Palm Coast council debates merits of adopting rolled-back millage rate

Reducing the millage rate would mean less revenue to pay for city services, including a 22% increase to the Flagler Sheriff's Office's contract and a 9% increase to the fire department's expenditures.

Palm Coast Vice Mayor Ed Danko. File photo
Palm Coast Vice Mayor Ed Danko. File photo
  • Palm Coast Observer
  • News
  • Share

The Palm Coast City Council will need to adopt a maximum millage rate on July 18 for the upcoming budget, but the council members are torn between decreasing the rate and ensuring city programs are well funded.

For the 2025 fiscal year budget, the city has put together a $61.5 million budget based on a millage rate of 4.2570 mills. A millage rate determines how much a property owner will pay in property taxes.

While the proposed rate is the same as the rolled-back millage rate the council adopted in 2023, property values have increased 13.6%, according to data from the Flagler County Property Appraiser's office that was presented to the council on July 9.

Vice Mayor Ed Danko said he wants the council to adopt a rolled-back millage rate of 3.9961 mills, which would keep residents' property tax the same as in the previous year. 

"Our job is to protect our taxpayers, and our taxpayers have been hurt enough this year," Danko said. 

To adopt the rolled-back rate would mean to make cuts to the proposed $61.5 million budget. But the increases to the budget also include increases to the Flagler County Sheriff's Office contract with Palm Coast and the Palm Coast Fire Department. 

The Sheriff's Office has a proposed budget of $8.9 million for its contract with the city. This is a $1.6 million — or 22% — increase over the previous year, and includes a contractual increase as well as funding for nine new deputies. 

Meanwhile the proposed budget for the PCFD is $14.3 million, a 9.4% increase. Fire Chief Kyle Berryhill said this increase budgets for three positions, EMT to paramedic promotions, annual salary increases and training needs. 

The budget also does not include several positions that went unfunded in the 2024 budget. At the end of the budget presentation, Acting City Manager Lauren Johnston said there was about $615,000 the city could use in one of several ways: either by partially funding those positions, sending the money to the Streets Pavement Program, decrease the millage rate by .0643 or just add the funds to the general fund. 

Johnson said each of the options were tied to the council's strategic action priorities. 

Council members Nick Klufas and Theresa Carli Pontieri both pointed out the city would not see a lot of benefit from adding the funds to the paving program, because of how costly it is to pave 

Pontieri said she would like to see the funding go to putting more "boots on the ground" in the city — not just law enforcement, but general maintenance and staff positions.

"I think that it's really important that our residents see everything from more law enforcement to more groundskeepers to more people just out doing what our city does best, which is make our city beautiful, increase the quality of life," she said.

Mayor David Alfin said he would ideally like to see a combination of funding additional city positions and decreasing the millage rate, but Danko said he didn't feel it was the council's place to choose one of those options. 

Our biggest responsibility is rolling back that millage rate and then letting our CEO and her staff figure out where to make cuts, where to spend money, how to budget it."

ED DANKO, Palm Coast Vice Mayor

The city, he said, is similar to a business, with the council functioning as a board of directors, and the city manager as the CEO, with the department heads underneath. The council, he said, should be setting the expectation — or, what the millage rate should be — and the city manager and department heads should make what ever cuts or adjustments needed to meet that expectation.

The council does not know what the specific needs of each department is to make the best decision, he said.

"It's so hard for us to micromanage everything," Danko said. "We don't work in each department. We don't know what each need is."

Danko said by adopting the rolled-back millage rate, it will provide some relief to residents who have been hurt by cost of living increases he attributed to "Biden-nomics and the administration in Washington." 

"Our biggest responsibility is rolling back that millage rate and then letting our CEO and her staff figure out where to make cuts, where to spend money, how to budget it," he said.

Pontieri said it is easy to just say to cut the budget but then the city has to decide what to cut to make a rollback work. A lot of the increase in the fiscal year budget, she said, is for public safety. 

I would love to support a full rollback, [but] how do we get there?"

— THERESA CARLI PONTIERI, Palm Coast City Council member

Pontieri said that she isn't willing to sacrifice public safety, and, from what she's heard from residents, "neither is the public."

"I would love to support a full rollback," Pontieri said, "[but] how do we get there?"

The public also wants more transparency in the budget, Pontieri said. 

"I think the approach that staff has taken has been a direct result of what they've heard from this dais and what they've heard from the public, which is, we want to know where the dollars and cents are going," Pontieri said.

Council member Cathy Heighter asked Johnson what impacts adopting a rolled-back millage rate would have on the budget and residents. Johnson said adopting a rolled-back rate means city priorities would be delayed, additional staffing positions would remain unfunded and the city would need to reevaluate the the additional deputy positions requested by the FCSO.

The question then, Heighter said, becomes what is the city willing to sacrifice.

"Are we willing to sacrifice those things in lieu of making sure that we have our safety and making sure that we have our fire department operating up to speed," she said.


Latest News


Your free article limit has been reached this month.
Subscribe now for unlimited digital access to our award-winning local news.