Beach Talks Spur Contention In County Council Meeting

County votes to table beach talks until October, again

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DeLand, FL - Things got heated in the Volusia County Council's chambers after council members argued about beach access naming rights and tolls;  the former of which council members agreed to table to a later date already.

County Chair Jeff Brower—who tried to get staff to move forward with naming rights during their last meeting—began the discussion of adding beach tolls to an October workshop with a presentation about Volusia's workforce and how to create a "vibrant community."

"We need our young people to stay here and work and that's not happening," said Brower. 

Documents provided by Brower to the council as part of his presentation argued that Volusia's median age is 46.5 while the state's and country's median ages are 41.9 and 37.9 respectively. The document went on to state, in a nutshell, that Volusia also has a higher poverty level than the state and the nation, which have a larger prime-age workforce—meaning adults aged between 25-54—and median household income.

"We don't have young people participating in the workforce that we need in Volusia County," said Brower. "We're not a rich county."

According to Brower, one way to attract and keep young people in the county is by being a "Volusia First'' county and putting residents first. One way could be by giving residents a tax break by not having residents "pay twice for the beach."

"A simple little amenity of paying for the beach through your property taxes. We're not going to charge you a second time," added Brower.

After Brower finished speaking, District 2 representative Billie Wheeler made a motion to discuss adding the topic to a future workshop meeting. Wheeler told Brower that she was on board with his idea, but added that a "$20 or $25 beach pass is not going to keep our youth here."

"What's going to keep our youth here is high paying jobs and better education," said Wheeler. "If we don't have that to offer our young folks are going to go where they're going to get a good paying job."

Wheeler then went on to tell Brower that the council had already voted to put this issue off until after the county had a chance to review its budget.

District 4 representative Heather Post later chimed in and said she thought they agreed that the workshop would be about sponsoring beach access ramps, not the tolls.

"Although it is connected, that was what was postponed until October," said Post.

Talks began to heat up when District 3 Danny Robins took a stand against offering free beach passes to residents, saying while it's "free," someone still has to pay for it.

"If any of our youth are paying attention and ever wander inside of a voting booth remember, 'free' is a lie," said Robins. "You are making it free to the residents who use the beach by making residents who don't use the beach pay more taxes, it doesn't compute."

"Who up here wants to tell an elderly couple on a fixed income in Seville, DeLand, Orange City, Deltona, Debary, Lake Helen, DeLeon Springs that we have to raise their taxes because Brower's friends want free access to the beach?" Robins added. "Talk about 'bought and paid for' and 'pay to play.'"

Robins also transitioned into the issue of naming rights and mentioned that they have experimented with it once before in Daytona Beach, but to no avail. According to Robins, one of the main problems is that out of all beach access ramps in the county, only a small number are in marketable locations. Robins then went to touch on the effectiveness of advertising as a whole.

"If advertising was so star-spangled awesome, why isn't advertising carrying Votran's budget better than it already is?" said Robins. "They advertised countywide and they're still upside down."

"Nothing says 'welcome to our beautiful coastline' like a giant gawdy sign advertising booze and condoms," added Robins. "We need cash flows ladies and gentlemen. We need cash flows we can count on, not wishful thinking."

Robins finished by telling Brower that he works for the county, not himself.

"You sir have to start playing for the name on the front of your jersey and stop playing for the name on the back," said Robins.

Brower fired back at Robins by telling him all of the issues they mentioned were things brought up by constituents, not items off any personal agendas. Brower continued by saying that Robins doesn't have to like any of the new revenue streams brought up to council, but they should at least be talked about.

"We should be able to talk about it and let the public hear what we're talking about and what the ideas are," said Brower. "That's what I'm asking for."

The next to comment on the issue was At-Large Representative Ben Johnson.

"Mr. Chair, you're one vote," said Johnson. "We voted at the last meeting to table this. A few words have changed and all of a sudden the next meeting it's back in front of us. Might there be some revenue? Maybe some. But it has been looked at in the past and it wasn't the revenue we needed to close it up."

Johnson went on to say he knows many constituents who don't use the beach and wouldn't want to pay for it through their ad valorem taxes.

"We're not going to take and make it all up in this other manner," said Johnson. "I don't want more on the ad valorem taxes and neither do the people I talk to."

"You need to start listening to your constituents, also you need to start listening to some of the people beside you and have a little bit of respect," added Johnson.

Following additional comments from the council and the public, county leaders eventually voted to push the matter to a date in October that has yet to be set by county staff.

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