated that water usage has gone down, and that is partly due to reclaim water.

Danko brought up that one major increase in cost across the board was medical. He asked the City Manager if they had shopped around to get the best price. City Manager Bevin said that yes they have shopped around. He asked if we had increased the costs out of pocket to employees and upped the deductible, to which Danko was told yes they did. They increased the out of pocket and the premium price for employees, and this was the best price they could get.

Pontieri stated that she was concerned with capacity, and wanted to make sure that we are looking ahead beyond the five and ten year plans. Pontieri also asked about the increase in the budget from the 2023-2024 budget plan. Flanagan stated that he was hesitant to cut anything out of this budget due to the “old bones” repairs that are popping up as well as all of the new homes that are always getting added to the Water and Wastewater systems. Pontieri then asked if impact fees should be raised. Flanagan stated that in November the council will get a report that will likely have the impact fees being raised.

Stormwater was the next part of the budget presentation. The council heard an overview of the Stormwater Management Fund which talked about the increases in both revenue and expenditures. Certain departments saw new personnel increases due to upcoming projects, and like other departments, all areas saw an increase in the area of healthcare costs for employees. Stormwater stated that currently they have over 1000 work orders, and additional personnel will help them get through those along with keep citizens up to date, and write up reports.

Pontieri encouraged Stormwater to continue their public outreach program to educate residents on the purpose of swales. Pontieri asked if the additional person being hired would help with getting through those cases. The answer to her question was that this person would be helping with the communication between the department and the residents so that staff working in the field isn’t also trying to be the contact point for residents as well. The additional person would help with the organization and communication in the department, so that swale specialists and staff in the field can be more efficient.

Public Works Director Matt gave a  brief presentation of the Collection and Sanitation Fund. The Building Department then gave a presentation on their budget.  The Information Technology Fund Enterprise gave their presentation on their budget, including revenue and expenditures.

Concluding the presentations on the budgets, the floor was opened for public comment.  One resident stood up and said he would stand behind the City of Palm Coast and it’s employees who stand up and go to work in 100+ weather day in and day out.  Another resident stated that the people are not being taken care of, and that the Council doesn’t work for the people.  Upon the completion of this comment, public comment was closed.

Danko stated that he wanted to share that Cathy Heighter was absent due to today being the 20th anniversary of the death of her son, and Danko asked for people to reach out to her during this time.

Pontieri seconded this sentiment, and commended staff for their hard work in all aspects. She urged residents to be kind in their comments as the council does listen to them and they have a lot to balance with the wants of the residents and the needs of the city.

Manager Bevin brought up that FPL would not allow the Franchise Fee to be made a referendum that the residents could vote on. Pontieri then stated that since it could not be put on the ballot, she would remove her motion at the next business meeting and the FPL Franchise Fee would not move forward.

By Krys DeWind

Krys DeWind has been a Flagler County resident since 2016. She is active in her community and is always looking for ways to better it. She has a community first attitude which is one of the central founding ideals of the Flagler County Buzz.

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