Now things are getting weird.
For nearly a decade, Volusia County has been traveling a circuitous path toward strapping every man, woman, child and visitor with a half-cent sales tax increase – ostensibly designed to pay for transportation infrastructure enhancements in the shadow of massive growth. Only in the last year have things really begin to gel.
Like most things County Manager Jim Dinneen’s administration is ultimately responsible for, the push for a sales tax increase has not gone smoothly.
As the Daytona Beach News-Journal put it in a 2017 article, “Past attempts fizzled.”
There were the usual fits and starts – county council members hemmed, hawed and verbally attacked their municipal counterparts – with the always arrogant Deb Denys accusing local officials of hamstringing public buy-in with their lack of “clear vision.”
That’s rich. . .
Then the city managers came to the realization (with the prodding of incumbent politicians, I’m sure) that an election year was probably not the best time to place a tax increase on the ballot – so, in 2016 the initiative was shelved yet again.
Finally, a committee was formed which brought together all the cities – and bound them in a weird marriage with the secretive Star Chamber at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – where all our VIP’s discussed various ways to pick this turd up by the clean end.
Mainly, I think, it was little more than a political insulation committee to protect those cowardly dullards on the Volusia County Council – and get the almost universally disliked Jim Dinneen out of the mix.
With time, DeLand Mayor Bob Apgar and long-time South Daytona City Manager Joe Yarborough became the unfortunate faces of what many citizens came to recognize as a shameless money grab.
One year ago, county and municipal officials sat down and cobbled together a $1.6 billion wish list of unmet infrastructure needs – and in June, the Camera stellate known as the shadowy Volusia CEO Business Alliance – paid for a privately funded study (strategically exempt from Florida’s public records law) that we were told was designed to measure public support for the tax increase now being touted as a panacea for our looming growth pains.
At a now infamous “Eggs & Issues” breakfast in December (you remember, when our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, had a brain-fart and announced the county’s long-term plans to “move or relocate” the City Island Library?) Old Ed assured all of us that he had been lobbying the business community to support the sales tax increase, assured us our sacrifice would alleviate gridlock and brashly gave his personal promise that the measure is “going to be on the ballot.”
In January, the results of the Star Chamber’s survey – which included a representative sampling of just 600 Volusia County voters (?) – were released, showing a “clear path to victory” for the initiative, so long as everyone in government was laser focused on “reeducating” their tax-weary constituents with, “. . .a disciplined, well-funded, and well-executed campaign plus strong and nearly universal support from the local governments through the county.”
Many smart observers of all things government in Volusia County weren’t so sure.
Of course, the Volusia CEO Business Alliance volunteered to fund the re-education of Volusia County residents – even as the wet dream of $45-million in annual revenue began dancing like sugarplums in the heads of public officials countywide.
Nothing brings folks together like money.
Like estranged family members brown-nosing a rich old uncle on his deathbed – all 16 municipalities got in lock-step and passed resolutions supporting the half-cent money grab – the first time (perhaps in the history of Volusia County) that the mosaic of cities has unanimously agreed on anything.
It was like peace in the Middle-East. Lambs lying down with lions – the solidarity was hailed by many rubes as an almost biblical example of what can happen when politicians feel that a massive influx of new revenue is within their grasp.
Then – as only they can do – the Volusia County Council tried their level best to pull defeat from the jaws of victory.
In February, county council members refused to even discuss the issue of raising Volusia’s antiquated transportation impact fees – which haven’t seen an increase in over 15-years – with our own elected Rip Van Winkle “Sleepy” Pat Patterson explaining that us uneducated bumpkins were too stupid to understand the complexities of impact fee calculations, as Ed Kelley bobbed his head in agreement like the victim of a situational cognitive disorder, and Little Jimmy assured us the sales tax increase will “help support the new roads.”
Just like that, impact fees were off the table.
But many tax-strapped citizens in Volusia County began to openly question why increased fees are good for the goose, but not for the gander?
Why shouldn’t growth be required to pay for itself?
Why aren’t mega-developers – who contribute thousands of dollars in campaign funds to hand-select candidates each election – being asked to pay their fair share for the out-of-control growth our elected officials have approved from Farmton to the Flagler County line?
And how did our gasoline tax infrastructure fund – that sends .12-cents on every gallon we pump to Volusia County government – go broke?
Questions, questions. . .
Then, not satisfied with a 100% buy-in by the cities – some elected officials on the Dais of Power in DeLand demanded that an envoy from each municipality parade before the County Council, hat in hand, heads bowed like the slavish vassals they have become – before prostrating themselves and demonstrating their iron-clad support for the sales tax increase.
The incomparably arrogant Councilwoman Deb Denys said, “I don’t think it’s asking too much to ask those entities who have skin in the game to appear before council and make the request as a unified group. Without a unified approach (read: spreading the political liability) – we do not send a unified message. I’m expecting to see a full chamber – I won’t do it without everybody.”
In the interim, the Florida Legislature passed a measure which requires any county or school district seeking a sales tax hike to submit to an independent performance audit with the results posted 60-days before the referendum appears on the ballot.
Then, on Friday, I heard a rumor from a very knowledgeable source, that the panjandrums at the Volusia CEO Business alliance were considering pulling the tax increase off the table once again – citing a growing negativity among Volusia County voters and a crowded ballot.
Other smart people speculated that Mr. Dinneen and our oligarchs who pull the strings couldn’t weather an external audit of a county government that seems to exist solely to transform massive amounts of public funds into private profits for a select few well-heeled insiders.
But, the rumor proved true when, on Saturday, the Daytona Beach News-Journal announced that Mayor Apgar was calling a “special” meeting of all area mayors amid “increasing concerns” surrounding the sales tax initiative.
That group will meet at Daytona “International” Airport beginning at 11:45am this morning.
Ladies and gentlemen, the outcome of this confab will be interesting – especially in terms of what their collective, yet never revealed, “Plan B” is should the sales tax fizzle once again.
They do have a Plan B, right?
I mean, we’ve been told transportation Armageddon is threatening our very way of life here on the beleaguered Fun Coast if the sales tax fails – and an increase in impact fees is verboten – so our ‘Powers that Be” must have an alternative funding mechanism at the ready, right?
Time will tell.
If we have learned anything to this point, it is that Volusia County government is a macabre circus – a dumpster fire of ineptitude and abject dysfunction – a rudderless ship of fools, totally reliant on the direction and guidance of outside forces.
Now, our municipal officials have exposed themselves as well.
Appearing like a weird clown troop who willingly bent over for those bullies in DeLand who have openly tormented them for years – simply for the promise of a few table scraps from the windfall they all knew was coming.
Once this latest foul mess is exposed, perhaps those we have elected to represent our interests will deliver their long-suffering constituents from Jim Dinneen’s incompetence once and for all.
Then place an immediate moratorium on unchecked development until the adults in the room can work the problem.
If not, it is high time we demand change at the ballot box this fall.