Three candidates for the District 2 Palm Coast City Council seat addressed an audience of about 130 people at the Palm Coast Community Center and live on WNZF Radio July 14 in the first of three candidate forums hosted by Flagler Broadcasting and the Palm Coast Observer.
Candidates Sims Jones, Alan Lowe and Theresa Carli Pontieri took part. One candidate for the seat, Shauna Kanter, was unable to attend.
The next two forums will be held July 21, for County Commission candidates; and July 28, for School Board candidates.
The forum opened with remarks by Supervisor of Elections Kaiti Lenhart, who fielded audience questions and encouraged listeners to vote in the primaries.
Candidates introduced themselves, then answered questions posed by Brian McMillan, former executive editor of the Palm Cast Observer; and David Ayres, president and CEO of Flagler Broadcasting.
The following is an edited transcript of the forum. Candidate claims made during the forum have not yet been fact-checked.
Good evening, everybody. My name is Sims Jones, and I'm a retired New York City firefighter. I'm the pastor of God's Love Ministry, and I've been living here in Palm Coast since 2006, and I'm involved in a lot of things in the community. I'm on a number of different boards. I work with senior citizens, I work with youth, and I'm just an all-around guy. So I'm just here to let you know that I'm here for each and every one of you.
I'm not a big talker, because I save that for when I'm preaching on Sunday. So I don't want to do a sermon tonight. So I just wanted to say thank you for your vote ahead of time. I'm going to do the greatest job for you, and I'm going to make you all proud that you elected me your City Council member.
Theresa Carli Pontieri
Good evening, everybody. My name is Theresa Carli Pontieri. I am an attorney of almost seven years, very happily and luckily married to my firefighter husband who is was, at first, reluctantly supportive of me getting into politics, but he's come around — so, thankful for that.
I am so humbled and honored to be able to have the opportunity to represent every single one of you in what I think is absolutely the best city, in the best state, with the best governor, in the best country in the world.
It's already been such an amazing experience going door to door, talking to so many people, figuring out what's really on your minds and what you really talk about on your couches and around the dining room table. And I look forward to getting to know every single one of you and representing those interests as we move forward. Thank you.
Good evening, everybody. I'd like to thank our hosts and sponsors for putting this on, but most importantly, I'd like to thank all of you for taking your time to come here and be more informed voters.
My name is Alan Lowe, and I'm a 39-year resident of Palm Coast. I moved here in 1983 to go to work for my dad. Of those 39 years, I have been a self-employed local business owner for 35 of them, and I have lived in District 2 not for a month, not for a year, not for five years, but 33 years in the district that I intend to represent.
I've had public meetings at my home. I've rented rooms here at City Hall, the Community Center and had public meetings here. So I know very much what is wanted and what the direction of our city that you people would like to go.
I will continue to have meetings, public meetings, town halls, whatever you would like to call them after I'm elected to City Council.
I am an outside-of-the-box thinker. I have two patents to my name — one of them in mechanics, one of them in marine biology. I've had a writeup in National Geographic magazine.
So, well rounded on all the various subjects that are pertinent to our city. So I look forward to your vote. And if you want more information on me you can go vote4lowe.com ... and I hope to see you at the polls. Thank you.
Question by Brian McMillan: I believe that the background of each candidate is often of sometimes the most interest to the voters. So I'd like to hear ... something specific about your background and your experience that may have some sway on how you would handle yourself on the City Council or how you would be a good representative. So what I heard was just a basic label — you're a retired firefighter, you're an attorney, you're a self-employed self-made businessman. So what does that bring to the voters?
Well, I believe in diversity on the City Council and I ... think I've probably lived in Palm Coast longer than all of the City Council combined, probably longer than the two other candidates sitting here.
I have seen Palm Coast go from, I think it was about 3,500 to 5,000 population when I moved here, now we're pressing 100,000.
I know people are complaining about different things, and I've seen it all the way through. So what I bring to City Council is a knowledge of the past, an understanding of the present and a view towards the future, and that future would be what you want.
I don't think there's sufficient representation right now at City Hall. I will bring that representation for you.
I've stood at the podium I don't know how many times over the last few years. I've been to the majority of City Council meetings, I know what's going on there, and I have actually had three wins now at City Council as a concerned citizen.
