Where do the candidates running for Mayor stand on the issues that impact Palm Coast businesses? The Palm Coast-Flagler Regional Chamber’s Government Affairs Committee has created a candidate questionnaire, shared the questionnaire with everybody running for office, and below are the side-by-side, unedited answers.

Candidate Background (Click Here)

David Alfin: www.alfinformayor.com

Doug Courtney: www.courtneyformayor.com

Cornelia Downing Manfre: www.cornelia4palmcoast.com

*Did Not Respond: Alan Lowe, Kathy Austrino, Carol Bacha

Economic Development: What is your assessment of the City of Palm Coast’s economic development efforts? (Click Here)

David Alfin: “The efforts are underserved and insufficient to keep pace with the accelerating city growth.”

Doug Courtney: “Too mired in tradition. Needs to change and update. Scattered not focused.”

Cornelia Downing Manfre: “The City and County have been without leadership in Economic Development for quite some time. I believe a collaborative effort should be made to establish a new department and coordination between the City and County so that requests for the area are responded to efficiently and a new marketing plan be established to reach the State and national companies.”

*Did Not Respond: Alan Lowe, Kathy Austrino, Carol Bacha

Economic Development: If elected as Mayor, how would you approach economic development? Please share your economic development priorities. (Click Here)

David Alfin: “I propose the creation of an Economic Development Council dedicated to identifying economic gaps, locating business candidates, facilitating relocation and start-up.”

Doug Courtney:With an understanding this is a retirement community.  Was created as one and people bought into Palm Coast as retirees. Would be more interested in economics that emphasized work at home. Less interested in more restaurants, would like more choice in products. Like the idea of decentralized business districts each with unique character.

Cornelia Downing Manfre: “With a low commercial base, it is imperative to attract commercial businesses to the area. An experienced director with marketing and negotiating abilities should be hired. I believe a statewide marketing plan should be in place and the ability to market outside of the area to strategic categories.”

*Did Not Respond: Alan Lowe, Kathy Austrino, Carol Bacha

Higher Education: What is your assessment of the city’s recent efforts to strengthen higher education in Palm Coast? (Click Here)

David Alfin: “Flagship programs are leading edge and innovative offering different career and learning paths consistent with regional employer needs. The Flagship programs have earned national and international recognition for building a link between school district and community business partners.”

Cornelia Downing Manfre: “The attraction of University of North Florida and University of Jacksonville has been a huge boost to the Town Center and the future for students in Flagler to attend those universities here in Palm Coast. I believe in public/private partnerships that assist in bringing in additional educational groups to the area.”

Doug Courtney:Encouraging. Need more emphasis. Higher education attracts the types of businesses Palm Coast  has sought. Eventually would like to see a main campus in the city.

*Did Not Respond: Alan Lowe, Kathy Austrino, Carol Bacha

Taxes/Budget/Spending: What is your assessment of the City of Palm Coast’s budget efforts during the pandemic? (Click Here)

David Alfin: “City was proactive and conservative in planning budgets facing unknown timelines and expenses related to pandemic.”

Cornelia Downing Manfre: “Under the circumstances, they did the best they could. I believe a complete review of the future spending will need to be made not knowing what will change in the next twelve months as we recover economically.”

Doug Courtney:Better than most, less than some. It was a unique hopefully one-time event. Difficult to evaluate or assess against the backdrop of the unknown. Final judgement will be provided by future results.

*Did Not Respond: Alan Lowe, Kathy Austrino, Carol Bacha

Taxes/Budget/Spending: How would you describe your approach to adopting the upcoming city budget? Do you have any budget priorities that you would like to call attention to? (Click Here)

David Alfin: “Important to ‘hold the line’ on taxes. All budget requests should be reviewed for ROI in terms of service and/or value. Not all ‘asks’ can be approved and should be prioritized and timed to balance a budget consistent with priorities supporting public safety, quality of life, and a strong economy.”

Cornelia Downing Manfre: “A complete review and hold on capital projects should be considered until the post pandemic effects are recognized and we plan spending accordingly. I will address the infrastructure needs, utility and services first then address capital outlay. A reserve should be made to have a fall back in case of reduced revenue.”

Doug Courtney:Pragmatic. We have to take care of what we have built. Swales, roads, bridges, medians all have to be maintained. I have no current budget priorities. I quite believe in being conservative in spending citizens money. We don’t have a credit card to used at will. Projects and expenses should be covered and enjoined but that doesn’t mean we should purchase every new idea or gadget.

