The half-cent sales tax referendum special election ballots will be mailed out May 1.
The Volusia County Council is planning to make water quality projects a top priority to fund through the half-cent sales tax revenue, should the referendum pass this May.
The council discussed this decision at its meeting on April 16, as county staff sought direction regarding the possible half-cent sales tax capital improvement plan, which included public input from the four meetings held throughout Volusia in March. John Angiulli, Volusia County Public Works director, said that many of the 200 meeting attendees were in support of higher water quality project funding.
“This is a starting point to narrow our focus down, get it to a set of projects that we can start programming," Angiulli said.
The county expects a half-cent sales tax will generate an approximate $440 million over the next 20 years, with an annual revenue of $22 million. Funding all the proposed county water projects — of which there are 30 — would cost about $115.5 million. In contrast, funding the top five transportation projects is expected to cost $287.64 million.
Budgeting to fund all the water quality projects would leave $1.8 million a year to fund traffic management improvements, road reconstruction, bridge infrastructure improvements, ADA improvements and sidewalk construction projects. If the council would have chosen to only fund the top 5 water quality projects, at a $78.88 million cost, those other projects could be funded by the $3.674 million left over a year.
The council unanimously decided water quality projects are more important.
"We can’t go back and restore the water," Councilwoman Billie Wheeler said. "This is it. This is what we have to leave to our future.”
DeLand resident Kelli McGee spoke in support of the sales tax, only because it included water quality projects, she said. While she said some community members are concerned about a "bait and switch" with the funding revenue, she has faith the money will be spent adequately.
“I’ve watched your public works department draft and implement a water quality program since 2014, and I trust that the funding will be leveraged and spent on the water quality program and projects that you designate," McGee said.
Councilwoman Barbara Girtman said water quality projects also provide the best opportunity for match dollars, and Councilwoman Deb Denys agreed. Denys said the county can't accomplish a project without the St. John's River Water Management District's support. As for transportation, she believes that goes hand in hand with water quality.
“Anytime we improve a road or an intersection or a bridge, we’re improving water quality," Denys said.