Ormond Beach City Commissioner Bill Partington believes that the county will make progress on the issue of homelessness in the coming year.
BY WAYNE GRANT | STAFF WRITER
Ormond Beach played host to the Volusia League of Cities' bimonthly meeting Dec. 5, with a dinner for about 160 city officials under tents at The Casements, where City Commissioner Bill Partington was elected vice president for 2014.
Billie Wheeler, a councilwoman in Daytona Beach Shores, was elected president.
Partington, who also serves as deputy mayor of Ormond Beach, said that he focuses on Ormond Beach priorities in his role in the league.
“I get my direction from the City Commission,” he said.
The social get-togethers help to build countywide relationships, he added.
“You can talk about things you have in common,” he said. “The dinner allows us to know each other on a first-name basis. When you break bread with someone, you can work with them in the future. … You can call them up if there is a dispute between the cities.”
He said the Sunshine Law prevents him from discussing legislative matters with other Ormond Beach commissioners, but he is allowed to discuss them with officials from other cities.
The league also emphasizes education and training. The business meetings have speakers, seminars and debates that focus on issues that affect the cities.
“It’s good to know the arguments on all the issues,” Partington said.
Partington said he believes a big topic of conversation this year will be the homeless issue. Volusia County officials have been discussing having a centralized facility for homeless people, and several local leaders, including Partington, visited one recently in Pinellas County, called Safe Harbor.
“I believe the county is going to make progress on the homeless issue,” he said. “I think Safe Harbor could work in Volusia.”
He said the Safe Harbor program is “smart financially.” Pinellas County spends $13 per day to house a homeless person, while housing someone in the Volusia County Jail costs $71 per day.
In Pinellas County, a police officer can decide whether to take a person to the homeless shelter or arrest them.
“There is no paperwork and jail cost,” Partington said of the Pinellas County shelter. “They have an incentive to take them to the shelter.”
Partington said the homeless situation in Ormond Beach is more subtle than other areas.
“If you asked me 10 years ago if there was a homeless problem, I would say no,” he said. “But I’ve had calls from residents who are concerned. You don’t have tent cities or people sleeping outside city hall like in some cities, but they are there.”
He believes the problem would be best handled at the county level.
League of Cities members also communicate with state legislators about statutes, such as the one that disallowed cities from making laws regarding vacation rentals.
Partington and other city leaders believe laws like that should be in local hands.
“We know what is best for our area,” he said. “There might be different needs on the beachside than on the mainland.We can advocate as a group to our state officials.”
Another issue that could be prominent in the coming year is Community Redevelopment Areas. In a CRA, a percentage of the tax money is put aside for redevelopment in that area. Some county officials believe more of that money should be paid in taxes.
“We will show support for the CRAs that are run well,” Partington said. “Some have been poorly managed and are really not good examples. We have one on Granada that has been very successful that we can be proud of. It has improved the look of the downtown and been the incentive for a lot of development.”
All elected officials in Volusia County are members of the league. They meet monthly, alternating between a business meeting for the directors one month and a social dinner for members the next. Cities take turns hosting the dinner.