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Port Orange Observer Tuesday, Jul. 16, 2019 1 month ago

Heated 3-2 vote gives Port Orange ability to implement fire fee — but it won't this year

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New elected Councilwoman Marilyn Ford wanted to table the ordinance, but the motion failed.
by: Caroline Smith Contributing Writer

Updated 9:02 a.m.

After Councilwoman Marilyn Ford's failed attempt to postpone a decision on the second reading of the fire assessment fee ordinance, the Port Orange City Council passed the ordinance 3-2, with Ford and Councilman Chase Tramont voting no. 

The ordinance does not implement a fire assessment fee, but it gives the council authority to do so at a future time.

The ordinance was approved on its first reading in May, with many of the councilmen concurring that with its adaptation does not necessarily mean a new tax is in order for this fiscal year, or even the next.

“I’m voting yes to put this tool in the toolbox, but I have no appetite to do that this year,” Mayor Don Burnette said. “If the time is right, I want [the council] to be able to do it.”

According to City Manager Jake Johansson, budget plans for this upcoming fiscal year did not include the fire assessment fee.

Ford also raised concerns about the ordinance’s supporting data, asking City Attorney Margaret T. Roberts about the shelf life of the data. Roberts concluded the data would stay accurate for about one year, prompting Ford to question why the council would approve an ordinance that it doesn’t plan to use in the upcoming year anyway.

“The public has told us, with the defeated sales tax, they don’t want any more tax," Ford said. "So, to say we have this in our back pocket — it’s the wrong thing."

Councilmen Drew Bastian, Scott Stiltner, and Mayor Don Burnette kept their original votes to adopt the ordinance, recognizing the flaws in the property tax system, but realizing it’s a good option for potentially rebalancing revenue generation.

Stiltner looks at the fire assessment fee as a way to rebalance the “imperfect system” in the future.

 “I think we all agree that our system of generating revenue to operate the city has its flaws,” Stiltner said. “In many ways, it’s out of balance. All I see this as is an opportunity to give us or other councils in the future a way to rebalance some of that.”

Although Tramont recognizes the merit behind the ordinance, he still seconded Ford’s motion.

“I just don’t want to put a tool in the box when I have no intention of using it,” Tramont said. “I just fear we’re getting ourselves in a situation where we’re fighting more for opportunities to generate revenue as opposed to fighting more to prioritize our spending a little better.”

Editor's note: This story originally stated there was a 5-0 vote to pass the ordinance, but that was incorrect. Ford motioned to postpone or table the ordinance, and that motion was seconded by Tramont. The motion then failed, 2-3. The vote on the ordinance then proceeded, and it passed 3-2.

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