Turkey list: Flagler emergency shelter project slapped with Florida TaxWatch ‘Budget Turkey’ label

Flagler County Emergency Management FB 1
Flagler’s Director of Emergency Management says the project doesn't deserve the label.

A $10 million earmark for the development of an up-to-current-standards shelter in Flagler County should be deleted from Florida’s proposed budget, Florida TaxWatch says.

The Tallahassee-based nonprofit just released its 2024 Budget Turkey Watch Report featuring 450 appropriations projects totaling $854.6 million its members believe should be nixed.

The Flagler shelter project is the priciest of 13 housing and community development proposals Florida TaxWatch identified as better financed through competitive state or federal grants, not Florida’s general fund.

But Flagler’s Director of Emergency Management, Jonathan Lord, said the county needs the shelter as soon as possible to protect residents sufficiently. He also noted the shelter would be on state property and, as such, would appropriately be funded with state dollars.

According to November appropriation requests from Palm Coast Sen. Travis Hutson and Jacksonville Rep. Kiyan Michael, the proposed facility would serve as a dedicated emergency shelter and fulfill Flagler’s need for a special needs shelter as outlined under Florida’s Statewide Emergency Shelter Plan.

“It will also serve as a disaster resource site for the county and can be used to support other counties as a host shelter, when Flagler is not directly impacted,” the requests said, adding that the structure could host various community events when not under emergency use.

The facility would serve as a larger, hardier replacement of the Cattleman’s Hall community center on the Flagler County Fairgrounds in Bunnell. When not in emergency use, it would serve as a special needs shelter supporting University of Florida agriculture programs, fair events and expos, among other things.

And it’s needed, Lord said. Flagler has seen rapid population growth in recent years like many other counties in the state. But according to the most recent census, a disproportionate share of Flagler’s new residents are retirees 64 and older.

While fine for residents who prefer less rambunctiousness, Lord said that presents a problem in safeguarding locals during storms, since school buildings are frequently used in Florida as makeshift hurricane shelters and no new ones are coming anytime soon to Flagler.

“Our population is growing. Our risk is growing, but we’re not getting what other communities are getting with their growth,” he said.

“So, we’re trying to find other solutions in our community to (meet the state’s emergency shelter requirements), and the only option we really have are community center-type facilities. But in Flagler County, all of our community facilities were built 20-30 years or even longer ago. We cannot put people in them when hurricanes are passing through.”

The solution that Lord and others devised was to harden Cattleman’s Hall to hurricane code and broaden its physical coverage to up to 15,000 square feet, with improved on-site drainage, elevated parking and better access to and from the facility. It would serve both Flagler’s approximately 130,000 residents and evacuees from other counties.

And notably, the existing structure targeted for upgrades sits on state land the county is leasing.

“It’s a county facility, but it’s on state property. So, at the end of the day if the state ever took the property back, they would get whatever building we put on it back from us,” he said. “We don’t think that’s ever going to happen. I think the county would continue to take care of it in perpetuity — we’ve had it for decades; it’s one of those 99-year lease deals — but we have to do it with the state’s permission.”


Editor’s note: An earlier version of this report said the project would upgrade Cattleman’s Hall. The project, if funded, would replace the building.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


  • Dont Say FLA

    May 15, 2024 at 12:11 pm

    The so-called turkeys didn’t follow the normal budget process. That’s it. That’s all. Turkeyness isn’t commentary on worthiness.

    Perhaps the turkey list should be renamed as the Nepo Baby List so people know items got where they got due to reasons other than their own merit (or lack thereof)?

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    May 15, 2024 at 12:22 pm

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  • Ugly Article

    May 16, 2024 at 2:17 pm

    This is state property that is being improved. Its being placed in a poor community that has no access to a school or emergency shelter- furthermore, the building is used over 200 days a year by the farmers, cattleman, 4H, FAA and University of Florida Ag extension that is next door in a fifty year old building. This is a heartless hit piece. Don’t take your anger against Renner and Hutson out on the residents of Flagler County.

Comments are closed.


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