We now have the Tunnels to Towers as an annual event. Just this past Tuesday, you all know about the racquetball stadium — now it's the pickleball courts, but it's racquetball stadium — I brought information to the City Council, and I pushed to stop the major operation that they were trying to do, which was going to be over $30 million. Now, they've scaled it back, and none of the construction money will come out of your wallets, taxpayers. So I bring to City Hall your ears; I bring your voice. If you elect me to City Hall, I will be your voice.
Theresa Carli Pontieri
Every day, all day long, what I do is fight for other people — their legal rights, their goals. As an attorney, that is literally what I do, all day every day. I get to walk into courtrooms and fight for what other people are legally entitled to. I'm used to that.
And I'm also used to having to engage in compromise, having to read Florida statutes, municipal codes, contracts. That is in my blood at this point, and I thoroughly enjoy it.
So, I come with a skill set and an experience that other people currently actually on the dais don’t have and that my opponents don't have. And I don't say that to prop myself up unfairly; that is absolutely the truth, and it's something that is desperately needed, because that's what we do every week when we're on the dais. We have to interpret code, and we have to plan for the future; we can't just think about today.
So when I help a client enter into a settlement agreement or I'm reading a contract, I can't just focus on the effect of that in the moment and today, I have to think about the future.
And Mr. Lowe is absolutely right: We are growing, and we have to think about the future. And in doing that, it takes anticipation. It takes knowing what statutes and codes and contracts, the repercussions and the results of those are not going to be just in the moment, but what is going to happen in the future, and to anticipate those possible changes.
So that is a skill set and experience that I can bring and use for your benefit.
I’m a little simpler: I'm a person who listens to people. My background is, I have always served people — as a firefighter, as a pastor, I listen. And one of the number one things people want other people to do is listen to their problems, help them figure a way out of it, help them get through it.
And that's what I bring to the City Council: I bring back the fact that you are important, and I'm going to make sure what you feel, what you think, how you feel things should be done is going to be heard.
I've heard too many times when people have gone before a City Council meeting, and it was like they were just overlooked, things were said and then were just discarded. I'm not going to be that way. I'm going to actually listen to you. I'm going to hear you, and then I'm going to do what you would have me do.
When you elect me, you're not electing me for me, you're elected me for you.
So what I bring, is I bring you everything that you want, everything that you feel, how you want, how you feel the city should be. That's what I'm going to bring to the City Council for you. I am your mouthpiece. I am a your liaison. I am the person that you called to be here to speak up for you. It's not about me. It's all about you.
Question by David Ayres: Alan Lowe, I heard you say you've been here forever. You've seen a lot happen in Palm Coast. You know a lot of people. But ... being here for so long, some people might look at it like, maybe somebody new, with fresh eyes, might bring something new to the community. ... Being here for so long, how is that an advantage?
It gives me the advantage because I understand the direction of the city, and I understand the direction that the people out here want the city to go.
It might not necessarily always work out that way, but knowing what the people want, being involved with the people, talking to people. I've knocked on, over time, I've probably knocked on 20,000 doors in Palm Coast, and I know, pretty much, what the ideals of the people are.
So being here for the length of time that I have been, I understand the direction that the city should go. I've seen before the overpass of 95 was here, and the benefit that it brought. I was here before Walmart, all those things were here, and I saw the benefit that they brought. It gives me the ability to see when something comes in, or when an idea is brought forward for something, looking back in history, the benefit that it would bring or the issues that it would bring.
Question by David Ayres: Theresa, I heard you say that you're an attorney; you go into a courtroom, you fight for people's rights. But as a City Council person, you're kind of more of the judge. You've seen some tough decisions that have been made here by the City Council that that maybe, emotionally, were very unpopular, but yet legally, the decisions had to be made, and they didn't make any friends for the people in that situation. So, kind of stepping back, being an attorney, and taking the seat of when you're up on the dais you're a judge, how will that change the way you approach things, from being an attorney, maybe, on the other side?
Theresa Carli Pontieri
I'm going to respectfully disagree with you. I think that I am an attorney advocating and fighting for my district, and everybody that is up there has a district they're representing, and I represent all of Palm Coast, but I have to keep a special frame of mind for my specific district; I'm being elected to represent what they need and what they want.
