The Sunday edition of The Daytona Beach News-Journal had an interesting juxtaposition of news articles on the front page which, in my view, perfectly illuminated the most perplexing problem facing Florida’s fabled Fun Coast:
Our continuing crisis of leadership.
In an excellent article by reporter Cassidy Alexander, which, once again, examined the failure to thrive syndrome that has plagued Volusia County schools for years, a comparative analysis of Florida’s A-rated districts by the News-Journal painted a grim local picture, “. . .Volusia has the lowest median household income and the second-highest percentage of students living in poverty; it has the lowest average teacher salary and the lowest level of average teacher experience; it has the highest rate of chronic absenteeism among students; and the lowest rate of residents who have at least a bachelor’s degree.”
“News” like that should shock the conscience of every sitting politician and entrenched bureaucrat in Volusia County.
But it doesn’t.
Because problem solving is no longer a priority (if it ever was), now replaced by a seemingly insatiable appetite for more tax dollars – and no matter how much we are forced to pay at the pump, point of sale or in ad valorem taxes – it will never be enough.
Immediately to the right of Ms. Alexander’s piece was a headline by the intrepid Dustin Wyatt, “Plans call for tax vote,” detailing the umpteenth attempt by our ‘powers that be’ to foist a half-cent sales tax increase on every man, woman and child in Volusia County.
As in the past, this latest money grab is being billed as a way for local governments to pay for a weird retroactive transportation infrastructure scheme where developers have been allowed to build thousands of new homes and commercial centers – then worry about how we pay for the streets, roadways and utilities infrastructure required to support tens-of-thousands of new residents after-the-fact.
In most places, where insiders with a profit motive are allowed to create an acute crisis that others are then required to pay for, there is some level of political accountability.
But not here.
In Volusia County, the political playing field is skewed by massive infusions of cash into the campaign coffers of our horribly compromised elected officials who have proven their willingness to perpetuate a pernicious cycle of legalized quid pro quo corruption and ensure that all the right last names maintain their suckling position at the public teat.
Rather than logically and patiently wait until the 2020 general election, later today, officials from Volusia County and the municipalities will gather to determine when a countywide vote will be held on the sales tax initiative.
The special election will cost taxpayers an estimated $548,000.
You read that right – $548,000.
If our doddering fool of a County Chair, Ed Kelley, has his way (which is to say, if those who pull Old Ed’s strings like the demented marionette he is have their druthers – and they will) we could see a special election as early as May.
And the reasoning for cramming this sales tax increase down our collective throat this spring have absolutely nothing to do with the rapid implementation of smart growth initiatives, improving public infrastructure to keep pace with development or curing the myriad quality of life issues that out-of-control sprawl naturally brings – and everything to do with the odds of success for the measure passing at the polls.
Apparently, the Camera Stellata over at the Volusia CEO Business Alliance – whose deep involvement in a sales tax increase speaks volumes about where at least some of the estimated $45 million in annual revenue will ultimately land – conducted a mysterious “updated” survey of a smattering of Volusia County voters with incredibly short memory’s.
According to the News-Journal, the survey was narrowly focused: “The key question was how the public would respond to the question of a tax after the county delayed taking up the question of raising impact fees on developers.”
Ah, there’s that old impact fee shim-sham bugaboo again. . .
Not to worry, on Sunday the Big Cheese of the CEO Business Alliance, Dr. Kent Sharples – that financial wizard who brought us the American Music Festival debacle and just last summer resigned from the Board of Trustees of Bethune-Cookman University in the midst of a catastrophic crisis – assured everyone who is anyone, “The response is still positive; even more so.”
Yep. The gangs all back together for another bite at the apple, with Joe Yarbrough – the recently retired and now completely unaccountable South Daytona city manager – having agreed to stay on and “lead the charge” for the sales tax until the vote.
Folks, what we are witnessing here is the antithesis of leadership, strategic vision and participatory democracy.
It is the gross manipulation of our system of governance by influential insiders and their chattel on the dais of power to ensure the passage of a massively lucrative revenue stream which, like every other tax increase ever passed, will ultimately end up earmarked for anything and everything with a dubious nexus to its original intent.
The fact is – nothing has changed since this initiative went down in flames last year.
For instance, at a December Volusia County Council meeting, District 4 Councilwoman Heather Post made a legitimate plea to her “colleagues” for a comprehensive evaluation process for the omnipotent County Manager position (an individual who stands at the very intersection of public funds and private interests.)
She was all but laughed out of the room.
This small, but telling, vignette shows the utter disdain our elected “representatives” in DeLand continue to have for the concept of reasonable accountability and oversight – yet they demand more of our hard-earned money to remediate their unforgivable sin of failing to ask their incredibly wealthy political benefactors in the real estate development community to pay their fair share.
As the News-Journal recently pointed out in a cogent editorial on the problem, any politician worth his or her salt knows that if they allow things to get sufficiently bad, invariably local voters will clean up the mess when it begins to impact their quality of life.
In my view, until the Volusia County Council – and certain municipal representatives who appear in lock-step conformity on the issue of saddling their citizens with a sales tax increase – can demonstrate a real commitment to openness, transparency, strategic planning, long-term problem solving and constituent input (you know, the basic fairness of actually listening to the suggestions of those who pay the bills) then this latest money grab should rightfully end up in the overflowing ash bin where the bad ideas of our compromised politicians go to die.
When will these greed-crazed bastards understand that raising taxes on a population trapped in a service-based artificial economy is morally, ethically and economically wrong?