Tuesday, March 08, 2022

Volusia County, Florida voters reject half-cent sales tax hike. (Daytona Beach News Journal, May 21, 2019)

Volusia County, Florida voters rejected a sales tax increase in 2019. 

From Daytona Beach News Journal:

Volusia voters reject half-cent sales tax hike

Mark Harper

DELAND — Volusia County will not raise its sales tax to 7 percent after the three-week mail-in election polls closed Tuesday.

The unofficial result: No, 55 percent; yes, 45 percent with more than 100,000 ballots counted, representing nearly 28% of county voters.

“When you go through all of the different complaints the citizenry have (about local government officials), they all boil down to the people don’t trust them, and that is the biggest opposing force that the county is facing, a lack of trust,” said opponent Paul Zimmerman, president of Sons of the Beach, a group that advocates for beach driving.

Voters who said no expressed a wide range of reasons for that lack of trust: Too much growth, charging developers too little in impact fees, the awarding of incentives to corporations including International Speedway Corp. and Brown & Brown, Inc., and the decision to hold a special election in May costing $490,000 rather than having it during a general election.

Volusia County Chair Ed Kelley said the result didn't surprise him given "all the negative activity" he was hearing.

"If there were winners and losers, it's the people, the residents, who lose," Kelley said. "It was not anything personal. It was about taking care of the needs we've been facing, that we've been putting off."

Also Tuesday, Ormond Beach voters, by nearly a two-thirds margin, rejected four-year terms for their mayor and city commissioners. They voted to amend the city charter to allow a primary election when more than two candidates are running.

Roads, water quality

The sales tax was expected to generate $42 million annually to be divvied up among Volusia County and its 16 cities and towns. But now Volusia's sales tax will remain at 6.5 percent, unlike neighboring Seminole, Brevard, Flagler and Orange counties, all of which charge 7 percent. Sixty of Florida’s 67 counties charge at least that much.

The ballot language spelled out how that money was to be used: “roads, sidewalks, bridges, water quality, stormwater and flood control and amenities ancillary to those facilities.”

From Pierson to Oak Hill, local government officials listed hundreds projects hung up by a lack of funding. The list was long enough to be nearly double the $900 million in revenue the tax is projected to raise over two decades, not taking growth into account.

Just a small sample of some of the big-ticket items: $44 million for flood mitigation projects for Daytona Beach’s south side; more than $20 million in sidewalks in Deltona, many of them near schools; $25 million to extend Hand Avenue in Ormond Beach west to Tymber Creek Road; and $33 million to build four lanes of Williamson Boulevard south from its end at Pioneer Trail in New Smyrna Beach to State Road 44.

[SEE ALSO: A database of projects proposed by municipalities should the sales-tax hike be enacted] 

Zimmerman said on Facebook Plan B should be to "trim the fat, go to zero-based budgeting and quit giving our money away."

But Kelley said the sales tax is the only option "to do what this would have done," in putting the county on a 20-year plan with hundreds of millions of dollars to address needs. He did not rule out another attempt at a sales-tax increase in 2020.

In the Volusia County Historic Courthouse, where the Canvassing Board unveiled results, reactions were subdued.

Jim Cameron, senior vice president for government relations at the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce, was disappointed, as his organization endorsed the tax more than a year ago.

"We're just gonna have to look for other ideas," Cameron said with a sigh. "What that is I don't know right now, but there is no question that we need to upgrade our infrastructure here if we're going to look to bring in new jobs to Volusia County."

County Manager George Recktenwald, who had spent countless hours explaining the purpose of the proposed sales tax to voters, left and declined comment.

DeLand Mayor Bob Apgar was also disappointed.

"People spoke," Apgar said. "I guess we didn't do as good a job to let the people know that this is a strong need."

Parties on sidelines

The sales-tax initiative started with a 6-1 vote by the County Council on Jan. 10 to put the question before voters in a special, $490,000 election. The lone no vote to hold the election, Councilwoman Heather Post, also spoke out against it.

Headed into the final day of voting, 45 percent of the ballots returned were from Republicans; 32 percent were from Democrats and 22 percent were from other parties and those voters with no party affiliation.

The split by voter registration: 35.4 percent Republican, 34.0 percent Democrat; 30.6 percent other.

With neither party taking a position or campaigning actively for yes or no votes, officials weren't sure why the turnout didn't more closely align with registration figures.

“I’ve personally listened to both sides of the issue from people who are knowledgeable and with that respect, I acknowledge strengths in both arguments,” said Paul Deering, the Republican chair.

Vic Baker, a Republican Party spokesman, said the GOP has “a big enough tent to have people with well-considered opinions on both sides,” and party officials formed their own opinions but decided it was best to leave it to voters.

The Democrats invited Volusia County Councilwoman Barbara Girtman to speak at a recent meeting, where “a diversity of opinions” was expressed in the questions, said Jewel Dickson, Volusia County Democratic Party chair.

“I encouraged people to vote their convictions,” Dickson said. “We didn’t want to (take a position) and draw lines in the sand.”

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