On Volusia: The Cost of Pandering to the Powerful

I hear the rumors.

Well-meaning people say, “Too bad about Barker.  Poor bastard.  I heard he went crazy a few years back.”

Or, “He had such a bright future, then he retired and started tilting at windmills – writing that wacky blog  – becoming increasingly reclusive and espousing his weird theories about government corruption.  Sad, really.” 

“He drinks, you know. . .” 

 Look, I get it.  I’m damaged goods – something best avoided.

I’ve heard that in some circles there are real consequences for reading my screeds – let alone agreeing with them.  Trust me, even those brave ‘movers & shakers’ who dare to associate with me in complete confidence do so at the very real risk of being branded a subversive and forever locked out of the inner-sanctum where the real money changes hands.

But a few intrepid souls see this forum as a lone voice in a very dark and dense wilderness of political intrigue – cynical musings on a once promising place in Central Florida – a potential paradise with all the natural amenities one could want for civic success – that has been repeatedly violated and exploited by the overweening greed of a few well-connected insiders who somehow convinced us this is what ‘progress’ looks like.

Others hold me up as the incarnation of some primeval soothsayer – a demented prophet with the preternatural ability to augur the machinations of a virtual shadow government gone rogue.

As a result, smart people often ask me if things can get “any worse” when it comes to this godforsaken quagmire that is Volusia County government?

The fact is I don’t know.

Frankly, I’m as clueless as everyone else – and if anyone tells you they have the answers they’re as full of shit as a Christmas goose.

We live in strange times here on Florida’s Fun Coast.

Given the events of last week – when credible allegations were exposed that mealy-mouthed bureaucrats in Volusia County government purposely engaged in the pernicious act of “filtering” information provided to policymakers, then withheld publicly-funded studies altogether – were wholly ignored by our ‘powers that be,’ one can only speculate when we will reach the political nadir of this Oligarchical system that will stoop to any means necessary to silence criticism and protect itself from external scrutiny.

What I do know with certainty is that those who enjoy direct access to the public tit – the seemingly inexhaustible supply of our hard-earned tax dollars that flow into government coffers – maintain their suckling position by funneling massive amounts of cash into the campaign accounts of hand-select candidates.

Although perfectly legal, this filthy quid pro quo process has reduced our system of local governance to little more than a cheap livestock auction.

Typically, politicians who receive the nod from those The Daytona Beach News-Journal refers to as our “Rich & Powerful” have very similar personal characteristics:  They are extremely loyal to the hand that feeds them, well-disciplined and maintain lock-step fealty to an entrenched power structure; however, by design, those selected to “serve” are not very bright and physically incapable of independent thought.

In exchange, the powerful puppet masters allow them the trappings of social and political standing – all the ego massage and sense of superiority these haughty shitheels need to feel important while they serve as figureheads of a system that uses them like dull tools.   

But, in the end, they extract a mighty heavy price for this Faustian bargain – and it’s you and I who ultimately pay the bill.

As I’m fond of saying, if politics truly is the art of controlling one’s environment – then those who possess the financial wherewithal and an unquenchable thirst for more – have perfected the cycle of crony capitalism here on this salty piece of pine scrub we call home.

It’s called ‘ROI’ – Return on Investment – and our wide-open campaign finance system is tailor made to ensure that the economic playing field is perfectly groomed and tilted in favor of those who can pay-to-play.

At Tuesday’s Volusia County Council meeting, residents will get an eye-opening education on how a few incredibly powerful insiders in the real estate development community have been well-served by their hired chattel on the dais of power in DeLand.

As you are probably aware, Volusia County hasn’t increased fees for growth and development in 15-years – a fact that sent shock-waves through area residents who are readying themselves for the coming onslaught of traffic gridlock, “toilet to tap,” and other quality of life nightmares that come from out-of-control sprawl currently under construction along the eastern spine of Volusia County.

In fact, the reluctance of those dullards we have elected to represent our interests on the Volusia County Council to reasonably increase impact fees on their political benefactors derailed a half-cent sales tax initiative that we were told was absolutely essential to funding critical transportation infrastructure improvements.

