Angels & Assholes for January 19, 2018

Hi, Kids!

It’s time once again to turn a jaundiced eye toward the newsmakers of the day – the winners and losers – who, in my cynical opinion, either contributed to our quality of life, or detracted from it, in some significant way.

Let’s look at who tried to screw us – and who tried to save us – during the week that was:

Asshole:          Rep. Randy Fine (R) Palm Bay & Sen. Jeff Brandes (R) St. Petersburg 

 I don’t agree with much that Florida’s redundant “Tourism Officials” do or say.

In fact, I think the idea of “marketing” a beautiful beach – or an ecological paradise like the State of Florida – is an unnecessary waste of time and money.   

For example, take the recent debacle surrounding the Convention and Visitors Bureau’s goofy “Wide. Open. Fun.” campaign – an incredibly expensive and nonsensical promotion that many believe is counter to our decades-long effort to rehabilitate our tarnished image from what Penthouse magazine once dubbed the “Sleaze summit of the United States” to a desirable family destination.

Last week, the Florida legislature took up bills filed by Rep. Randy Fine and Sen. Jeff Brandes which would permit local government access to millions in local tourist development (“bed”) taxes for infrastructure and other subjective “tourist-related” projects.

Look, perhaps some bed tax dollars should be allocated to improve the “product,” but I simply do not trust this oligarchical kleptocracy that passes for governance here on the Fun Coast with one more dime.

Do you?

In Volusia County – our elected and appointed officials have an insatiable tax-and-spend appetite – and this measure would provide a whole new source of green cash for even more corporate giveaways and panacea projects.

Like I said, I happen to believe that attractive, safe and accessible beaches sell themselves – but without the “bed tax,” our “tourism officials” wouldn’t be pulling down six-figures annually, now would they?

Ultimately, who benefits?

In my view, if we are to have a tourist development tax, it should be spent as it was originally intended –  to rehabilitate, promote and market the destination to the visitors who sustain it – not divert funds to the wants of our compromised elected officials and the greedy self-interests of their handlers who have proven, time and again, that enough is never enough.

This is specifically why I instinctively oppose any new tax initiatives.

Invariably, the funds are ultimately hijacked, perverted – and diverted.

Remember this when you are being inundated by the half-cent sales tax promotion this summer.

Angel:             Fran Gordon, Mid-Florida Housing Partnership

In my view, if there is one person who truly deserves Angel Status, it’s the irrepressible Fran Gordon, executive director of Mid-Florida Housing Partnership.

From her early work with domestic violence victims to her current efforts to secure safe housing for low income families, Fran has become the Patron Saint of Lost Causes in the Halifax Area.

Despite the odds, Fran Gordon never gives up.

Last week, she laid bare the grim facts of Volusia’s affordable housing crisis for the Chamber of Commerce crowd.

According to Fran, the living options for low wage – even moderate income – workers in what I describe as Volusia’s artificial service economy are limited or priced out of reach.  With area rents on one-bedroom apartments reaching $1,000 per month, Gordon estimates it takes an hourly wage of $20 to keep rent in line with other monthly living expenses.

Unfortunately, lawmakers have diverted state housing funds, which are derived from a fee on all real estate transactions in participating counties, to other uses (sound familiar?).  As a result, these funds, which are provided to local governments to assist worthy families acquire their slice of the American Dream, have dwindled in Volusia County from a high of $1.4 million to just $350,000 annually.

In my view, the abject greed that has resulted in tens-of-millions in tax dollars pissed away on corporate welfare incentives for Forbes-listed billionaires and international corporations – and helped create a subsidized economy that has skewed the local marketplace – is finally painting all of us into a corner.

In fact, Volusia County has become widely known as a place with low wages and no hope for advancement – or opportunities to succeed.  It’s why our children leave for college and never return – and its why wealthy political insiders always use the empty promise of “jobs” whenever they seek a return to the public tit.

We are rapidly becoming a fetid Banana Republic – a place fractured by those who have, and those who don’t – where the wealthy confine themselves in gated subdivisions, complete with fake ambiance, and try hard to avoid the overwhelming sense of instability, inequality and hopelessness just beyond the walls of their “lifestyle community.”

I was encouraged by the fact Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry has set affordable housing as the city’s top priority for 2018.

At a recent City Commission meeting, Mayor Henry said:

“We do have to figure out ways we can encourage more it in our community.  I’m recognizing how dire the situation for housing is for many people in our community.  We can’t simply say there’s nothing we can do.” 

Now, I hope Mayor Henry and his fellow elected officials will demonstrate the strength of leadership necessary to improve affordable housing options for the thousands of families in Daytona Beach and beyond who are struggling mightily to make a life here on Florida’s Fun Coast.

Angel:             Political Analyst Mike Scudiero

I know, its blasphemous to speak ill of the fabulous One Daytona, with its “symbiotic” relationship with the “all new” Daytona International Speedway.  But earlier this week, I did it anyway.

I get it – One Daytona is a great place to watch an overpriced movie from a Barcalounger – and we’ve become so starved for culture in the Halifax area that a P. F. Chang’s is now considered exotic dining.

By all accounts, it’s a great addition to the area – and after all, we helped pay for it.

But when is enough, enough? 

Last week, an old friend, the distinguished political analyst Mike Scudiero, sent me a disturbing photograph of a placard near the point-of-sale at a One Daytona establishment announcing something called an “Enhanced Amenity Fee.”

“Notice of EAF – All retail purchases at One Daytona are subject to an Enhanced Amenity Fee (EAF).”

“The EAF is an additional one percent added to the total amount due before sales tax.”

“The EAF will not exceed $350 for any applicable purchase.”

“The EAF will be reinvested to continually enhance the center, including its public space, mobile technology, entertainment options and public art program.”

