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Ormond Beach Observer Friday, Aug. 10, 2018 2 years ago

Volusia County Council At-Large candidates divided over solution to EVAC concerns

Candidates Ben Johnson and Ronald Durham shared their views on EVAC staffing, job creation and character traits.
by: Jarleene Almenas Associate Editor

When asked what they would do to address concerns about Volusia County's EVAC services during the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce's Eggs and Issues breakfast program on Thursday, Aug. 9, both Volusia County Council At-Large candidates had vastly different possible solutions. 

Daytona Beach's Community Relations Manager Rev. Ronald Durham said the answer was to add more staff. On the other side, former Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson said the county needs to fix what is already there before giving EVAC more resources. However, both agreed that something needs to be done.

Durham said that the target response time is nine minutes or less. EVAC meets that benchmark about 75% of the time in the county's major cities, he said, but in rural areas, that percentage drops to 40%. Assigning more people to each ambulance is the answer, according to Durham, and he believes there are ways to find funding to do so. 

“I believe that two or four hands working in an emergency situation are not as good as six or eight hands could be," Durham said.

However, Johnson said he believes the county's "frequent flyers," those who frequently call EVAC in non-emergency situations, should be addressed first to free up existing resources and ambulances. One way to do that is to use fire services to answer those calls. 

“Then you determine, do we need to add more people or not?" Johnson said. "But don’t just throw money at it.”

Economic development 

Aside from EVAC, the candidates also spoke to the importance of job creation in the county, which was ranked as the top priority for Volusia by the attendants of the breakfast program. 

Former sheriff Ben Johnson during the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce's Eggs and Issues breakfast program on Thursday, Aug. 9. Photo courtesy of Kim Hover

Both agreed that all the other issues highlighted (homelessness, population growth, public safety, beachside redevelopment and water quality) can be secured once the county achieves strong economic development. Johnson called it his top priority and tied it to the next highest-ranked matter: homelessness. 

“We can bring in good economy, good jobs," Johnson said. "With that, we can start taking the homeless off the streets. We can find a way to help them out and put more money into mental health to keep the homeless from happening — to break that cycle. “

Durham tackled the question of creating jobs with living wages in a county where the median income hovers around $42,000, according to the 2016 U.S. census. Durham stated at the program that the median income in the county was $37,000. 

“It’s not enough sometimes to do all the things all the things we’d like to do, because our wages in this county are stagnant," Durham said.

Both also agreed that the county should increase impact fees. They also discussed what should take place should an infrastructure sales tax, placed on hold for now by the County Council, ever pass. In that instance, Durham said cities should be prepared to generate a list of projects that would use the funding.

Rev. Ronald Durham during the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce's Eggs and Issues breakfast program on Thursday, Aug. 9. Photo courtesy of Kim Hover

Importance of integrity

When the word "integrity" popped up as the most repeated one-word answer by the polled audience as to what they valued most in a government leader, Johnson and Durham stood on common ground.

Johnson said when someone dies, their reputation is one of the things they leave behind. It's what loved ones will live with, he said, and a dishonest reputation amounts to nothing. 

“Without integrity, what do you have?" Johnson said.

Durham said he's proud of his integrity. He relayed that his grandmother used to tell him that the only thing a person has in life is their name. 

“It’s going to take you a lifetime to build it," Durham said. "But you can destroy it in five minutes.”

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