Palm Coast Replaces One Flawed Stormwater Ordinance with Another

After nearly three years, Palm Coast still can’t get it right. Legal precedent, fairness, logic, and truth were cast aside. What happens next?

Palm Coast, FL – March 3, 2011 – After nearly three years trying to come up with a fix for their admittedly defective stormwater ordinance, Palm Coast City Council finally approved a replacement. It looks like the new ordinance is not much better than the previous one. But the passage left several questions unanswered as Tuesday night’s meeting ended.
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Grand Haven
Most of Grand Haven is located on the east side of Colbert Lane, bordering the Intracoastal Waterway. The gated golfing community has its own stormwater management system. The Grand Haven CDD (Community Development District) operates the system with funds it collects directly from its residents. The system is wholly self-contained. Its outflow is directed into the Intracoastal Waterway.
Palm Coast was aware of the fact that Grand Haven’s was a stand-alone system prior to the 2004 implementation of its original ordinance. Regardless, the city began collecting stormwater fees from Grand Haven residents anyway: hundreds of thousands of dollars since 2004. Not only do residents pay ($96 each per year) but the CDD also pays for common areas. The new ordinance recognized that the affected portion of Grand Haven (east of Colbert Lane) should be exempt from future fees; that a refund of previously collected fees is fair. It arbitrarily provided for a refund to affected Grand Haven residents back only to 2008.
That issue prompted to issue a "CALL TO ACTION," alerting Grand Haven Residents to attend and speak out at Tuesday’s meeting. Well over 100 residents responded. Several spoke out. As a result, City Council members acknowledged that it would be fair to refund payments back to 2004, but were worried how they would pay for it. They decided to pass the ordinance "as is." The city plans to study the economic consequences of extending the refund back to 2004 and try to come up with a way to pay for the extended refund. Any refund policy would also apply to other communities who manage their own stormwater or who are excluded from charges in the new ordinance.
What’s next?
Rather than trying to find a way to refund pre-2008 fees, I expect the city staff to find ways to prove they cannot afford the extended refund. They will inflate the amount of the anticipated refund. They will inflate the consequences of a full refund to the city’s employees and to its level of service to Palm Coast residents. A grim picture will be painted; enough to give council members political cover. There will be little opportunity for additional constituent input. Workshops are open to the public, but no public comments are allowed.
The actual cost to the city for full refunds (back to 2004) will likely be much less than predicted. Many Grand Haven property owners and other city residents (including renters) subject to refunds no longer live locally. Forwarding address information is probably incomplete. Many others will ignore or overlook the refund notice. Other "refunds" will not be actual payments out, but will be simply be credits issued to cancel protested/unpaid accounts. Landon recognized the reduced effective refund at an earlier council meeting.
The City Manager said if the council decides to extend the refunds to 2004, the city has three options:
1.    Suspend the stormwater program and use fees for the refund
2.    Raise the stormwater fees for all residents
3.    Transfer money from the city’s general fund
The real solution, recognized by Councilman Meeker, is an increase in fees to the real users; residents and businesses within the boundary of the stormwater management system. An increase from $8 per month to $10 per month will generate $1.2 million in additional revenue according to Finance Director Ray Britt. Yet, the other four council members seem reluctant go down that road.
City staff’s presentation to the council was slanted and misleading. Engineering and Stormwater Director John Moden described a reimbursement paid to Grand Haven from 2004 to 2008 as compensation equal to the cost of the city’s "base service level." The base service level comments mislead at least one council member to think it equaled the service level provided to city residents. In fact, it meant only the base level of aquatic herbicide treatment. Further, he did not mention the amount reimbursed (which I believe was a token payment of about $10,000 per year), leaving listeners assuming a much larger payment.
Similar stonewalling strategies have been used successfully by staff before. In early December 2008, Concerned that a new 10% franchise fee levied on commercial refuse haulers would hurt already struggling business. Council Members instructed City Manager Jim Landon to review the fee. Nothing happened until wrote Landon a letter in February 2009. Even then, the subject was not placed on either a workshop or meeting agenda (which is controlled by the City Manager). Not placing the item on the official agenda avoids alerting interested parties to attend. The franchise fee issue was raised by Landon at a March 2009 workshop under the category "subjects not on the agenda." Council agreed then that the fee needed to be eliminated or deferred, but no action was taken. That was the last we heard on the subject.
In another example, the Flagler Home Builders Association has pressed the city to reduce or eliminate the current $1,264 park impact fee on each new house. It seems the city already has enough park land to handle several years of new residential growth. Yet the city is stonewalling the effort; providing conflicting information about both the amount of land in its inventory and about the cost of that land.
Undeveloped Land
Conspicuously absent at Tuesday’s meeting was any comments from owners or parcels of undeveloped land. These owners and/or their representatives had been very evident at the first reading of the amendment. They challenge (I believe correctly) that there is no legal precedent to charge stormwater fees on undeveloped land.
Did the owners of undeveloped land choose not to speak because they decided they can live with the ordinance as written? Or did they choose not to speak because they believe further dialogue is fruitless; that the only remedy is a legal remedy.
Their concerns with the new ordinance remain:
  • Owners of large parcels of vacant land assert there are no legal precedents or scientific facts that support a "user fee" on vacant, undeveloped land.
  • Any refunds should be paid from the date fees were first incurred.
  • The ordinance provides that the administration of the ordinance will be the responsibility of the City Manager. Many devils can be hidden in those details.
All affected parties should follow upcoming developments closely and keep the pressure on. If they do not, the city will have slid another one past them.
In the Call to Action, I included contact information for all council members and suggested that affected residents let their elected representatives know how they felt about the issue. Email addresses were found on the city website, but the city does not provide a phone number for council members. Believing that many concerned constituents would want to talk with their representatives directly rather than or in addition to sending emails, I included home phone numbers. By the way, these numbers were obtained from another public source, the phone book.
Prior to the commencement of Tuesday’s meeting I was approached and chastised by Councilman Holsey Moorman. He registered extreme displeasure that I had publishing his home telephone number. His phone was swamped with calls, he said. I responded, "That’s how democracy works." He replied, "Democracy works when they call city hall, not my home phone." Apparently constituents should not be so bold as to actually try to talk with their elected officials about issues that affect them.

