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Ormond Beach Observer Monday, Mar. 11, 2019 2 months ago

Volusia elected officials continue to advocate for half-cent sales tax

The sales tax referendum will reach voters in May through a mail-in ballot.
by: Jarleene Almenas News Editor

Better roads. Cleaner Water. Dollars stay local, and between 30-50% is paid by tourists.

These are four of the five points discussed at the Roundtable of Volusia County Elected Officials on Monday, March 11, relating to why voters should pass a half-cent sales tax in the upcoming May special election. Steven Vancore of VancoreJones Communications, briefly outlined how elected officials should speak about the sales tax at the meeting, with the fifth point being that the tax has four layers of protection: 1) Florida law governs these expenditures, 2) ballot language directs how money will be used, 3) local expenditures must be approved by the city and county and 4) the expenditures will be overseen by a citizens advisory committee.

Some elected officials expressed that they shouldn't expect the public to understand sales taxes. Vancore said the public isn't generally opposed to taxes — just ones that they don't know where the money goes. 

“This is a rare exception, and I would encourage you to be very positive about this because if we want better roads, we want cleaner water in Volusia County, this exactly the kind of tax you would want," Vancore said.

There is additional pressure to pass the sales tax in this election, as Vancore said Florida Legislature will likely soon pass a bill that will require taxes to be passed by a supermajority and an audit by the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability to be up for public viewing for six months before a referendum.

“So there’s a sense of urgency," Vancore said. "We have to get it done now. We have to get it done right.”

Volusia County Councilman said there's not another alternative available that will allow some of the revenue to come from tourists, and be able to be bonded. Though the county is "taking the brunt," he said, it is doing what the cities asked for: putting it on the ballot.

“There’s no plan B for me in Port Orange, except to go back to the taxpayer with an increase in ad valorem taxes for our needs," Port Orange Mayor Don Burnette said.

That wouldn't be fair to the taxpayers, he added. But, it's up to the voters. He also said they, as elected officials, should listen to the objections, regardless of whether they have a factual basis or not. 

“These are the sentiments of the people we serve and we need to understand where those sentiments are coming from if we’re going to do a good job of telling them and explaining to them how this is going to benefit them," Burnette said.

One resident spoke against the sales tax at the meeting. Keith Chester, of DeLand, said the elected officials were still missing the point. He called himself the "naysayer, county basher, all those things that government people start naming anybody that has an opinion other than theirs" and asked why the citizens should believe there is a political will to take action in case cities and counties don't follow the regulations for the sales tax project money allocation. There hasn't been that political will with SunRail or the county's ECHO grants, he said.

He said it was like going to the doctor for a stomachache and being given bad-tasting medicine that doesn't work, and then going again for a second time to see something changes.

“The third time when he puts that spoon in front of me, I’m probably not going to take it," Chester said. "And that’s what’s happening. Government is creating their own problem and government is creating the naysayers through what’s happened in the past.”

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