Way back in January 2016, when Barker’s View was still struggling to find its voice – and a regular audience – I penned the following screed on Volusia County’s efforts to move the proposed “half-cent” sales tax for transportation infrastructure:
“The Volusia County Council’s inability to sell the half-cent sales tax initiative this summer is indicative of a larger problem.
In my view, our elected officials are missing the key element of any successful marketing strategy – or tax proposal: Trust.
Oblivious to the fact that they have lost basic credibility, County officials are once again staging their tired Kabuki – dramatically performed with equal parts apocalyptic prophecy, name calling, and threats against municipalities – all designed to wring additional dollars from a tax-weary constituency.
(Former) Councilman Doug Daniels surmises that the cities hesitation (to fund a citizen survey) was the result of a “failure to communicate.” Mr. Daniels and his fellow council members should understand – we read you loud and clear – we simply don’t trust you anymore.
Given the number of grassroots efforts seeking accountability, it is increasingly clear to everyone but County officials that they no longer have the consent of the governed.
I believe the seeds of this institutional distrust germinate in the County Manager’s office.
In my view, Jim Dinneen’s mismanagement of this and other important public policy issues best exemplify all that’s wrong with county government. Team Dinneen wants higher taxes because they need higher taxes – and spending cuts, the reduction of exorbitant executive salaries or curbing insider handouts are inconceivable.
A bureaucracy – especially one as bloated as this – requires tax dollars like a parasitic insect needs the blood of its host.
Its very life depends upon it.
Public confidence in County government has been slowly eroded by the steady flow of missteps, bullying and legislative slight-of-hand that invariably benefits a privileged few while laying the financial burden squarely on the back of Volusia County residents.
As a result, we no longer assume the county council’s decisions serve the common good. Now, we instinctively ask ourselves the darker question, “Who benefits?”
Interesting how nothing really changes.
You may remember those heady days when the sales tax increase was all but put out of its misery – and everyone agreed that, given the state of the county’s relationship with the cities, and the increasing lack of public trust in the system – that selling this pig would be difficult, if not impossible.
You may also remember when the always diplomatic Councilwoman Deb Deny’s took a rolled-up newspaper and whacked municipal residents and elected officials across the nose while lecturing in her most condescending way, “I think the public will buy in once their elected leaders have a clear vision,” Denys said, something that’s been lacking in the past.
“There has been no clear vision.”
Deb Denys moralizing about vision?
Regardless, in Volusia County, no tax increase is ever really dead – and now that the election cycle is over – it’s festering cadaver is crawling out of its sandy grave like Frankenstein’s monster on a stormy night.
In today’s Daytona Beach News-Journal, we learned that county and municipal officials sat down and cobbled together a $1.5 billion (with a “B”) wish list of bridges, roads, sidewalks, trails, intersections, traffic lights, spans, etc., etc. that could benefit from our collective acquiescence to their demand that we give government seven cents of every dollar we spend.
Clearly, our municipal and county officials have come to the stark realization that – as citizens of the third highest taxed county in the State of Florida – there is no way in hell we will buy their scary stories and Armageddon scenarios.
We don’t have to – we’re living it.
With planned residential developments stretching from Brevard to Flagler – we understand that developers are intent on putting the cart before the infrastructure horse – and those who know better are letting them do it.
Hell, Jimmy Buffett’s “Shangri-La in the Swamp” west of I-95 could bring as many as 15,000+ new Walmart shoppers to our area alone.
That’s a lot of traffic, kids.
But we need assurances that the increase in tax revenues will be used in the public interest – and therein lies the rub.
Our elected officials will now use the same marketing strategy that won the School Board approval of its “half-cent” – an itemized list of specific projects – a public indoctrination program – and a citizen committee to ensure oversight and coordination.
Will it succeed? Who knows.
The good citizens of Volusia County have seen first-hand the inability of our elected and appointed officials to live within their means.
They have witnessed the mismanagement, exorbitant executive salaries, raises and benefit packages, the “Taj Mahal” construction projects, the half-price sale of public lands to private interests, the dubious “economic incentives” and cash giveaways, and the council’s almost supernatural ability to fund every pet project, infrastructure improvement and private venture of the uber-wealthy political insiders.
For instance, we watched intently as the $15.8 million-dollar extension of South Williamson Boulevard was completed, specifically to accommodate the High Panjandrum of Political Power, Mori Hosseini’s, swansong – the Woodhaven development.
Weird how there is always money available to ensure the needs and wants of the “rich and powerful” (to use the News-Journal’s descriptor) are met, but that pothole on your street just gets bigger, eh?
In my view, that’s the problem.
When we reach the point where we demand ‘citizen oversight committees,’ and require that our elected officials demonstrate clearly defined ‘need vs. want’ lists of projects to keep them honest – can we truly say that we are better governed that the residents of Port-au-Prince?
Or any other Third World shithole?
These people should be ashamed of themselves. But they’re not.
At the end of the day, I suspect that what passes for “local leadership” will get the tax increase they are so desperately begging for.
I don’t agree with it – but it truly is our only option.
Anyone who drives in Volusia County understands the current and future needs we face, and we damn sure don’t need a $150,000 study to point it out.
In my view, the tragedy is that in 2017, we are still required to ask ourselves the dark question: Qui bono?
Who stands to gain?
And we are forced to demand transparency – and clear accountability – from this pompous cabal of elected and appointed county officials before we throw good money after bad, knowing full well that in a few short years they will be crawling back with another dubious money grab.
Always demanding more, more, more.
Photo Credit: Daytona Beach News-Journal (YouTube)