The Palm Coast City Council voted 4 to 1 to approve the draft budget proposed on September 8, including the mileage rate. Councilman Ed Danko was the dissenting vote.
The meeting was contentious, with terse back and forth between council members and a series of upset public commentators over the two-and-a-half-hour meeting.
“If we back down [the millage rate], that means this city is going to be $4.2 million short,” council member Eddie Branquinho said. “That’s what restoration means.”
Palm Coast’s mileage rate is proposed to remain at $4.6100 per $1,000 of property value. This property tax is the biggest source of revenue for the city’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2023, according to Gwen Ragsdale, budget and procurement manager. It is expected to generate $33.3 million in revenue for the fiscal year 2023 budget.
The board will meet for final approval on this rate and the budget for fiscal year 2023 at 5:15 p.m. on September 21.
Mayor David Alfin reiterated his message from his Demonstration by Garfield a week earlier: The increase in mileage is a reflection of rising property values.
“Most of you will see virtually no increase in your municipal taxes; some who are not at home may see higher rates,” Alfin said.
Members of the public showed up in force to protest the tax rate.
Many had issues with the cost of specific areas like the fleet budget, or projects that could potentially be postponed to cut costs to the public now. Others simply cannot afford another cost increase on their fixed income.
William Roberts of District 2 said he owned land last year that he bought 20 years ago, and the new rate will increase his tax costs by several thousand dollars. – too much for his pockets. Roberts said he was going to have to sell the house now.
“Everyone in this room had to save money and learn how to manage the budget,” Roberts said, “and I think the city of Palm Coast does too.”
Palm Coast resident Thomas Rohr said he moved his wife and children from New York to Palm Coast to evade taxes and improve the lives of his family. He said he took a 50% pay cut and just found out his taxes here were almost $6,000.
“I don’t know where the money is coming from because there’s no tree in my yard with $100 bills growing on it.”
— THOMAS ROHR, Palm Coast resident
“My taxes in New York were $7,000, which is almost double what I earn now,” Rohr said. “I don’t know where the money is coming from because there’s no tree in my yard with $100 bills growing on it.”
District 1 council member Ed Danko was the only member to vote against keeping the tax rate at 4.6100. He, like several public commentators, referred to his experience in the business sector. He said city government department heads cannot always get everything they want.
“Their job is to come in and meet the budget constraints that we put on them,” Danko said. “Make cuts where you need to make cuts.”
Other board members weren’t so sure the budget could be cut. District 2 council member John Fanelli said while department heads are hiding where the money can be cut, he can’t find it.
“I also want to roll him back,” Fanelli said. “But I also want to know what it means when I do it and what we lose when it happens.”
Nick Klufas, a council member for District 3, feared that cutting costs could jeopardize badly needed emergency services or road maintenance.
“There’s no big budget to go through and just cut a million dollars here, a million dollars there,” Klufas said.
Branquinho said he spoke to several people ahead of Thursday’s meeting about what a rollback rate would mean.
Even money-saving measures like a hiring freeze would not be enough to make up the difference in the budget deficit that would be created by rolling the rate back to the rollback rate, and the domino effect of that kind of action would be “incredible” for the city, he said.
“If we back off,” Branquinho said, “it’s not a guarantee but it’s very close – we’re going to lose people.”