By Erika Webb
Volusia County accomplished a lot in 2012, according to three County Council members, but the county will "essentially be out of the road construction business" very soon, said the chair.
At the council meeting May 2, members Joyce Cusack, Pat Northey and Josh Wagner along with County Chair Jason Davis delivered the State of the County Address. They lauded growth, citizen protection measures, progress and potential while praising the concerted efforts of staff, citizen volunteers and public-private partnerships for effectively executing policy.
Councilwoman Joyce Cusack talked about economic development.
"The state of Volusia County is good," Ms. Cusack said. "We have created new jobs and helped existing businesses expand. More people are flying in and out of our airport and booking events at the Ocean Center. New driving rules have made our beaches safer."
With a goal of cutting through the red tape and being business friendly, performance-based incentives designed to attract new business and prompt expansion of existing businesses in Volusia County, particularly in manufacturing and technology, are getting the job done.
Ms. Cusack listed ARK Technologies, Frontier Communications, Teledyne Oil and Gas, and AO Precision Manufacturing among those that have utilized the incentives for expansion.
"Collectively these companies anticipate 300 new job opportunities right here in Volusia County," she said.
The business incubator at DBIA, managed by the University of Central Florida, had 13 fledgling companies as clients by the end of 2012, its first year in operation.
"We are thrilled with this success, and we would like to see more businesses that are just starting out, benefit from their support," Ms. Cusack said.
The county's operating budget was reduced by $8 million last year, "making it six years in a row the county has significantly downsized without abrupt service cuts and employee layoffs," Ms. Cusack noted.
"More people in Volusia County are working and we can feed our family and pay our mortgage," she said.
Council Member Josh Wagner focused on the beaches, where the county has moved to make things more Disney-like.
"I think I get to deliver the best part of the county address, which is the beach," Mr. Wagner said. "I'm passionate about the beach."
Among last year's changes aimed at improved safety and customer service, Mr. Wagner listed a campaign to encourage parking instead of driving, new rules prohibiting texting while driving on the beach and a requirement that beach drivers keep their windows down and headlights on.
Parking is prohibited in front of most beachfront parks, and the county has created one-way traffic zones in key areas, Mr. Wagner said.
Beach employees are using "smaller more approachable vehicles with security enhancements," he added.
"We're on our way to becoming the artificial reef capital of the world," Mr. Wagner announced.
Sixteen new artificial reefs were built off the county's coast last year, using tons concrete that would otherwise end up at the landfill, he explained.
"This project is funded by the County Port District dollars and it provides jobs and moves money into local businesses," he said, calling it a win-win for the marine industry and the environment.
The county's "trails queen" Pat Northey praised successful efforts to complete and open the county's first six miles of East Central Regional Rail Trail, linking Thornby Park with Green Spring.
Ms. Northey said the benefits from the county's parks and trails are endless.
Among the county's advances in leisure last year, she listed sea wall replacement and restroom repairs at Ed Stone Park in DeLand, grant funds for a new dock and kayak launch at Mariners Cove Park in Enterprise, the addition of a playground, volleyball court and basketball court to Strickland Park in Holly Hill, a basketball court at Cypress Lake Park in DeLand, programs at DeBary Hall and scrub strolls at Lyonia Environmental Center.
"There really is no downside to our trails and our park system," she said.
She credited community partners for the accomplishments.
"Without assistance from these profit and non-profit groups many of the activities I mentioned would not have taken place," Ms. Northey said. We appreciate our partners, thank you very much, and all they do for the community."
A Green Volusia $2.4 million federal grant afforded the installation of energy and water efficient retrofits at county facilities.
"These improvements save hundreds of thousands in utility costs and an estimated one million gallons of water a year," Ms. Northey said.
The grant also benefitted the Neighborhood Stabilization Program through which 29 foreclosed homes were purchased by the county, repaired and resold to first-time homebuyers.
County Chair Jason Davis looked ahead.
He said council members all want to protect and improve the quality of life and keep Volusia County in a forward direction.
He talked about challenges and opportunities.
He listed business attracting assets, including a qualified workforce, natural resources, favorable weather, five universities and a prime location.
These benefits, he said, are not necessarily enough to boost the economy.
"The competition for business expansions and development and relocation is fierce," Mr. Davis said.
The news for infrastructure was grim.
With the completion of the Williamson extension, road construction will cease.
The reason is quite simple: we're running out of money ... we can't keep up with road maintenance costs and barely have enough to cover our road construction debts," Mr. Davis said.
He said the ability to provide a transportation system is crucial for Volusia's future.
He spoke in favor of private space enterprise coming to Volusia, and expressed enthusiasm over SunRail, saying it will be a catalyst for the creation of thousands of jobs as shops and businesses develop up around the rail station and all the platforms."
"County government cannot do what it's always done and expect to deliver both tax relief and expanded quality services," he said.
Counties, cities and residents will have to cooperatively find ways to create effective, yet affordable government, Mr. Davis added.
In other business, the council voted 6-1 to draft a resolution in support of Space Florida's proposed "Shiloh Complex" private spaceport in Southeast Volusia.
A presentation given by the state agency's CEO and president, Frank DiBello, revealed what was known: Space Florida has its eye on 150 acres inside the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
Mr. DiBello said an extensive search along Florida's east coast for an ideal location for a commercial launch complex ended at the site near Oak Hill.