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Ormond Beach Observer Monday, Nov. 18, 2019 3 weeks ago

2020 or 2022: When should a sales tax make a ballot reappearance?

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Volusia County elected officials discussed timing, the chase after the aerospace industry, and the correlation between them both.
by: Jarleene Almenas News Editor

It could be just a matter of time until Volusia County residents find themselves voting on a new sales tax.

City and county leaders at the Elected Officials Roundtable on Monday, Nov. 18, discussed the possibility of placing a new sales tax referendum on either the upcoming 2020 ballot or waiting until 2022. Earlier in the meeting, the officials were given a presentation by Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys on ways to bring the aerospace to the county, a topic that kept reappearing throughout. Without the proper infrastructure in place, some officials feared companies will overlook Volusia. 

CEO Business Alliance President Kent Sharples said if the county isn't ready in 12-18 months to start construction on infrastructure improvement projects, then Volusia County is out of the space race. 

“Until we get that infrastructure in place, we’re not going to be successful," Sharples said.

In regards to whether the new initiative should aim for a full cent sales tax, DeLand Mayor Bob Apgar said his commission didn't think it would be wise to do so, since the half-cent sales tax failed. He suggested that, to improve trust in the public, perhaps the initiative should come from the business community. Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry disagreed, saying they need to be careful of the tax coming across like a "top-down" initiative.

“I think it should be more focused in having residents as a part of the process," Henry said, adding that they should build a committee of people from different communities. 

To wait, or not to wait

The elected officials realize there is a lack of infrastructure in the county to support companies and high-paying jobs, said Deltona Mayor Heidi Herzberg. As a whole, she believes all the municipalities and the county will benefit from sales tax funding. 

But, she said a sales tax won't go through unless the elected officials decide infrastructure will be a main focus.

"The money is not going to drop from the sky," Herzberg said. "If we’re going to go ahead and do the initiative again, whether it’s a half-penny or a penny, this entire group really has to sit down.”

The lack of trust among constituents was also discussed. Mayor Don Burnette said it might be wise to wait until 2022 to place it on the ballot, and reevaluate the way it was presented to residents. He also reminded the roundtable that several of them were up for re-election in 2020.

Kelley said he agreed with Burnette. The School Board was able to lay out their sales tax plans to the public in a way that was successful. He suggested they follow their example since the local infrastructure needs aren't going away.

“These are not infrastructure needs that were created overnight," Kelley said. "They’ve been building up.”

'Too much at stake'

Volusia County is at a crossroads, Denys said. Either they as elected officials have to decide Volusia is "worth it" and work together to fund infrastructure, or they'll have to pass on companies like SpaceX and the United Launch Alliance.

Saying the sales tax failed because of a lack of trust is not the answer, she said. 

“I’m sorry that answer is wrong from here on out," Denys said. "There’s too much at stake.” 

Sharples said timing is "everything." Waiting until 2022 would mean projects won't be finished until 2024, at the earliest.

“Tomorrow is almost too late," Sharples said.

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