“Thank you for your patronage of One Daytona.”

My ass.

I have a fundamental problem with these dubious surcharges that seem de rigueur at shopping centers from Tanger Outlets to the Port Orange Pavilion.

Proponents of these bullshit “convenience fees” claim that we need these new developments in town – along with the dining options, entertainment and jobs that come with them – and they don’t mind paying extra for the privilege of an up-scale experience.

They also claim that the consumer is going to pay for maintenance of the property one way or another – so why not put it out there that the cost is being passed on to the shopper, rather than hide it in the retail price?

Given the fact that goods and services at One Daytona businesses cost essentially the same, if not slightly more, than other retailers in the area tells me that overhead has already been figured in the purchase price – this EAF is gravy.

The fact is, One Daytona took $40 million in public funds up-front for tax abatement, infrastructure improvements and other “incentives” clearly designed to maximize corporate profits on the back of every taxpayer in Volusia County and Daytona Beach – and now they gouge us again with a surprise “Enhanced Amenity Fee” at the very place we helped subsidize?

When does a “public/private” partnership turn into a usurious victimization – a parasitic exsanguination of the very people who were previously tapped to fund a private project with their hard-earned tax dollars?

Look, you can call this turd whatever you want – but this sales-related “fee” is nothing more than a money-grubbing tax by any other name.

The positive – if there is one – is that payment of this tax is purely voluntary.

You can simply choose not to shop at One Daytona.

I, for one, will never patronize a One Daytona business so long as this usurious assessment is involuntarily shackled to purchases – and I will encourage everyone within my sphere of influence to do the same.

For instance, earlier this week I chose to shop at The Fishing Hole – a long-established bait and tackle shop in Downtown Daytona – rather than make the trip to Bass Pro Shop at One Daytona.

What a wonderful, personalized experience, and it felt good to support a local small business.

I realize my one-man boycott won’t make a difference – after all, One Daytona is the “next big thing” and everyone wants to be a part of it.  But I’m known for tilting against the windmills of modern life, just on principle alone.

The fact is, my money spends anywhere, and so does yours.

Thanks for looking out for us, Mike.

Asshole:          Volusia County Council

Save the posturing, Deb.

Everyone – and I mean everyone – knows that Volusia County government will never ask developers to pay their fair share for necessary infrastructure expansion through appropriate impact fees.

Never gonna happen.

At this weeks Volusia County Council meeting, Deb Deny’s (who is up for re-election) was allowed to play to the crowd and float the idea.

“I think it’s time that we revisit impact fees. If we are going to ask the taxpayers, the citizens, to agree with us on some of these increased costs, we need those who are making the direct impact to be part of it too.”

Please.  Stop the tacky campaigning-from-the-dais drama.

It’s poor form.

Of course, our doddering fool of a Council Chairman, Ed Kelley, telegraphed how our elected officials really feel about holding their major campaign contributors accountable for massive profits on unchecked growth through impact fees – which are among the lowest in the region.

They don’t like it at all.

Why?  Because their handlers don’t like it.  That’s why.

With huge residential and commercial developments planned from Farmton to the Flagler County line – please don’t look for our complicit elected officials to do anything that would offend the right last names.

No, they would rather stiff every man, woman and child in Volusia County with a sales tax increase rather than hold those who stand to benefit accountable.

Angel:             DeLand Citizens for Conservation & Responsible Growth

The incredibly sharp legal minds at Cobb Cole know that there’s more than one way to get an Auto Mall built – or anything else for that matter – just go for the point of least resistance, dangle the carrot – and polish the small town rubes with a fine chamois cloth until you get your way.

After a few relatively quiet months, the Hurley I-4 Auto Mall is back on the front burner – and this time, they want to be a good corporate citizen of the small hamlet of Lake Helen, Florida.

I guess they figure its infinitely easier to “deal” with small town elected officials.

They’re probably right.

After all, the development would more than double the city’s tax base – and with the interstate serving as an asphalt buffer – the development will have far less impact on quaint Lake Helen than it will ultimately have on the beleaguered residents of DeLand’s Victoria Park neighborhood.

For the uninitiated, DeLand car dealer Brendan Hurley has been trying for over a year to figure out a way to pull an end run on his vocal opponents and build a multi-dealership “Auto Mall” on property directly abutting the established Victoria Park subdivision.

As I’ve previously reported, when Victoria Park was developed and marketed, the adjoining zoning did not permit auto sales.

Of course not, who in their right mind would have bought a home there if the original plan included the amenity of listening to an amplified loudspeaker screaming, “Service, Line two!” – fourteen hours a day.  Everyday.

My hat’s off to those brave souls who make up the “Stop the I-4 Auto Mall” brigade – a subsidiary of DeLand Citizens for Conservation & Responsible Growth, Inc.  – good people who are invested in the future of West Volusia and are standing firm in their belief that quality of life is infinitely more important to their community than massive, unchecked growth on the I-4 frontage road.

This dedicated group needs the moral – and financial – support of all Volusia County residents who value self-determination and community activism. They can be found at www.stopi4automall.com

 Quote of the Week:

“Tourists and residents don’t exist in a vacuum.  Residents will build a community where tourists can be excited about being here.”

 –Amy Pyle, Candidate for the Daytona Beach City Commission, speaking to the Halifax Area Advertising Authority, just before they unanimously authorized $732,500 for the year-long, three-word marketing campaign:  Wide. Open. Fun.

Screw it.  They get what they want – and you and I are just along for the ride.

I hope these insufferable Big Shots enjoy it while it lasts, because I’m beginning to sense a quantum shift in the political wind here in Volusia County. . .  How ’bout you?

Have a great weekend, y’all.

 

 

 

 

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