St Johns County could learn from Flagler on budget and administrator


300-PINK-SLIP-TEA-BUDGETIf anyone in the St Johns County Administrative Palace is paying attention to our neighbors to the south, in an article that appeared in this morning’s Daytona News Journal, Historic City News learned that the Board of County Commissioners in Bunnell are trying to reduce the property tax rate in Flagler County.

That’s right, Flagler County has made lowering property tax rates a “budgetary goal” and at Monday’s workshop, Flagler County Administrator, Craig Coffey, proposed decreasing the tax rate from $7.99 per $1,000 of taxable value to $7.98. It might not sound like much of a decrease, however, it reveals a lot about the thinking of the administration.

Coffey is paid $141,400, and a car allowance. The commission has not increased his pay in four years and his contract has been extended; from as few as one-year in 2010, to two-years in 2011, and then three-years through February 2016. He was almost fired during a county commission meeting in 2010 when, then Commissioner Milissa Holland, was only able to raise two-of-three votes necessary to terminate him. He was spared by one vote and offered the one-year contract renewal as a compromise. He was obviously motivated by the reality of termination, and is now thinking more like a “tax-payer” instead of a “tax-spender”.

St Johns County Administrator, Michael Wanchick; is paid $170,000 in salary, plus benefits-a-plenty, including a car allowance, special health care and life insurance as well as enhanced retirement, not offered to regular St Johns County employees. In stark contrast to Craig Coffey sits Wanchick; who begins the public budget process every year by preparing the residents for millage rate increases — the only question ever seems to be “how much?”

But, in fairness, look at Wanchick’s employment contract compared to Coffey’s, and tell me how he is motivated to think more like a “tax-payer” instead of a “tax-spender”.

Without any advance public notice whatsoever, current Chairman John “Jay” Morris, added an item, from the dais, to the September 17, 2013 County Commission meeting — holding Wanchick’s annual performance evaluation and review of his compensation. While possibly explaining why the matter was slipped in under the radar without public scrutiny, on a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner McClure objecting, the Board voted to award Wanchick an additional 14% pay increase.

Wanchick refused a request by McClure to surrender a controversial severance provision in his contract — a provision that would be illegal if attempted today. Under current Florida Law, the maximum severance a public official can command is six-month’s pay — thanks to Ray Quinn, Mark Miner, Ron Sanchez, and Joseph “Ken” Bryan, Wanchick enjoys an unheard of three-year’s pay as severance, and a contract that runs through 2017.

400-SpicerBryanSanchezQuinn, Miner, Sanchez and Bryan, all of whom are now out-of-office, with the exception of Sanchez, burdened the county taxpayers with a contract that bound future commissions to keep the former commission’s choice of administrator — under duress and penalty of about a half-million-dollar severance obligation. Cyndi Stevenson was the only objector to the original contract with Michael David Wanchick.

The general fund budget proposed in Flagler County is $68.7 million, and Property Appraiser, Jay Gardner, estimated that property values in Flagler County, as of June 1, have increased 4.7 percent. Part of the proposed budget covers a 1 percent cost-of-living increase for county employees. Commission Chairman George Hanns told reporters yesterday that the county is trying to give back to employees.

“We are always enthusiastic when we can lower the (tax rate),” Hanns said. “We also need to appreciate our employees.”