by Dan Smith
When Jason Davis ousted Carl Persis, the incumbent vice chair of the Volusia County Council, I was very surprised. I don't believe I was alone.
I didn't know anything about Mr. Davis, but I knew that Mr. Persis was a longtime politician with a record of steady if not remarkable service. After the election results were in, I reasoned that Mr. Persis had been the victim of the out with the old and in with the new mood that seemed to prevail. Now, it seems to me that a majority of Volusia County voters were much better informed than I.
Before his first term as an elected official even began Jason Davis announced that he is in favor of giving control of the beach to the sheriff's office and doing away with the large police force that runs our beach. Ooh my gosh! Can it be true? A voice of common sense on the County Council.
Mr. Davis said that if all of those beach rangers are actually cops we should take them off the beach and put them in patrol cars where they can do the most good. That represents uncommonly clear thinking for someone in such a lofty political position.
For many years, a lot of us who love the beach have wondered why we need such a large police force to patrol a beach that is mostly free of serious crime. Such a highly visible police presence on the sand cannot be inviting for locals or visitors. Even with more cops and less cars on the beach, auto accidents involving beach goers and autos have increased and beach rangers have been involved in several of them. Removing the majority of the county vehicles would at least cut down on those incidents. It has also been proven that many of the beach rangers on our payroll have been spending too much time pursuing the young ladies that are so readily available to them. I have my suspicions that some only took the job for that reason.
Right now the budget to run the beach is more than $13 million annually and the costs of the beach rangers is broken out at $5.4 million, though I expect that figure is actually much higher. That is quite a burden on local taxpayers. Now with his refreshing take on the beach, Mr. Davis has given hope for some tax relief for the citizens of Volusia County. For years the per-capita income for the county has been near the bottom in the state while the tax rate is at the very top of the list.
In my naiveté I have always expected some candidate for local office would use that to win public approval, but even if it does get mentioned, it is quickly pushed aside.
If Mr. Davis can succeed in reducing the bloated beach department, that would be a first step toward fiscal responsibility. Of course, it would come too late to save the millions spent on plush, new beach department headquarters, but perhaps we can recycle that facility to another use.
Since the '90s the cross-trained beach rangers have given our beach a military feel. The shore is supposed to be a place to reflect on the natural beauty and to have a little fun. Many of us who have lived here most of our lives remember a time when a friendly lifeguard was a welcome sight. Now, I cringe each time I see a line of cars trying to get onto the beach during the height of our tourist season.
The ugly gates and booths of each "Check Point Charlie" at our beach ramps are anything but inviting. Dare I even think it? Could Mr. Davis' idea lead to the county doing away with the beach tolls? The thought makes me giddy. These days it is the duty of the beach- front cities to pay for studies to find out why the beach is not as successful as it once was. The county just announced another $100,000 down the tubes for the same thing.
Just look around. It's not hard to see what has changed since the beach's heyday in the '70s and '80s. All day and all night the sand was parked full of cars while families enjoyed the nearby amusements and restaurants.
Now, we the taxpayers have to continually pay for more ugly asphalt to be put on our dunes. Can that change? Could a beach champion be leading the county council? I can't wait to find out.
Dan Smith is on the board of directors for the Ormond Beach Historical Society and The Motor Racing Heritage Association and is the author of two books, "The World's Greatest Beach" and "I Swear the Snook Drowned." E-mail questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (386) 441-7793.