*Did Not Respond: Alan Lowe, Kathy Austrino, Carol Bacha

Taxes/Budget/Spending: Please share your position on the discussions of a ½ cent sales tax increase by the County Commission.  How would you propose the City use the additional revenue collected by this increase in the sales tax? (Click Here)

David Alfin: “The City Council was unable to motion any decision, no longer relevant.”

Cornelia Downing Manfre: “I do not support the sale tax increase. If sales tax is approved by the County, then this revenue should be used to reduce debt and create a reserve.”

Doug Courtney:I am unsure of my position on the ½ cent sales tax increase. What is the purpose? Is it a need or a want? Is the increase required? If so, why? Is the increase in perpetuity or is there a sunset clause? Increasing taxes is a serious issue not to be done lightly. If we do have an increase will there be restrictions on its use? Will the funds go into the general fund? Can we use the funds to reduce property taxes? Or are we obligated to use the funds for specific purposes? Too many questions to give a proper response.

*DID NOT RESPOND: Alan Lowe, Cathy Austrino, Carol Bacha

Business Friendly: What is your assessment of the City of Palm Coast’s “Business Friendly” initiative? (Click Here)

David Alfin: Improvement can be made by introducing the Council for Economic Development.

Cornelia Downing Manfre: I believe we need to review the City’s procedures and regulations to assist in streamlining the City’s permit process. This also pertains to small business applications and the length of time it takes to obtain licenses.

Doug Courtney: It has been hampered by COVID and COVID protocols.  The ideas as stated in videos are good but have been difficult to implement.  I would like to see more emphasis on the initiative, more implementation of what is proposed. It is a beginning.

*DID NOT RESPOND: Alan Lowe, Cathy Austrino, Carol Bacha

Construction/Growth: Please share your perspectives on the rate of growth and development-related topics in the City of Palm Coast? (Click Here)

David Alfin: Smart managed growth is our best response to the accelerating arrival of new residents, new homes, and new business.

Cornelia Downing Manfre: We have several new projects proposed and again, the process should be stream lined, the review timing and process analyzed to see if applicants can be addressed more timely.

Doug Courtney: It’s Florida and Palm Coast. Anyone that has lived here has lived through the boom-and-bust cycles. Palm Coast’s development calls for as many as 400,000 residents. We are only about ¼ of the way to that population. We have a comprehensive plan that has been with us for decades. Although we are moving faster now than expected, we are not growing larger than predicted. I do hesitate to deviate from the comprehensive plan. Any variations should show benefits to the city and residents.

*DID NOT RESPOND: Alan Lowe, Cathy Austrino, Carol Bacha

Construction/Growth: Please share your perspectives on affordable/workforce housing and the role the Palm Coast City Council plays. (Click Here)

David Alfin: Strong economic performance requires a balanced community with jobs and housing available for local employees. Businesses will choose to locate in Palm Coast if a work force is available to employ.

Cornelia Downing Manfre: Affordable/workforce housing has been discussed for years. Today, it is time to execute a program to bring in this type of development. Possibly a public/private partnership could be established. Without affordability, we make it harder for our mid-level employees to work and live in Palm Coast.

Doug Courtney: We need it. The city handles the zoning that affects it. The part City Council plays is to work with staff and developers to create a plan that fits within the parameters of our vision for Palm Coast. Then the council has to give both developers and city administration the ability to implement the plan.

*DID NOT RESPOND: Alan Lowe, Cathy Austrino, Carol Bacha

Construction/Growth: Please share your perspectives on increasing residential density to improve environment preservation. (Click Here)

David Alfin: I remain committed to following the City’s Comprehensive Plan and related Future Land Use Map. I am in favor of reviewing the plans for dynamic relevancy and updating while respecting property values and quality of life as dictated by residents.

Cornelia Downing Manfre: Our building codes are very well written with focus on the buffering to ensure preservation. I do not believe increasing density is a solution. Each development should be reviewed for the amount of additional nature scapes to preserve our natural environment.

Doug Courtney: Show me how increasing residential density improves environmental preservation. Show me the facts, back them up and show me how you are going to do it. Convince me. I am not against any efforts to improve the environment that also preserves our vision of Palm Coast.

*DID NOT RESPOND: Alan Lowe, Cathy Austrino, Carol Bacha

Demeanor/Creating Consensus: How would you describe your leadership/management style (Click Here)

David Alfin: Collaboration leading to consensus that earns community confidence.

Cornelia Downing Manfre: I am professional and respectful to all. I look for the common traits between people to bring consensus. I am trained as a mediator and facilitator.

