The final tax rate for Volusia County will be decided Thursday evening in DeLand, where opponents of any tax increase are likely to continue applying pressure.
But with the roughly 10 percent general-fund tax rate increase already enjoying preliminary approval of five of the council’s seven members, a reversal at this point would be a September surprise.
And supporters of the increase aren’t sure that reversal would actually save anyone much money.
“I’m not a swing vote,” said Councilman Pat Patterson, one of the five “yes” votes who’s received a steady stream of emails attempting to turn him against any increase. “I’ve been responding to some of them. But when people send me emails, I go in and look at their (tax) notice. … I’m looking at dollars and cents; what are they really having to pay for everything? And for the largest part of it, I’m only seeing a 1.2 to 3 percent increase in the total tax bill.”
That is the case across many households in Volusia County, which, despite the county’s proposed increase and similar hikes in several cities, benefit from cuts to school and hospital tax rates.
“There is a tax reduction in the county, period,” said County Chair Jason Davis, another whom tax opponents see as a swing vote. “Nobody looks at one line and says, ‘I’m just going to pay that tax.’ You pay the entire tax bill. And the entire tax bill is a tax reduction.”
An example: Greg Winquist, president of the Republican Club of the Ormond Beach Area, lives in the unincorporated area. His county taxes will go up, he conceded in an email to other members. But his school taxes will go down. The net increase on his tax bill: $1.34.
“Before we crucify Jason Davis, please remember that while we worked to support and elect him, he is his own man and now represents us as the county chair and should make his own decisions,” Winquist wrote. “By demanding that he vote a certain way on certain issues makes us no worse than the proverbial mob with the pitchforks.”
The larger Volusia County Republican Executive Committee has organized a strong campaign against the increased rate, part of a combined Volusia budget of about $701 million. The Republicans, led by their executive committee chairman Tony Ledbetter, have recommended cuts from the budget and from future spending plans, including: ending the county’s artificial reef program, putting off park projects and canceling library landscaping.
Many tax opponents have warned that council members who support an increase, particularly amid modestly increasing property values, could be voted out. One of the two “no” votes, Deb Denys, is up for re-election in 2014. The other, Doug Daniels, is in office until 2018 and said he voted no because the proposed budget doesn’t contain a true strategic plan for getting out of what’s essentially a financial crisis.
“My position’s the same,” Denys said. “I’m not going to waver. I don’t support raising taxes. I do support a comprehensive strategic plan that will set priorities for decreases if they’re required, and increases where we spend the increased revenue when that happens.”
The budget hearing starts at 6 p.m. in the Thomas C. Kelly Administration Center at 123 W. Indiana Ave. in DeLand. Listen online at volusia.org.