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Ormond Beach Observer Wednesday, Sep. 21, 2022 3 days ago

County Council: Brower continues fight to eliminate beach tolls

Also, the County Council approves 2022-2023 budget, property tax rates.
by: Jarleene Almenas Senior Editor

The Volusia County Council voted 6-1 on Tuesday, Sept. 20, to amend the county's toll contract with TTEC Government Solutions, LLC, which includes a one-year contract extension through Sept. 30, 2023, and bringing toll staff wages to $15 an hour.

This will cost the county an additional $528,333 from its general fund and $106,682.75 from its port district fund for annual operations. The county splits administrative costs proportionally between the two funds, based on vehicular entries between the inlet parks and the beach approaches. Per county staff, about 18% of entries occur through inlet parks, and the remaining through beach approaches. 

The total annual costs of Volusia's toll collection services for Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, 2023 is about $2.46 million, up from $1.9 million from last year. 

Volusia County Council Chair Jeff Brower was the only one to vote against the agenda item, saying he would like to see the county phase out beach tolls entirely.

"I think it makes our community appear unfriendly," Brower said. "It's a safety hazard. It backs cars up at every beach approach onto A1A. It's a problem to employees on the beach at times, and we have other ways to fund the beach."

He cited a naming rights program and using the county's tourist development tax dollars as options. Councilwoman Heather Post said she was open to revisiting the issue once the council had discussed naming rights. 

By getting rid of beach tolls, Brower said Volusia will be seen as a "more desirable community" and that attendance to the beach will increase. 

County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler disagreed. 

"I think the fees that we have chosen are minimal for what we get," Wheeler said. "And this is a benefit to all of the constituents in ... Volusia, as well as Florida. I see absolutely no problem with the fee that we're charging and how we're doing it now."

Volusia County charges a $20 per day, per vehicle access fee to drive on the beach, which is open to vehicles from 8 a.m. to sundown from May 1 through Oct. 31, and sunrise to sunset from Nov. 1 to April 30. Annual beach passes cost $25 for Volusia residents and $100 for non-residents. 

Councilman Ben Johnson agreed with Wheeler, adding that the public pays user fees to access springs. Sponsorships for naming rights won't fill the void beach tolls would leave if eliminated, he said. It would result in higher property taxes. 

Brower argued that residents already pay for the beach with their property taxes. 

"The beach is a huge draw to residents and visitors of Volusia County, there's no doubt about it," Brower said. "I want to make it more friendly and attract more people, bring more business to the vendors on the beach, the motels and the retailers up and down the beach who will tell you their business is not as good as it was before."

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