Doug Courtney: Leadership/management style is a subjective opinion provided by others. What I do is listen, exchange information, learn and try to understand. Once I have all the facts I believe can be provided in the time frame available I make my decision. Then I work to make others believe it as well. Will I change my perspective based on new evidence? Yes. But it must be compelling new evidence.

*DID NOT RESPOND: Alan Lowe, Cathy Austrino, Carol Bacha

Demeanor/Creating Consensus: How would you handle disrespectful or disruptive behavior at City Council meetings? (Click Here)

David Alfin: Zero tolerance for disrespectful or disruptive behavior.

Cornelia Downing Manfre: I will conduct public meetings in a civil manner. When decisions are made by majority, the entire council should be have an opportunity to present their positions.

Doug Courtney: Professionally. Citizens have a right to be heard. They get emotional. Especially when they lose and don’t believe they have been heard or heard correctly. City Council meetings should have a level of decorum. We are governing. But it is not in the best interests for the city or the citizens to feel threatened in their government or subject to arrest or fines. Each disruption is different. How you handle each one depends on the situation.  All one can do is hope to be professional and respectful in response.

*DID NOT RESPOND: Alan Lowe, Cathy Austrino, Carol Bacha

FiberNet: Please share your perspectives on the City of Palm Coast’s FiberNet initiative. (Click Here)

David Alfin: Fiber Net is essential to the economic development of Palm Coast’s strong economy. The private sector should invest and manage fiber initiatives with a market rate fee paid to the city.

Cornelia Downing Manfre: Technology today is critical in attracting companies here, serving the residents as well with high speed internet is critical. To be competitive, it is very important to have modern technology. As in all expenditures, an evaluation on the return on investment by the City should be made.

Doug Courtney: It is a good idea not fully formed. Either get in or get out. The main trunk line for the Internet follows the railroad in Bunnell. Fully functioning high speed internet for the city is a selling point for business and citizens.  Fully wired cities are here now or coming soon. If you want to compete with other governments, you have to invest in how you are going to provide reliable internet service to business and residents.

*DID NOT RESPOND: Alan Lowe, Cathy Austrino, Carol Bacha

Parks/Recreation: How do you feel about the expansion of the tennis and pickle ball courts? (Click Here)

David Alfin: Project has already been voted on and approved by City Council.

Cornelia Downing Manfre: During these times, I would like to review all capital expenditures before addressing expansion and the maintenance and operation costs of those additional facilities.

Doug Courtney: When does the cost for the expansion end? So far, we have invested millions into a tennis facility where it seems we have only hundreds of citizens out of tens of thousands using the facility. It is understood that we are investing for the chance to have a regional facility that will, in some bright future, bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars in tourism, coaching clinics, and tournaments. But that is not why we collect city funds. We are not an enterprise that seeks future profits. We are supposed to provide services for our residents now. I have no objection to the expansion effort if the citizens want it or a private enterprise wished to invest. But at some point, unilateral investment by the council is beyond our mandate.

*DID NOT RESPOND: Alan Lowe, Cathy Austrino, Carol Bacha

Public Safety: A consultant recently indicated the Sheriff’s Office is currently 31 deputies short with more needed as population grows, how would you fund and support law enforcement services? (Click Here)

David Alfin: FCSO funding should be tied to community growth indicators i.e., population, sales, and business tax revenue, etc. The budget will grow as revenues grow. The Sheriff should be allocated a gross budget and be responsible for detailed line items like the number of deputies. The Sheriff is our expert on FCSO resource requirements and should be responsible and accountable for budget allocation within the department.

Cornelia Downing Manfre: With crime decreasing 40% in Flagler County, I would need to evaluate this request to determine whether we have a sufficient amount of deputies at this time. Again, we are in post pandemic time, all expenditures must be reviewed and capped until we know the effects of post pandemic to our local economy.

Doug Courtney: If we need that many more deputies, when do we start talking about our own police department? If the sheriff has such a disproportionate number of deputies just taking care of Palm Coast, shouldn’t we as a city step up and begin the discussion? Safety in Palm Coast is the city’s business. It is not something that can be delegated. In the formation of the city, it was generally believed that forming a police department was too costly since we only needed less than a dozen officers. But a decision to form a police department was expected to be addressed by a future council. The use of the sheriff department was never intended to be a permanent solution. Maybe its time to have that discussion. After all the sheriff is the Flagler County sheriff, not the Palm Coast police chief. If we must fund the expansion lets look at perhaps having funding that is ours, is permanent and that we control. It is no longer convenient to write a check and leave the results in the hands of others.