Fact: Constituents cannot call City Council members at City Hall. Council members do not have offices there.

Should constituents be able to call their elected officials at home?

What do you think? Take the following poll.

8 replies
  1. Patricia Maloney
    Patricia Maloney says:

    Stormwater Ordinance

    I live in the Crossings at Grand Haven.
    I want every cent of money refunded to me that was charged illegally.
    November can’t come soon enough, when we get a chance to replace three of the council.The clearly do not represent us.
    I haven’t yet figured what form of creative accounting he uses to defend the fraud in his budget.
    Maybe Grand Haven needs a class action law suit to reclaim their money.

  2. Terry Laydon
    Terry Laydon says:

    Council’s Phone Numbers

    I called each council member’s listed ( number prior to yesterday’s meeting. One member was quite engaging (much appreciated), even asking how the weather was here in Md. One member was quite curt (really disappointing), one member’s husband answered and said he would pass on my comments. And I had to leave a voice mssg. for the last member. I had no luck with the mayor’s number–got a mssg. saying the number was no longer in service. Overall, I would give this kind of accessibility a C-, not really acceptable. Based on the results of last night’s meeting related to Grand Haven, and my experience on the phone, I certainly have a pretty good idea who I would/wouldn’t support for mayor and council member in future elections.

    Terry Laydon

  3. George Edward Chuddy
    George Edward Chuddy says:

    Any mention about all of us?

    Dear Toby:

    By perchance was there any mention about ‘Grandfathering’ we Palm Coast Pioneers and Early Purchasers ; was there also any mention of the ‘Palm Coast Community of the Woodlands’ and their allegedly prior exempt status ?

    Thank you very much.

  4. Bill Wynn
    Bill Wynn says:

    Storm Water Ordinance

    I personally wrote an email thru the city web-site to Councilman Bill Lewis relative to the Storm Water Ordinance. I wrote him this email 2 weeks ago. I have not received a reply to the questions I posed. I’ll remember this at election time.

  5. Bill Green
    Bill Green says:

    Stormwater refund to GH residents

    The money for Stormwater from the city of Palm Coast was collected illigal.The city staff presentation was misleading. The city collected from GH residents during 2004 & 2005 – $3 per month, $36 per year; during 2006 & 2007 – $6 per month, $72 per year. The total refund to GH home owners for these 4 years should be about $300,000 not $1,500,000.

  6. Former developer
    Former developer says:

    Regarding large parcels

    As a former employee of a large local developer, i can tell you that we used to track this issue closely. At least in my case, I can guarantee you that the people left with the property are unaware of the issue; thus, are not showing up to represent themselves. With less and less folks there to represent the rights of large property owners, it is my view that the City will be left to do what they wish.

  7. Charlie Ericksen, Jr
    Charlie Ericksen, Jr says:

    Flawed Ordinance

    Right on. Any good business or financial person, would know in advance, what the liability would have been to reimburse the GH residents. I asked this question at the prior reading, and the response, was "there are so many variables, that a number could not be brought up". Prior to this City Council meeting, the Council decided to implement a new internal area, to help answer a "rumor", that the City was unfriendly in dealing with local business .. Perhaps, they should expand, the role, to include documented concerns (not "rumors") on the part of residents. 3 Years, to resolve !! and this is the answer?? .

  8. George Edward Chuddy
    George Edward Chuddy says:

    Flagler Homebuilders Assoc.

    Reading above about the Flagler Homebuilders Association brought to mind something we have been meaning to bring forth, on our big Bucket List.
    In the beginning, just before ‘Palm Coast Predicament’ #1, we would see homes being built and as today the homeowners would stop by their JobSite and watch their home being constructed.
    Then, on a visit, they would see the walls collapsed and their house falling down ; others saw the walls cracking or homes settling crookedly, etc.
    The Palm Coast community was aghast – wondering why so many cracked walls, or collapses, or settling and shifting, etc.,
    THEN the corporate officials from New York came….
    It was discovered that a Employee of I.T.T. who was supposed to dispose properly of Palm Trees, Pines, etc., wasn’t doing it – instead he dug MASSIVE holes all over the place and *buried* the palm tree trunks and covered them over.
    I.T.T. corporate was more than furious – "off with their heads"…thats when XXX XXXXXX and other were handcuffed and taken away – the wives were crying in the streets, ( at that time with wives weren’t usually arrested for being complicit as happens today)…Thereafter I.T.T. used this little shuttle wagon type thing that was moved back and forth and back and forth over the JobSite so they could ascertain if the JobSite was safe to build on. ( Can you imagine how much that cost I.T.T.)
    Anyway, with 18,000 lots still undeveloped wouldn’t it be beneficial to *alert* the Flagler Builders Association know about this as a precationary measure?
    Toby or someone, please pass this information on to them to avoid more ‘Palm Coast Predicaments’.
    Thank you.

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