By Erika Webb
Residents from across Volusia County seized a final opportunity to be heard by County Council members Sept. 26 before the millage rate and budget were finalized.
They asked for budget cuts and lower taxes.
"Please consider knock- ing this down," said Don Kane of Daytona Beach.
The council voted 5-2 to adopt the final operating budget of about $597 million and non-operating budget of about $104 million for FY 2013-14 with council members Deb Denys and Doug Daniels opposed.
The non-operating budget includes capital projects, the beach, trails and parks projects, and the Ocean Center at about $5.26 million, and internal services -- computer replacement equipment maintenance, insurance management and group insurance -- funding at about $98.7 million.
The operating millage rate for the Volusia County General Fund was set at 6.3189 mills, greater than the rolled-back rate of 5.7666 mills by 9.58 percent.
The rolled-back rate is the rate expected to generate the same revenue as the previous year with new assessments of existing properties and new construction added.
Two other funds also went up sharply -- the Volusia County Municipal Service District fund at 2.2399 mills, up 10.79 percent from the rolled-back rate of 2.0217 and the Volusia Forever Fund, set at 0.0547 mills, up 8.75 percent from the rolled-back rate of 0.0503.
According to the property appraiser: The average taxable value for single-family properties in unincorporated West Volusia is $61,500. The total millage rate of 13.1423 includes the General Fund, Library, Volusia Forever, Volusia Forever, Volusia ECHO, Fire District and Volusia Municipal Service District. The estimated tax amount, based on the average taxable value for residential properties and the 2013 adopted millage rate is $808.25, an increase of $36.29 from 2012.
In unincorporated East Volusia, the average taxable value for single family properties is $112,500. The adopted countywide millage rate of 13.4582 includes the same funds as West Volusia, but also Mosquito Control, Ponce Inlet Port Authority and Silver Sands Municipal Service District. The estimated tax amount, based on the average taxable value for residential properties and the 2013 adopted millage rate, is $1,514.05, an increase of $66.33 from 2012.
Members of the public pleaded with the county council to move toward a countywide atmosphere more conducive to business development, industry and job creation. They expressed disapproval of staff raises, and talked about needs versus wants.
New Smyrna Beach resident John Franks said if the millage rate was determined by "a vote of the people it wouldn't pass."
He said higher taxes are killing the local economy.
"Restaurants and shops are closing," Mr. Franks said.
Tony Ledbetter of Ormond Beach said there is a spending problem in Volusia County.
"I'm very disappointed in at least five of you sitting on this council tonight," Mr. Ledbetter said.
DeLand property owner Theone Wilkenson lamented her taxes have risen from $600 to $2,000 since she bought her home 26 years ago.
"Nothing's changed, the roads (are) the same ... whatever," Ms. Wilkenson said. "Your answer to everything is just spend the money. Just raise the taxes and spend."
Craig Byrd of Port Orange offered his thanks to the council saying he represents the people with disabilities who reside in Volusia County, and explained he was in attendance to speak in favor of funding provided for community services.
"It's a small portion of the budget, but extremely important, about $300,000 provided from the county to support services for thousands of seniors and individuals with disabilities residing here," Mr. Byrd said.
Council members listened while citizens aired their feelings about the federal government as well.
Daytona Beach resident Virginia Hewett told the council that constantly raising tax percentages will "eventually kill the host."
"Because government is, let's face it, a bit of a parasite," Ms. Hewett said.
"The federal government has raised more money this year than ever before," she said, adding, "There's always something else to spend it on."
There was no discussion among members of the council as they proceeded to a vote following the public participation portion of the budget hearing.
Councilwoman Denys, who voted against seven of the nine increases and the budget, said she presented herself as a fiscal conservative when she ran for election, and her budget vote reflected her campaign statements.
"Property values increas-ed for the first time in years this year for an average increase of 2.6 percent. Just as the previous years when council reduced the millage, the manager was directed to implement the council's decision," Ms. Denys wrote in an email response to questions. "However, this council has had discussions regarding a strategic plan to identify priorities and implement not just cost saving measures, but also where to increase spending when revenues increase, and they will!"
Councilman Daniels also voted against the budget and three of the nine millage increases, including the General Fund, Ponce Inlet Port District Fund and Municipal Service District Fund.
Council members Josh Wagner, Pat Northey, Joyce Cusack, Pat Patterson and Chair Jason Davis voted yes to all.
"This was the first time in five years that I voted for an increase," Councilman Wagner wrote in an emailed response to questions. "It is significantly less than the savings we have made for the taxpayers over the past five years. That being said, I am working on many aggressive proposals to bring to the County Council to significantly reduce the property tax burden on our citizens and businesses over the next few years.
"With all of the cuts we have made over the past five years, we cut services to a basic level," Mr. Wagner explained. "The increase in the budget this year was to maintain the basic level of service."