And what I can commit to the citizens is transparency. I can commit that if I make a decision that, perhaps, is not popular, like what happened with Waste Pro — I was there; it was heartbreaking to listen to the people there; it really was. I hope that they can all stay and work here for the new company that's coming in.
But at the end of the day, whatever decision I make, I will be very transparent with our citizens and explain exactly why that decision was made. And hey, sometimes, our hands are tied, because of what the charter says, what statutes say, so then it's incumbent upon us to change the law. We are legislators, we can do that.
It takes civil civic engagement, and it can take people from, perhaps, the county, perhaps the state, and that's where you have to engage in that interagency work and get things done. But I am an advocate. I am a fighter, not a judge. I don't look at the people that are up there in that manner, and I hope the citizens don't feel that way.
Question by David Ayres: Sims Jones: Here's a guy, lots of love for Sims in this community. You've been around a long time, you've got lots of friends, great pastor, you've touched a lot of lives. But being a City Councilman can be a pretty nasty job, and you've seen some pretty nasty situations that probably haven't happened in your church, would that be truthful to say?
I would say no, because these happened in the church just like they happen out here in the real world. Things do happen in the church. But basically what it is, is, you deal with situations.
And there's always a reason for something or a way of doing something. And I've always been around looking at the whole situation. So, whatever is coming up, whatever somebody's going through, I look at that whole situation, and then I deal with it accordingly.
Everything is looked at individually. I don't put things into a bucket or paint everything with the same brush; I have to look at it individually. This way, with me on the City Council, whatever comes before the City Council, I'm going to make sure I look at every aspect around it and deal with it the best way we can for the citizens of Palm Coast.
Question by Brian McMillan: So in the final set of our set of getting-to-know-you questions ... a couple of you have been in the news, and I wanted to make sure that if people are curious about those issues, that you have a chance to respond to them. Theresa, for example: In 2021, you were the Sheriff's Office's attorney, and you resigned, and the sheriff accepted the resignation. And he wrote an explanation of that, saying that some of the comments that you made publicly were, quote, "racially insensitive." If people are concerned about that, can you explain what what your view is on that issue?
Theresa Carli Pontieri
Certainly, and I actually thank you for the opportunity to explain that. So I want to, first of all, state that my time at the Sheriff's Office, albeit short, was fantastic — and I very much enjoyed working with Flagler County Sheriff's Office. And I think that we are lucky, very lucky, to have Sheriff Staly, the administrative staff, all of the Sheriff's Office; they do a fantastic job.
There's definitely no hard feelings, and I think, honestly, that everything happens for a reason, and if what happened then did not happen, I wouldn't be here, and I'm very happy to be here in front of you folks today, doing this.
So I did make some comments that were specifically critical of BLM, the national organization, and I stand behind my comments.
I think that a lot of what happened with regard to that national organization was detrimental to our police force, to our first responders, and it caused a lot of divisiveness in this country.
I feel very strongly that people have a right to protest. We have a right to social justice and fairness in the law. Absolutely. No questions asked.
But BLM, the national organization, did some very toxic things, and it caused a lot of divisiveness, a lot of violence, millions of dollars in damage to our country. And for people to sit by and be afraid to speak up because of the repercussions that can come down on them? I think it's a darn shame in this country.
And so I stand behind my comments. They could have been done more tactfully; of course, we always learn lessons, and that's a lesson I still learn; sometimes I have to bite my tongue because I want to be very transparent, very candid, and you can't always be like that — especially in politics.
But I respect the decision the sheriff made. I absolutely understand why he made it, and I don't ever want him or anybody else, anybody in the community, to think that his decision is anything that I doubted was in the best interests of the city, because at the end of the day, I absolutely think it is.
Question by Brian McMillan: Alan Lowe, in the 1990s, you filed paperwork to renounce your U.S. citizenship, and then you challenged whether you had to pay your federal taxes. So that was in the news a few years ago; you've run for office before. Would you like to address any of that and give this audience, and the radio audience, your side of that story?
I thank you very much for that. As was just mentioned, we have a right to peaceful protest. That paperwork was a peaceful protest on my part. The thing about renouncing my citizenship — here's the past 30 years of my passports. I never gave up my citizenship.
