By Dan Harkins
DEBARY - Beverly and Douglas McCain came to the DeBary City Council meeting on July 18 ready to cry foul.
A proposed city code change, with the full support of Council, would require business owners with pole signs along major roads to replace them with monument signs within five years-a measure that aims to give the city the look and feel of communities like Lake Mary and Port Orange. The couple's DeBary Nursery on U.S. 17-92 has had the same pole sign for 20 years, behind long rows of landscaping and a chain-link fence at the property line.
"Why would I put thousands of dollars into a sign that nobody's going to be able to see?" asked Ms. McCain, whose family has operated the business for 42 years.
But the promise of a variance to certain businesses from one Council member, as well as the near-full support of Council for a matching grant program to help defray the expense of replacing the signs, kept the couple's tempers at bay.
But that doesn't mean they were happy.
"People didn't move here because this is Port Orange," said Mr. McCain after the meeting. "They moved here because this is DeBary. Why do we have to copy them? And the matching grants, that might help business owners out, but everybody, all the taxpayers, are going to end up paying the rest."
All on Council but Mayor Bob Garcia expressed support for a sliding grant scale for business owners who switched to monument sign the fasted. The plan was recommended by Councilman Chris Carson.
Using about $35,000 a year in sales tax revenue set aside for economic development, the funding could pay 90 percent of the expense in the first year, then less every year until 2017, when it would pay 50 percent.
"I can understand ... this being very expensive to conform with these monument signs we want to go to," Councilman Carson said, "But this, I feel, is a very fair program and rewards individuals who comply sooner rather than later."
Councilman Nick Koval noted that a variance could always be granted to those who qualify. For those who don't, he said, the grants would offer generous assistance.
"I'm going to get a $5,000 sign that's only going to cost me $500?" he asked rhetorically. "Sign me up."
Mayor Garcia agrees with the monument mandate, but thinks the money could be used elsewhere.
"I'd rather invest our money in economic development and incentive programs for the city," he said.
But Councilman Dan Hunt said economic development has everything to do with improving the look of the city.
"If we're looking into the future and trying to change the look of DeBary and move it along," he said, "What's the expression? Some eggs are gonna have to be broken."
Earlier in the week, Van Canada, manager of Daytona State College's Small Business Development Center, said he understands why some business would worry about the new monument signs diminishing their visibility, he also understands why the city would want to start marketing itself differently.
Communities like Port Orange and New Smyrna Beach have made the switch to uniform monument signs with great success, he said.
"It does make it difficult for some businesses that are tucked away," Mr. Canada said, "but at the same time, businesses like to be in those places because customers like to be there. So this is a tough one."
In other business, Council members:
* Agreed unanimously in a workshop that the 2.99 mill property tax assessment that's gone unchanged for three years would likely need to be raised for the coming year to the rollback rate of 3.09.
The decision would keep revenue level in light of recent reports showing a 3.5 percent decrease in the city's mean property values last year. Council members have until Aug. 1 to adopt a preliminary tax rate.
Councilman Hunt said the city would continue to have the lowest tax rate in the county.
Voted 4-1, with Mayor Garcia dissenting, to disband the city's code enforcement board in favor of a special magistrate, effective Nov. 1.