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Ormond Beach Observer Thursday, Jul. 18, 2019 2 years ago

In split vote, County Council sets a tentative property tax rate — but budget cuts loom

The first public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Sept. 3.
by: Jarleene Almenas Associate Editor

The Volusia County Council is asking for citizen input on how to cut the proposed 2019-2020 budget, following the tentative millage rate adoption by a split council at its July 16 meeting. 

The council voted 5-2, with Council members Fred Lowry and Heather Post objecting, to adopt a millage rate of 5.6944, which would bring in over $201 million in revenues, over $15 million more than last year. Two possibilities to trim the budget were to cut ECHO taxes in half and drop general fund reserves to 9%. Both were suggested by Councilwoman Deb Denys, who said this would facilitate a 50% rollback rate for the citizens. 

“I think it’s a good opportunity to exercise fiscal constraint and restraint," Denys said.

County Council Chair Ed Kelley threw out a similar, though more severe suggestion. He said he would cut ECHO — which provides grants for recreational, environmental and cultural projects —  completely from this budget year.

“I’m not saying it’s right," Kelley said. "I’m just saying that’s what I would do.”

Since the half-cent sales tax referendum failed earlier this summer, Denys also proposed that the county set aside funds just for transportation, as the county still has infrastructure needs. 

Lowry wanted to bring the millage down at the meeting, and said the council should look at the Volusia Forever fund for budget cuts to do so. Volusia Forever was created in 2000 via a voter referendum for a 20-year tax to fund the environmental conservation, outdoor recreation and water resource projects, according to the county website.

Regarding cuts, Post raised concern over the EMS budget. Back in February, the council was presented with a $5 million proposal to improve EMS, and now, the budget appeared to be slashed in half. Post asked why council wasn't notified about the changes, and how the presented budget became so small.

“I would like correct information, if I am making policy on the budget of Volusia County, I would like to ensure that the numbers that I’m given are correct," Post said. "That’s it. It’s not rocket science.”

Volusia County Public Protection Director Joseph Pozzo said that the initial budget forecast was based on an earlier quarter, and that since then, transports have gone down, resulting in a loss of revenue. Because of that, the department had to move recommendations to another fiscal year.

The first public hearing for the county budget is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Sept. 3.

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