Rumors were out there also that I had a criminal background. This is my FDLE background report. I've never been arrested for anything.
So a lot of what you hear was other candidate attacks, because when you can't cut down a person's platform, they try to cut down the person — and I don't have any more room for knives in my back for the stuff that was thrown at me in the past, which ended up being not necessarily true.
I was audited by the IRS. They said I owed them a bunch of money. We came to an agreement; they reneged on the agreement, and basically, I said if that's the way you're going to be, I don't want anything to do with it. It was a protest that I made.
But as you can see, I have the passports, I have no criminal background, and it was mostly just campaign blah blah from other people that couldn't beat a platform. But I do take responsibility for anything that is true.
HOUSING AND GROWTH
Question by Brian McMillan: This question was submitted by Greg Blosé, the CEO and President of the Palm Coast-Flagler Regional Chamber of Commerce. ... What role, if any, should the government have in promoting or restricting affordable housing — which may include multifamily housing?
First of all, I like to say that there is a difference between affordable housing and low-income housing, because too many people interchange those two terminologies.
I believe that we should have some affordable housing for essential workers. To give you a perfect example, we've got two ... hospitals coming here to Palm Coast. That's a lot of employees that will be working there.
But right now, those people who are going to be working in those hospitals won't be able to afford a lot of the housing that is here in Flagler County. So we need to have some affordable housing for essential workers to be able to live. These are people who work for a job, and they should have affordable housing.
Question by Brian McMillan: So can you explain what role should the government have in trying to make sure that there is affordable housing?
Well, right now, there's such a shortage of housing nationwide. And the price of housing has gone so far, so high, people can't afford to live.
We have families that are, right now, living three generations in one house because they can't afford housing.
You know, they tried low-income housing before where the government was helping pay for Section 8 and all of that — those things didn't work, because it was just giving people money to stay.
But if you give somebody a someplace to live, and they're working to live, it's better for everybody around. That's why I say: affordable housing for people who want to work.
Question by Brian McMillan: So should the government help provide that affordable housing, or should government incentives and tax dollars be used to make it more affordable?
Sims Jones: I think maybe the government should help with some incentives, some of the builders, to build some of these affordable housing units — give them tax cuts and give them incentives to help do that, so they can help build the community. Don't just put it on the government, but let it go to the government and the community work together.
Question by Brian McMillan: Thank you so much. Theresa, do you agree with that?
Theresa Carli Pontieri
I do not. I hate openly saying that I disagree, because I do agree with some of what you said, Mr. Sims. ... I agree with the fact that we should have workforce housing. We need it. We need it for our nurses, our first responders, our teachers. Absolutely, we need affordable housing.
However, as a conservative, I'm a fan of small government. So I don't believe that incentives and tax dollars should be used for builders who are already making a killing, quite honestly.
But rather, when the government has the ability to grant zoning variances and dedicate certain land to certain projects, we have to keep in mind what is coming to Palm Coast. For instance: hospitals, distribution centers. If those types of things are coming, and we know that ground is going to be broken, say, in three years, we have to plan for that as far as housing is concerned.
Our workforce deserves to live and play in Palm Coast. There's no doubt about it. What we have to make sure is that we're abiding by the Comprehensive Plan that's been put in place, we're abiding by the Strategic Action Plan that has a very good vision for our city, and we are providing proper housing — not overdevelopment, but the proper amount of housing based on the workforce that's going to be needed to run those companies and those facilities. And when we engage in that, that's called "smart growth."
Question by Brian McMillan: When you say "providing," who is providing it? Is the government involved in providing something?
Theresa Carli Pontieri
No, but what we're seeing right now is ... year-to-date, there's been 21 permits that have been granted to builders; 11 of those have been commercial, 10 have been residential, three have been multifamily.
That is based on what we know is coming, from the commercial side. So in City Council, specifically, its job is to make sure that they're approving those types of projects when we know we're going to get certain commercial businesses or public services headed our way.
Question by Brian McMillan: Eddie Banquinho, member of the City Council, recently walked out of a meeting, because he felt that there was ... I'm not going to fully represent what Eddie Branquinho said, but this tension over multifamily housing — should the government approve the zoning for it? Does that mean that the government should be trying to approve the right amount of zoning so that there's enough multifamily housing?
