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Ormond Beach Observer Monday, Jan. 7, 2019 5 months ago

Volusia's elected officials aim for May special election for half-cent sales tax referendum

The special election is estimated to cost $500,000.
by: Jarleene Almenas News Editor

Volusia County is hoping to pass a 20-year half-cent sales tax referendum via a special election this May, an action that will cost almost a half-million dollars. 

The Volusia County Roundtable of Elected officials met at the Daytona Beach International Airport on Monday, Jan. 7, to discuss the sales tax issue. In May 2018, despite having rallied the support of all 16 municipalities, the half-cent sales tax referendum was placed on hold by the county due to the need for an impact fee adjustment and a last-minute audit requirement by the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability imposed by legislature.

After it was revealed impact fees had not been raised in 15 years, several citizens voiced that they would not support a half-cent sales tax until the county addressed the impact fee issue. In November 2018, the Volusia County Council voted to phase an impact fee increase. The full fees will be implemented in 2020. 

Volusia County Council Chair Ed Kelley said the council tabled the motion to place the sales tax on the November ballot, meaning the resolutions that were created by the muncipalities are still active, but may need to be amended. 

In order to be able to have a special election in May, the OPPAGA audit would need to be completed and up for public review by late March. Kelley said he was concerned about waiting until 2020 to place the sales tax on the ballot, as revenue wouldn't start to come in until 2021 if it passed.

"I think it's a good investment for the future to go ahead and get it out to the public," Kelley said. 

President of the CEO Business Alliance, Kent Sharples, presented the roundtable with findings from a new survey conducted by ClearView Research of 400 likely voters in Volusia County. As of Nov. 30, 2018, the county has 384,885 voters.

According to the survey, the ballot referendum "starts in a good place," with 59% of the voters polled saying they would be in favor of the half-cent sales tax. The survey found 34% were in opposition, and 7% were undecided. 

A similar poll conducted in May 2017, found that 52% were in favor. The new survey, conducted Dec. 11-15, 2018, recommended a mail-only ballot for the referendum, stating this increases voter turnout and saves taxpayer dollars, therefore increasing the likelihood the sales tax will pass. 

Holly Hill Mayor Chris Via said he had a hard time wrapping his mind around spending $500,000 to put this referendum on the ballot sooner.

Kelley told him the cost for Holly Hill would be about $7,000 and the city would receive almost a half-million dollars in revenue in return should the tax pass. 

Ormond Beach Mayor Bill Partington said going with a special May election made the most sense and was the "smartest way" to move forward. 

"Ormond Beach has great needs," Partington said. "Our residents are expecting those needs to be met and the half-cent sales tax is a tool in the toolbox to allow us to be able to bond and be able to meet some of those needs."

Daytona Beach resident Linda Smiley said when the citizens asked the County Council about impact fees, the council "kicked the can down the road" for almost a year. She attended the impact fee meeting in her city, where people asked the council to raise the immediately. She pointed out that the council listened to the developers and builders, who asked the council to phase the fees.

“Yes we know that we need things here, but we don’t like the way that you go about trying to get them," Smiley said. 

She also asked what would happen if the sales tax didn't pass. DeLand Mayor Bob Apgar said local governments have "very little control" over revenue streams that are available to them due to state law. He said he's not sure there is a countywide "Plan B;" It'll be dealt with on a city by city basis.

Port Orange Mayor Don Burnette said he certainly felt the urgency of passing a half-cent sales tax for infrastructure with the ongoing repairs to Taylor Road after a water main break. 

"When we have infrastructure failures like that, to the tune of $450,000, we are in a reactionary mode, and this is something that will allow us to be proactive," Burnette said. 

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