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Port Orange Observer Friday, Feb. 1, 2019 2 weeks ago

Will a half-cent sales tax help Port Orange?

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Port Orange city manager Jake Johansson recently explained the benefits of residents passing the half-cent sales tax this spring.
by: Tanya Russo Staff Writer

As infrastructure, traffic, water quality and drainage needs in Port Orange continue to grow, City Manager Jake Johansson said the $3.4 million per year for the next two decades that will be generated from a half-cent sales tax, should it pass, could help keep Port Orange structurally safe and secure. 

Johansson gave a presentation on the sales tax to the Port Orange-South Daytona Chamber of Commerce at the City Managers’ breakfast held on Wednesday, Jan. 30, at the RiverWalk Pavilion. Last year, all 16 Volusia municipalities supported the half-cent sales tax initiative, which was later put on hold by the County Council May 2018, after an unexpected audit requirement and the discovery that impact fees hadn't been addressed in 15 years. After addressing fees last December, the council directed staff on Jan. 10, to draft an ordinance for a special election on the sales tax to bring back at its Feb. 5 meeting.

"I'd like to talk to you today about something that is pretty important to the city and important to the county," Johansson said. "It's a half-cent sales tax that is coming. Whether you vote for it or not, I want you to know what it's about and what it is not about." 

According to the presentation, projects that the city would complete include the areas of road and sidewalk repairs, capital road widening, extensions and bridges, and drainage and flooding needs. There are 14 projects within the drainage and flooding areas of the city that would be addressed.

Johansson said that current revenue cannot keep up with the infrastructure that needs to be repaired. Less money is coming in from gas taxes and grants are tapering off or disappearing, he explained.

He added that there are no adequate resources to address decreasing water quality and drainage needs of the city. 

“Whether you believe in climate change or not, due to the changing tides, more water comes over the banks of the Halifax River now and I have more trouble getting it out after big storms,” Johansson said.

The special election is expected to cost about $490,000, and Port Orange's share is $38,000. The county will be bearing almost half of the total election cost. In the past, Johansson said a mail-in ballot election has generated greater response from citizens. A survey conducted by ClearView Research of 400 likely voters in Volusia found that 59% of people would be in favor of the sales tax.

Johansson also cited several benefits for passing the tax — Tourists would pay about 40% of it, it is a fair way to share the burden of taxes, and a sales tax can be predicted, bonded, and used to leverage state and federal dollars.

How the additional tax dollars would be spent would be governed in a few ways. Ballot language would specify how dollars are to be used. Failure to comply with the directions would result in legal action.

The City Council would approve how funds generated by the sales tax would be spent, though the money would be limited for infrastructure and water quality needs. At the county level, there would be a local citizens advisory committee established to review projects to be sure they are on track and doing what they should. Each city would have a representative.

Johansson said Port Orange supports the half-cent sales tax because every dollar will remain in Volusia county. The funds will be apportioned and spent based on Florida law and must be spent on qualified projects, not SunRail or Votran.

During his presentation, Johansson also warned the Chamber about what could happen if a sales tax is not approved. The presentation listed that stormwater fees could increase, property taxes could be raised, needed repair projects could continue to take 12-15 years to complete because of delays in finding necessary funding, and the infrastructure could continue to fail and repairs would be reactive. 

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