Theresa Carli Pontieri
I was at that meeting, and it was very upsetting to see a council person walk out of a room rather than trying to engage in a respectful discourse and work out what is clearly a very big issue for our citizens.
Again, I don't think that there needs to be any pushing for anything. What we need to do is plan. We need to know that in six years — everybody keeps talking about a "Mercedes plan": Let's say in six years, Mercedes is coming here. Well, how many workers is Mercedes going to need for its workforce?
Then, from there, we can plan what needs to break ground by XYZ years. So it's just a matter of planning for the city — not allowing overdevelopment, but making sure that the people who can't afford a $500,000 home don't have to travel and spend their money and their play time outside of our county.
Question by Brian McMillan: So if I own land that is zoned not for multifamily, and I want it to be zoned for multifamily so that I can do that, because I know there's a hospital coming, would you feel like that's a good idea, and we should rezone this land to allow multifamily to happen, because we need more multifamily housing?
Theresa Carli Pontieri
Well, what I can tell you is that I will never be a rubber stamp for developers. Everything that comes across my desk, I will look at what the need is, and if it doesn't provide a net benefit to the city, I won't approve it.
But if I know, or we as a council know, that we're going to need this in the future, then — possibly. But it would depend on the facts; I can't answer, generally speaking, whether I would say yes or no.
Question by Brian McMillan: Alan Lowe ... at the City Council meetings you've seen, there's a multifamily rezoning available that the city has to vote on, and tens of people, sometimes, will come up and say, "Please do not rezone this to multifamily, because I live right by there, and I do not want multifamily right right next to me." You're on the City Council. The city staff is telling you this is all legal; you have no justification legally to deny it, but you know that some of these people are saying, "We do not want this next to us." What do you do in that situation?
Well, first let me go back to the beginning of the question, then I will answer your second. I think the government's role is to smartly manage development — and within existing zoning. I'm not a big proponent of rezoning, say, commercial into residential.
We just discussed, a minute ago, about future companies coming here, and do we present affordable housing for those workers? It's difficult to have companies coming here if we rezone all of the commercial property into residential property — be it multifamily or whatever type.
So I think there needs to be a balance drawn somewhere, and I think economic development — we need to promote a positive business atmosphere so that we know what businesses might come here, so that we can then plan for the affordable housing. So I have an issue with rezoning from commercial to residential.
One thing that we do have in our favor coming up is the property west of Route 1. That property is going to be annexed in, it's not currently under a master plan, and there's no reason why we couldn't take specific areas out there and rezone it for affordable housing.
And the mayor the other day changed the wording a little bit at the City Council meeting, and he said, rather than "affordable housing," maybe it should be "attainable housing."
So maybe in this area of east of Route 1 Palm Coast, it's a two-car garage, it's a certain square footage of home, and so forth.
Maybe we can have zoned areas that won't affect existing neighborhoods, where we can have a one-car garage and a smaller home that reduces the price enough to make it attainable.
To your question, if it's legal and there's no way around something, I would defer to the to the City Council counsel, the city attorney, that they can give us direction on that. And if there's no way around it, there's no way around it; I'd rather the city not be sued.
Question by David Ayres: Alan, you brought up the west of U.S. 1, which is the new frontier for Palm Coast. Do we all agree on that? So if a developer would come to you, Sims ... if the developer would come to you, and you're on the City Council, and say, "Hey, I want to start a tiny house community out west, where it is affordable." ... I mean, it's kind of crazy, but at the same time — that's affordable, and maybe somewhere between tiny and mid-size, like cottages that don't have to have two-car garages and 100-foot lot lines and things like that — would you as a councilman ... be open to listen to developers come forth with communities that don't look anything like Palm Coast right now?
I would be for it. Because any area, if you just lock yourself in one type of housing or the way the area looks, you are taking away from that area.
So I would be open to other sizes of buildings, multi-floors or multi-apartments, because there are people who don't want a house. There are people who don't want the responsibility of mowing a lawn and whatever; they just want something that they can go to, live in and be happy with.