*DID NOT RESPOND: Alan Lowe, Cathy Austrino, Carol Bacha

Public Safety: Do you support creating a Palm Coast Police Department or staying with the current structure of the Sheriff’s Office providing law enforcement services for the City of Palm Coast? (Click Here)

David Alfin: The current structure is the only economical, feasible, and effective service model available.

Cornelia Downing Manfre: I would suggest staying with the current structure of a County Sheriff law enforcement for the City. A majority of the land area where the majority of the population resides is presently covered. To establish a police department for the City of Palm Coast is too costly.

Doug Courtney: See above.

*DID NOT RESPOND: Alan Lowe, Cathy Austrino, Carol Bacha

Tax Base Diversity: On a scale of 1-to-10, with one being “poor” and ten being “excellent,” how would you rank the diversity of Palm Coast’s tax base (commercial vs. residential)? (Click Here)

David Alfin: 1 – Poor. Tax base is skewed heavily toward residential property owners.

Cornelia Downing Manfre: 10% commercial revenue, 90% residential. Wrong ratio.

Doug Courtney: Based on your criteria Palm Coast is about a 2.  But that raises the question? Is this the right criteria?

*DID NOT RESPOND: Alan Lowe, Cathy Austrino, Carol Bacha

Tax Base Diversity: What strategies would you implement, if elected, to the diversity of Palm Coast’s tax base? (Click Here)

David Alfin: Town Center commercial initiatives will increase the share of tax revenue paid by businesses and relieve some burden on residential property owners. MedNex is an example of a commercial initiative that will prosper through business ‘multiplier effects. Related business resources will arrive with supporting services i.e., research & development and many others.

Cornelia Downing Manfre: It is imperative to have an economic team, a collaborative team to seek businesses to come to the area. Streamlining the application and permitting process will help to get those firms open, operating and contributing to the commercial tax base.

Doug Courtney: If we chose to address the diversity as you define it we would have to have a more active effort to attract new business. But I do not see us attracting that unicorn we have been searching for during the last 20 years. I believe we need to embrace the new work environment, seek those business, while we continue the hunt for the unicorn.

*DID NOT RESPOND: Alan Lowe, Cathy Austrino, Carol Bacha

Closing Thoughts… (Click Here)

David Alfin:

I am running for Mayor because I believe Palm Coast is at a crossroads. My family and I live and work in Palm Coast. I have always been involved in community activities and remain committed to protecting our city’s future.

As your mayor I will lead Palm Coast through the doorstep of opportunity.

When elected, I promise to build community confidence through collaboration and consensus.

I am committed to protecting our Palm Coast values. For me, that means ensuring our quality of life is protected through public safety, a strong economy, and smart managed growth. I will support the Sheriff with the resources needed to ensure public safety.

As a lifelong fiscal conservative, I believe the government can operate with less of your hard-earned money. I will establish an Economic Development Council to identify and encourage new opportunities to build a strong economy.

I believe in smart managed growth. I will never be a rubber stamp for development. Any project that crosses my desk must benefit our community and our environment.

We are presently confronted with a “fierce urgency of now!”  while standing at the crossroads of our present and future.

We must make decisions that determine how we go forward. This is the most important election in the history of Palm Coast. I humbly ask for your vote in the July 27th special election for mayor of Palm Coast.

Cornelia Downing Manfre:

Having represented several Fortune 100 firms, I am very sensitive to the image we project, the efficiency of the staff and the type of customer service we provide.

As Mayor and with the Council, I would like to hire new City Manager who has the background of City management, and potentially with some business experience. The candidate must understand how critical it is to train staff and provide an atmosphere of professionalism. He/She will be accountable for all parts of administration, should be a strong leader with clear direction.

Doug Courtney:

I am and have been a resident of Flagler County and Palm Coast for over 24 years. I was in the office as City Clerk on the first day of our new city when Mike Chiumento came in at 8:00 am and wanted to know how to file for a zoning variance. What I am providing by this anecdote is I know how aggressive business development can be in this city. I also know that everything requested is not necessarily what the citizens of this city want in the place they live. There is a balance that must be maintained. You need to know when to work with business and you need to know when to stand in opposition. My experience with this city as a resident, employee and businessman gives me a background precious few have in seeking the office of Palm Coast Mayor. My answers here are, by your design, snippets of my thoughts.  I do have an online resume that may give you more insights as to who I am and what I think.  You are welcome to look for yourselves at www.douglascourtney.com

Thank you for the opportunity to respond.  

*DID NOT RESPOND: Alan Lowe, Cathy Austrino, Carol Bacha

If you want information on election dates, voting locations and more, visit the Flagler County Supervisor of Elections website.

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