"We bring the issues for you," County Council Chair Ed Kelley said. "You vote on them. If you want them fixed, we’ll fix them."
Feelings ran passionate at the Port Orange town hall panel discussion sponsored by the Daytona Beach News-Journal about the half-cent sales tax that will come up for vote through a mail in ballot in May.
Panelists included South Daytona City Manager Les Gillis, Port Orange City Manager Jake Johansson, Port Orange Mayor Don Burnette, Volusia County Council Chair Ed Kelley and Volusia County Manager George Recktenwald. Derek Catron, managing editor with the Daytona Beach News-Journal, moderated the discussion.
The city and county are recommending passing a half-cent sales tax because there are projects which need to be completed and not enough funding to get those projects done in a timely manner. For Port Orange, tax monies would go toward improving roadways, reducing flooding and updating and improving the city’s infrastructure.
The widening of Williamson Boulevard was one example.
“In the last ten years, 21 residences have been built within one mile of the intersection of Dunlawton and Taylor Road," Port Orange resident Jack McVay said. "If you look at the number of cars, that’s approximately 4,000 cars on a daily basis."
He said The Pavilion and other shopping centers generate between 8,000-10,000 cars a day, bring the total number of cars on Williamson to about 15,000. McVay said that Johansson claimed it would cost $18 million to widen Williamson to four lanes.
"From Beville Road to Dunlawton Avenue is two lanes," McVay said. "It now backs up from Dunlawton all the way to Madeline Avenue. That is unacceptable."
Citizens were concerned about accountability. They wanted to know how they could be sure that the revenue from the sales tax would be spent on what the city says it will spend it on.
Kelley said that an oversight committee would be formed with a representative from each city. The committee will monitor the projects to be sure they are in compliance with the what the ordinance specifies the money can be used on. There would be 17 representatives on the committee.
Kelley also said that much of the tax generated by the increase would come from tourists. Despite the lower attendance of tourists from Bike Week and the raceway this year, those that did come to Volusia County spent money in the area.
Questions about growing development arose. Residents were concerned that more development would lead to an increased need for road repairs and expansions, which will lead to bringing more requests for tax monies. Citizens wanted to know what will keep the cities from coming back to taxpayers for more money in the near future.
With the half-cent sales tax generating about $45 million countywide annually for Volusia, should it pass, Port Orange will receive approximately $3.4 million. That revenue would help capital road widening, extensions, bridges, drainage, flooding, and infrastructure projects start or be completed.
“What I don’t want to do is borrow money," Burnette said. "I don’t want to get in a situation where the only way to get these projects done, is debt. Debt spending is bad spending and one of the reasons why I’m looking toward [the half-cent sales tax.]"
Burnette also said that the gas tax cannot go for water and infrastructure needs, plus it does not cover all road projects.
“This was not easy coming up with how the money would be split,” Burnette said.
All 16 cities came up with a formula based on population, he said.
"I think that’s important because when you drive in Port Orange on Clyde Morris, Williamson, those are county roads, so if we’re going to improve Williamson Boulevard, we’re gonna have to do it with the help of the county and with our neighbor, Daytona Beach," Burnette said. "It’s important that we all have a piece of that pie.”
Port Orange put posters up with the projects and the city's priorities that would be developed with the money generated by the sales tax.
Joe Yarborough, South Daytona city manager, commented about the necessity for passing the half-cent sales tax. He said the sales tax process began five years ago.
“Volusia County generates more money than we get back (from the state) because we don’t have the population of a Miami or a Tampa and Orlando," Yarborough said. "The only thing the state of Florida gives us is the surtax and impact fees. The beauty of the half cent sales tax is that it all stays here. We don’t have to share.
For Allan Green, former mayor of Port Orange, the sales tax is still not enough. He said citizens have to take impact fees and the sales tax all into consideration,
“This half cent sales tax is not a cure, but is a beginning," Green said. “You have to pay for what you get. To get a service, you have to pay for it."
Ballots will be mailed out on May 1 and need to be mailed back to the election office by 7:00 p.m. on May 21. Several collection boxes have been placed around the city for those who cannot mail their ballots. For those who may be out of town, they can stop at the election board in DeLand beginning April 15 and complete their ballots. Those ballots will be held in a vault until Election Day.
“We bring the issues for you," Kelley said. "You vote on them. If you want them fixed, we’ll fix them."