So we have to look at those people also, the same as we look at everybody else. So I would be for it, yes, and then if in another area, in one of these types of housing, there are people who are willing to move in, I would be all for it.
Question by David Ayres: Theresa Carli Pontieri ... would it degrade Flagler County, in a way, if suddenly we had perceived ... trailer park communities and things, and we're ruining the west side; we have this great new frontier where we can build something awesome, and we junk it up with stuff like that —what would your comment be on that?
Theresa Carli Pontieri
Well I won't assume it would junk it up, but I would think that whatever development we approve, it does need to fit in with the overall comprehensive strategic plan that we as citizens have come to enjoy.
And that's a certain level of community, and that requires a certain level of service — which, when we're talking about some of these communities where smaller lot lines, and, perhaps, multifamily, trailer parks ... sometimes that does come with extra crime, and what that requires is extra law enforcement and that requires extra tax money.
So if we're keeping in kind of a cohesive idea of the type of development that we have come to enjoy and appreciate in the city, we need to make every effort to stay in that vein.
That doesn't mean that something would absolutely get vetoed, but, generally speaking, I think that we need to stay in the single-family vein as much as we can, albeit when multifamily housing is required for workforce, again, we go back to that plan for what's required, and not overdevelop that.
Question by David Ayres: Alan Lowe ... What do you see, what's your vision, for "Palm Coast west," whatever we're going to call it out there; I don't even know if there's a name for it yet. But how do you see it solving the problem — or would it — for low-income or affordable housing, or "attainable housing"?
First off, your comment a moment ago about trailer parks: I am an appraisal inspection for — call them mobile homes, manufactured homes.
There are manufactured homes right now that sell for $200,000-plus. They aren't the vision that people have of an old trailer park anymore. That lifestyle has changed. Lot rent in one of the trailer parks, mobile home parks — "mobile home community," as it's called now, or manufactured home community — in St. Augustine, the lot rent's over $1,000.
So if you purchase a $200,000 manufactured home with a mortgage, you're paying $1,200 a month, and then you have a lot rent of $1,000 a month, we're talking $2,200 roughly right there. We're not talking about "trailer park" that most people have in their mind.
My vision that I would like to see on the west side is, as I mentioned earlier, perhaps we could zone for a smaller home footprint. And with that, I'd like to see shopping centers and so forth out there so that travel doesn't have to be so much in Palm Coast.
I think that if we had the zoning, that you could have, let's say, corner neighborhood stores, a bakery, a pharmacy, a doctor's office or whatever. In various areas, we would spider-web traffic out, instead of having a central area where you get congestion because traffic comes in.
If you have an affordable home area, or an "attainable home" as the mayor likes to say now, and you have shopping closer to that home — you cut down on driving, you cut down on expenses, and I think people could attain it a lot better.
One thing I would like to say, because I've heard this a few times, and it bothers me: When we started talking about affordable housing and affordable homes and smaller places, the first thing I hear is,"Crime is going up."
That is a fallacy. That is a lie. That's what people use because they try to keep affordable housing from coming into a certain area.
Crime doesn't go up because you have apartments. Crime doesn't go up because you move a trailer park area comes in here. Crime goes up because crime goes up everywhere.
But just because you put low-income housing somewhere, it's not going to make crime go up.
So we need to stop talking about, when we talk about low-income housing or affordable housing, that crime is going up. That's a fallacy. It's a lie. It's what people are using because they don't want it [affordable housing] in their neighborhood.
TAXES AND GOVERNMENT SPENDING
Question by Brian McMillan: Speaking of crime, I have a prediction that in the next few years, Sheriff Rick Staly is going to ask for more deputies. There's also going to be more requests for parks. And we know from a recent city presentation that the city needs to spend a lot more money to repave its roads than it's currently doing, otherwise we're going to be in big, big trouble. Also, there's a lot of government employees that are getting, possibly, better salaries in other industries or in other cities, so there's pressure to give raises to city employees to keep the staff together. So, my question to each of you is, do you foresee having to raise taxes in the city? And, if not, then what would you think we can get more efficient on, or what part of the budget would you cut? Do you think you're going to have to raise taxes, and if not, then how not?
