A new trail in Graham Swamp, more pickleball courts, an equestrian center and more display buildings and bathrooms at the Ag Museum — Flagler County hopes to move forward with all of those projects, even though commissioners anticipate a tax increase this coming year and are struggling to find things to cut.
The reason those projects aren't on the chopping block, county officials said during a July 9 County Commission workshop, is that the money to be used on those projects isn't county ad valorem tax money: It's state grant money or bed tax money that's limited by law to use for certain projects.
"We certainly want to drive capital projects. That's certainly a goal of ours within the next fiscal year," Matt Dunn, the county's tourism director, said at the workshop. "... We need to drive tourism-related assets. We're witness to our neighbors, and all of our competitors and colleagues, not only in the state of Florida but in the region and across the country, are all doing so, and it is providing them with additional tools and assets to drive visitation over a variety of different methods. We certainly want to be moving in that direction."
The county is 38% ahead in collections over the pervious fiscal year, he said.
"This is not ad valorem money; this is bed tax money," Commissioner Greg Hansen said. "This is tourists paying for tourism. ... We can’t take that money and shift it over into running the county. We can’t do it; it’s against the law."
A proposed trail linking Graham Swamp to the Lehigh Trail, County Administrator Craig Coffey said, will be built with Florida Department of Transportation money.
"If we do not spend the money … we cannot spend it on anything else," Coffey said. "If we do not spend it, it will go to enhance another community’s trail system."
Beach parks and ADA access
Flagler County is planning to add additional beach access options for disabled beachgoers, but it's not yet clear what those options or structures will be.
Currently, Coffey said, the county's beach viewing platforms satisfy the law. But, he added, "We will actually get them to the beach as well, with some of our structures and stuff in the future."
The county, he said, is exploring options for buying equipment.
For now, he said, the county is planning to place heavy-duty beach mats, although those will have to stop at the vegetation line. It obtained permits for the mats last week, he said.
Bay Drive Park will also be bid out this Fall, Coffey said, and construction will occur toward the end of this year and the beginning of next year.