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Ormond-by-the-Sea accounts for three of the five worst areas in Volusia County for septic systems in Volusia County. Yet, the area has almost 4,000 estimated septic tanks.
In a 2013 report by the Florida Department of Health in Volusia County, the north peninsula was deemed unsuitable for septic systems due to the permeability of the soil, the proximity to water bodies, age of the tanks, depth to water table and high density. Last year, the city of Ormond Beach was starting to look at converting homes in Ormond-by-the-Sea to city sewer, and in the strategic planning workshop on Feb. 27, investing $1 million for permitting and designing the first phase of the conversion in the north peninsula was deemed as a commission priority by four out of the five City Commissioners.
But with Ormond-by-the-Sea under the county's jurisdiction, why should the city of Ormond Beach be responsible for Ormond-by-the-Sea's septic problem?
“The answer is because no one else can," City Commissioner Dwight Selby said. "There is nobody else who can do it.”
The septic tanks may not be in the city, but Selby said they're still impacting the city's waterway — the Halifax River. The city has the capacity in its sewer system, and the money in the water and wastewater general fund reserve; there is currently about $10 million in excess in that fund.
Accelerating the septic to sewer conversion was voted as the topmost priority by 48% of the attendants at the OB Life workshop on environment and water quality on Aug. 30, 2018. However, polling data shows only 3.4% of the estimated 110 attendees were from Ormond-by-the-Sea.
City Commissioner Troy Kent was the only commissioner not to support the priority, but only because he believes that the city should start by converting the estimated 300 homes under city jurisdiction currently on septic tanks. He said he doesn't think it's appropriate for city officials to spend taxpayer dollars outside of Ormond Beach, and that the county should be the one putting the money into the project.
“I couldn’t even think about it until we fixed every single resident in Ormond Beach’s issue with septic to sewer," Kent said.
Selby said he's hopeful the commission will make the decision to revise the budget in this current fiscal year to allocate the $1 million toward phase 1 of the septic to sewer project. In fact, he wanted to do this a year ago and wishes the commission had because of Gov. Ron DeSantis' focus on water wuality issues. The city could have already been "shovel-ready."
“We could be up there pounding on Tom Leek and Paul Renner and Travis Hudson and all of our representatives for some of that $600 million that he’s allocating," Selby said. "Honestly, I think we would have gotten it.”
Preliminary numbers by the city estimate the first phase (700 homes from Plaza Drive to Longwood Drive) could cost about $5.225 million. The city has broken up the septic to sewer project into 10 phases in its utility system master plan update, for a total estimated project cost of just under $48.4 million.
That only accounts for the city's share of construction. It doesn't include impact fees or the cost of abandoning septic tanks and hooking up to city sewer. How much that could cost is still up in the air.
And annexation could come into play. That would need to be discussed further at the commission level.
Selby said if residents in the north peninsula annexed into the city, their taxes would go down 9%, according to data he received from the county's property appraiser. That 9% saving could be put toward the resident cost for the transition. The residents' water bills would also go down by annexing into the city.
Developing an annexation policy and strategy for future growth was also identified as a priority by the City Commission, but Mayor Bill Partington didn't have the north peninsula in mind.
“It’s too much of a — from an infrastructure perspective — the county has neglected it for so long, that it’s too much of a beast basically, to tackle," Partington said.
From the city's perspective, annexing the north peninsula wouldn't make sense, he said. If the the county made improvements to infrastructure and the residents wanted to come into the city in 10-20 years, then the commission can consider it.
“I think the north peninsula has changed," Selby said. "I don’t think it is the way it was.”
Kent said he hasn't heard anyone on the north peninsula ask to be annexed into the city. There was a referendum decades ago and the answer to annexing was a "resounding no," Kent said.
“I don’t like things being pushed down my throat, and I certainly don’t want to push anything down anybody else’s throat," Kent said.
However, if the residents do get annexed into the city, he said would be in favor of the septic to sewer project in the north peninsula.
Ormond Beach resident Peggy Farmer said she's seen what annexing can do for an area, citing U.S. 1. It took five years for the city to work with the county on this. But, she said the logistics and efficiency of annexing an enclave like results in better service to the residents.
“I think this is our chance to prove to the whole peninsula that by phase 1, we can work together and be successful for the good of water quality, which is the number one issue in Ormond Beach now for environmental quality," Farmer said.
There are a lot of possibilities with septic to sewer, but what Selby hopes is that completing the first phase will garner more support from north peninsula residents, and that could help the entire 10-phase project get completed faster. Selby said the hardest thing to do is start.
“How do you eat an elephant?" Selby said. "One bite at a time. You have to take the first bite. This is an elephant. This is a gigantic elephant.”