First off, we 100% have to make sure that our Sheriff's Department, Fire Department, paramedics, are fully funded, because that is the safety net that we have as a city. So, I'm aware that Sheriff Staly currently is looking for, I believe, it's five additional deputies.
With the population increases we have coming, I see no reason to not look for a way to supply the funding for those five additional deputies. We have to stay ahead of the curve of population. If we fall back, it's a fix-after-failure situation, and it's going to cost far more.
As far as raising taxes for the roads, the Public Works Department has stated that over the past few years, they've got something like $1.6 million in their budget when they needed $8 million in their budget. So, we have a huge road maintenance shortfall that needs to be made up somewhere.
We're going to have to take some hard stances on different issues, and we may have to make some cuts in different ways — perhaps the pickleball court amenity, like I've talked about, although now it doesn't come out of the general fund. But issues that do affect the general fund, we might have to cut back on those for a short term in order to supply road maintenance repair.
Question by Brian McMillan: Can you give an example of anything that you think could be reduced?
Well, they took the wind out of my sails when they took the $900,000 out of the budget for the pickleball court. But, for instance, we have another — I'll call it a boondoggle — going on right now in Holland Park with the splash pad. What are we going to do with the splash pad? I've heard estimates upwards of a million dollars to fix it. Maybe it would be much better to be a putt-putt golf place, and we bulldoze it over.
It's a nice thing, but can we afford to keep those types of things going when we need additional sheriffs, we're going to need additional firemen, we're going to need additional paramedics? Our roads — you know, it's not like up north where we have frost heaves and the roads' potholes, you lose a car in them. But our roads are in trouble, and we're going to need to find the money someplace to maintain them.
Theresa Carli Pontieri
Yes, this was absolutely correct, in that in the current budget workshop that was just this week, the Flagler County Sheriff's Office has asked for five more deputies. Also, the Fire Department has asked for two more firefighter-EMTs, and we're going to need an apparatus, because you have to order those two years out in order to get them when you need them. So we do have to be proactive in how we're spending money.
I'm a fiscal conservative. I want to scrutinize our budget and look at how we can pinch every single penny within the confines of the money that's being brought in. I will do everything in my power to not raise taxes.
Furthermore, I think if we can cut some red tape and some bureaucracy, that's where we can save some money. There's way too many industries and businesses that are going to Bunnell to open, rather than opening right here in Palm Coast, because we've got a little too much red tape, and that costs money: Red tape costs money. So that's definitely a way that we can cut taxes.
Question by Brian McMillan: Can you think of an example of anything that you would cut? Any regulation?
Theresa Carli Pontieri
Well, just the steps that someone has to take in certain industries to open up a business. ... I don't want to throw any certain industry under the bus, but I talk to business owners all the time who say, "Well, I opened right on the border of Palm Coast and Bunnell, because it was just easier; it cost less money." And if you're a small business owner, which I am, it's expensive to start a business: Most of them fail in the first three years. So kudos to you, Mr. Lowe, for even having a successful business. It's hard; my husband and I do it.
But I will always make sure our public services, our public safety, is funded, and try to work within the confines of that budget. And, not for nothing, as our population increases, obviously, costs increase as well.
One of the reasons we're keeping, or it's been proposed to keep, the ad valorem taxes where they are, rather than doing a rollback, is because we need that extra $5 million that's going to come from keeping the taxes where we they are, rather than granting a rollback.
We do — we need an extra $5 million. We need it for our public services, for our public safety, and for some of the other things, the services, that the citizens have come to enjoy, and that high level of city service that we've come to enjoy.
Well, I wouldn't raise any of the taxes on our residents, but I think one of our biggest problems is — and I’m going to probably get hung — we have too many mom-and-pops. We have a whole lot of restaurants, and we have a whole lot of real estates and a whole lot of banks.
We need some businesses to come here to increase our business tax base. Then, when we have that tax money, then we'll be able to do better.
But our largest employer is still the school system, and we've got to get some businesses in here to get some people some jobs and to increase our tax base.
When we do that, then we will have the funds that we need to support all of the costs that we have for the city. But we've got to stop thinking about having another little grandma grocery store coming or something. We've got to get real business here. We've got to get real jobs here. We've got to get a real tax base here.
