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Ormond Beach Observer Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018 3 months ago

Volusia County officials discuss a half-cent tax for better roads, water

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The roundtable of Volusia County Elected Officials focused on the results of a survey for a new half-cent tax.
by: Jarleene Almenas Staff Writer

Volusia County voters could pass a half-cent sales tax for transportation according to a 600-person survey presented to the roundtable of Volusia County elected officials on Monday, Jan. 8.

The tax would help generate funding to fix problems like traffic congestion, improving local waterways and building sidewalks near schools.  Steve Yarbrough, city manager for South Daytona, said about 40% of the revenue would be generated through visitors and tourists. All of the funding would stay within the county.

The survey, conducted by Clearview Research, showed the tax could pass with a 54% approval without an end-date and 52% with a 20-year time limit. 

However, there are several pitfalls that could cause voters to reject the half-cent sales tax. 

Factors for approval

Steve Vancore of VancoreJones Communications, who prepared the poll, said ventures pertaining to sewer, septic and specific "pet" projects are likely to lower the possibility of the tax passing in a ballot. Instead, he said the survey showed people were more likely to support the tax if the revenue goes toward removing toxins from local waterways, improving water quality and stormwater control.

In short, he said to keep it to "better roads and better water." 

"We keep it confined to that, I think you’ll hold on to your public support," Vancore said.

Another issue that needs to be discussed before the resolution reaches the County Council is how long the tax should be in place. Vancore said the average time allocated to a tax like this is 22 years. Without a time-limit for the resolution, Vancore said the county could become subject to public criticism. 

“My recommendation is to build it on what your actual needs are from the ground up," Vancore said.

Getting all cities to agree

In order for the half-cent tax to make it on the general election ballot this year, which Vancore recommended instead of the primary, the final form of the resolution would need to be completed by April in order to reach the County Council in May.

For that to happen, Yarbrough said all the cities need to agree on the same language for the resolution.

“I think the County Council deserves a clear message of the 16 seats," Yarbrough said.

That may be harder than anticipated as some of the city officials worried about the distribution of revenue from the possible half-cent sales tax. Yarbrough said the half of the tax's revenue would be handed to the county and the other half would be disbursed on a per capita basis. Bob Garcia, Mayor of DeBary, voiced his concern on this front.

"That means the bigger cities will get the bigger chunk," Garcia said.

He said if there's an amendment done for smaller cities of Volusia County to have a minimum amount of money of that fund, then the taxpayers will be more willing to support it. 

Yarbrough said the city managers agreed on the default form of distribution for revenues because it's statutory and doesn't require the 16 cities to sign an agreement that would prolong the process, and because some municipalities feel that they generate more sales tax revenue.

County Council Chair Ed Kelley said the communities need to be aware that their message will be that everyone will benefit from passing the half-cent tax at some point in time.

"We all want to do this together," Kelley said. "We want to work together to make sure that the improvements benefit each and every community."

 

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