In February, county council members decided – as the Right Reverend Fred Lowry said – “letting a sleeping dog lie in this case might be the best situation” and opted (once again) to simply not address the issue of asking new growth even partially pay for itself.

At that time, citizens were told that we were too stupid to understand the byzantine calculations used to determine impact fees – even as nationally recognized experts “called Volusia an “outlier” because the county hasn’t raised its rates in 15 years.”

In my view, 15-years is a long time to let that narcoleptic cur sleep. . .

The council’s decision to, well, do nothing, flew in the face of a 2007 study now gathering mold at the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Building that suggested drastic changes to the fees paid by developers to offset the cost of transportation and other infrastructure impacts.

According to The Daytona Beach News-Journal, “That study suggested hikes up to 300 percent in some categories.”

The Volusia County Council doubled-down on their decision to hold firm on outdated impact fees in March.  Then, in May, when public criticism reached a crescendo, Volusia County and municipal governments agreed to postpone a vote on the much-ballyhooed half-cent sales tax.

What we didn’t know was that – two years ago – the Volusia County Council commissioned a $50,000 study with Texas-based Duncan Associates which, similar to the 2007 study, recommended impact fees be increased “three times higher” in some categories.

The study also suggested drastic changes to a county ordinance that is, in essence, giving away the farm to real estate developers.

The problem is – this incredibly expensive analysis was never provided to our elected officials during the decision-making process.

Not in February.

Not in March.

Not in May.

And not in June, when the Volusia County Council voted to again hire Duncan Associates to perform yet another study of current impact fee rates.

The results of that analysis are incredibly damning.

Sickening, in fact.

You can read it for yourself  here:  https://vcservices.vcgov.org/agenda/agendas/20181002/Item-12-supp-study.pdf

As I understand it, for the past 15-years, Volusia County has kept road impact fees well below current costs for infrastructure improvements – all while state law permits impact fee “credits” for developers who increase capacity to roads that are not site-related.

In turn, these credits can be transferred or sold to other developers for use in the same or adjoining areas – or submitted back to the county in lieu of impact fees.

The County has historically charged fees that haven’t been adjusted since 2003 – while providing credits to the developer in 2018 dollars.   

You read that right.

That sweet arrangement has resulted in a large portion of impact fees on recent growth being paid with credits.

According to Duncan Associates, “Over the last five years, credits accounted for half of total revenues in the Zones 1 and 2 (east Volusia), and over one-third county-wide.”

In turn, you and I face the catastrophic consequences of out-of-control growth on our roadways, water sources, police, fire and other essential services – even while astronomically wealthy developers feed their insatiable appetite for more, more, more.

And every damn one of those tools we elected to represent our highest and best interests on the Volusia County Council knew about it – yet consciously chose to ignore the disparity, “Let a sleeping dog lie” as it were – all while scheming to increase the sales tax and shift the burden to every man, woman and child, rather than ask their campaign sugar daddies for their fair share.

That’s despicable.

And, in my view, it should be criminal.

After all, any public servant with the professional ethics of a broke-dick dog can see that this incredibly lopsided and lucrative disparity is counter to their sworn duty to protect their constituents from usurious and fraudulent practices that benefit a few at the expense of many.

And you can bet your ass none of this happened by accident.

In my view, the ultimate goal of any ethical, moral and constituent-focused elected body is to further the public’s trust in their government by putting their personal, financial and political interests (and those of their friends and contributors) aside in furtherance of the broader public interest.

When multiple external studies prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that our elected officials have served the needs of their campaign benefactors – for years – bolstering their profit margin and denying We, The People adequate funding for transportation infrastructure, all while approving massive development from Farmton to the Flagler County line – that’s a problem.

In my view, this base chicanery has destroyed the community’s sacred faith in its elected leadership.

As Georgetown University’s Mark E. Warren wrote in his study on democracy and trust, “a government viewed as corrupt cannot be trusted.  And a government that cannot be trusted will be crippled in its capacity to lead.”

Sound familiar?










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