I'd like to say that I agree on the point that we need bigger business coming here. I disagree on the mom-and-pop thing; I think that's the backbone of our economy. But we had a chance to have the Amazon distribution center. It's in Deltona. I think that was almost 1,000 jobs.
We had a chance, potentially, to have Costco here. They pay their cashiers, I think their starting pay is 16 bucks an hour. Now one is being built up on 16 in St. Augustine, and one is being built down by the Speedway in Daytona, over the top of us. That's a sad situation.
We do need to have big business come here. And I've been saying for a few years now that out in our industrial park — not the city, but out in our industrial park, the Hargrove industrial park, at the far end of it — there is a railroad, and we have a railroad spur that goes to a company out at the end out there. I have spoken with some financial people who have connections with the railroad, and it would cost — this is a couple of years old, so I'm going to double the number now — it will cost about $6 million to increase the spur and bring it a little further down into the industrial park.
Out in California, we have rocket parts being made and shipped across the United States and down to NASA. Why don't we have some of those companies headhunted, brought here, bring that spur in, and transportation time and costs from going all the way across the United States and down to NASA, would boil down to about 90 minutes on a train out of Hargrove Grade?
So, yes, we need economic development. And that will bring up a point where, maybe, the attainable housing, affordable housing, will be much easier to be obtained by people that are making much better money by having bigger companies.
Question by Brian McMillan: So I you had to give one lsat pitch, why should we vote for you?
First of all, again, I'd like to thank you and the sponsors for hosting this, and I hope that all of you that came tonight have gotten a little bit more understanding so that you can be a more informed voter. As a concerned citizen, as I mentioned earlier, I'm also a tenacious fighter, and I have fought at the podium in City Hall, time and time and time again, dozens of times, for the citizens of Palm Coast.
I don't think we need increased taxes to put a burden on fixed-income people when we have this hyperinflation going on. You know, people are happy that gas prices are dropping below five bucks in some areas — what kind of insanity is that? Not too long ago, it was below two bucks.
So I have stood at the podium as a concerned citizen, I have made three wins that are identified as a concerned citizen, and I have brought your voice to the podium in City Hall. And when you vote me in, I will be your voice in City Hall. Please vote Alan Lowe. Thank you
Theresa Carli Pontieri
So quickly, I just want to touch on the commercial atmosphere that we currently live in, because I agree that we need some bigger businesses here.
But anybody who has worked or been a developer or a builder, the number one thing you look at — how many roofs are going to shop in my business? So we have to really look at the Comprehensive Plan, we have to look at our Strategic Action Plan, and most importantly, the city has to communicate to the citizens what that plan is.
And that is something that I really, really want to improve on. I want to have town halls, I want to have the opportunity for citizens to ask these types of questions and to engage. Because if you look at the Comprehensive Plan, there is a plan to bring in some of these high-level commercial businesses, but you can't get them in the door to spend money in our city if we don't have the people for that ROI, for that return on investment, to be there.
You can't be in a silo. This takes a full, comprehensive approach. It takes looking at things from the forest and not getting lost in the trees, and we really need somebody with that type of outlook, that type of perspective, and that type of business mind — and keeping in mind also what's best for the citizens, keeping in mind all of these things and looking at this as a comprehensive forest and not being lost in the trees.
Thank you so much for putting this on, and also thank you all for being here. I just want to leave you with this: I'm a fighter. I've always been a hard worker. I always say I'm never the smartest person in the room on at least one subject, but I don't get out-worked.
I will work hard for you, I will be prepared for City Council meetings, I will read the literature that's put in front of me. I won't make decisions based on emotion. I will make them based on fact — fact-based, researched decisions that benefit our community.
Well, I'm just going to say that I'm you — I am you. You elect me, you have a voice. You elect me, and I will do the very best I can for you.
I can't say that enough, because I believe the greatest thing in Palm Coast is the people of Palm Coast. And I think that the people of Palm Coast have not been represented the right way by the City Council.
So I want to be that representation on the City Council for you, so that you no longer will feel that you're not being represented, you no longer feel that you don't have a voice, you no longer feel that how you feel things aren't getting done. Because with me on the City Council, you will get what you want done, because I will not be working for me, I will be working for you — plain and simple. I'm all about you: For the people, by the people and of the people.