Volusia County Councilwoman Heather Post held a town hall on Friday and Saturday, and several residents voiced opposition to the project citing concerning language in the city's comprehensive plan.
With the rumored threat of annexation lording over the proposed septic to sewer conversion in the north peninsula, Ormond-by-the-Sea residents have clamored opposition, and County Councilwoman Heather Post encouraged them to make their voices heard.
On the flip side, the city of Ormond Beach, the government entity that has begun undertaking the 10-phase project, has stated annexation is not on the table. It's just about improving the Halifax River's water quality, said City Commissioner Dwight Selby who has spearheaded the effort in the city.
Post held two town hall meetings on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 6 and 7, in both Ormond-by-the-Sea and at the Ormond Beach library. Both meetings were well attended by around 100 residents, many of which were vocal about not wanting to be annexed into the city of Ormond Beach. This concern arose after residents found that the city's comprehensive plan cites annexation as a requirement for connecting to its utility system, and several said they felt this was a "backdoor" way of forcing them to annex.
“You don’t need to get into the weeds about this," Post said. "It is what it is. It’s in the comp plan.”
She said there may not be an "ill intent" present, but the comp plan is something that needs to be addressed.
Selby, who was not allowed to speak at the meetings and was subsequently booed at Friday's when he attempted, told the Ormond Beach Observer that the city commission has no interest in forcing the north peninsula to annex. He's hopeful the commission will agree to clarify the north peninsula won't be annexed if the sewer conversion moves forward in the city's land development code “so that it’s abundantly clear that is their policy.”
“The only way that would happen is if the residents of Ormond-by-the-Sea wanted to annex into the city," Selby said.
An old survey Selby did on NextDoor, where he asked if residents would be open to annexing to the city, recently resurfaced on social media, but Selby said he was just curious as to where people stood on the topic. It was a no, he added. At the meeting, residents shouted the same response when Post asked.
Ormond-by-the-Sea resident Doug Kenny attended the Friday meeting, and said one of his complaints was that the conversion was being "jammed up" their throats. He voiced concern over the cost factor as well, and pointed out that there are many absentee "snowbird" owners in the north peninsula that aren't aware of the conversion.
The city should put a notice in the water bill to notify residents, he said. All households in Ormond-by-the-Sea get water from the city.
His neighbor Rob Bird shared a different view. He would support the septic to sewer conversion, as he believes the transition is needed from an environmental standpoint, but with two stipulations: no annexation and the cost for residents needs to be reasonable.
“If Ormond Beach can somehow forswear annexation, and if this can be made affordable for an area that has about an 8,000 a year median income lower than Ormond Beach, and where there are a lot of retirees on fixed incomes, then I would support the project," Bird said.
Selby said he knows some people feel the city is dodging the cost question. However, until the design and permitting of phase 1 is completed — which will start Oct. 1 — they won't have an answer. Without design and permitting, the city doesn't know build cost, and how much funding it will receive from financial partners to reduce the overall cost is still unknown.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there, Selby said. "As we do a better job of distributing accurate information, I think people will come around.”
The city will be holding several town hall meetings on septic to sewer in the near future, he said.
Post suggested putting septic to sewer conversion as a referendum on the 2020 ballot. Selby said he hasn't considered that.
Saturday's meeting went well, Post said. On Friday night, people wanted direction, and so she focused on that for the next meeting. Residents need to think about specific concerns and write to their representatives asking for help, she said.
Just saying "no" to a project wont help.
“That gets you absolutely nowhere," Post said.
This story was updated at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 10, to reflect the second town hall meeting was held at the Ormond Beach library, not city hall.