Volusia Republican executive committee recommends cuts to county budget

Tony Ledbetter and Stan Escudero / Headline SurferHeadline Surfer videos and phgotos by Henry Frederick / Republican Party elders Tony Ledbetter and Stan Escudero address the Volusia County Council on Thursday and present a 13-point plan fore reducing taxes. But the County Council voted for a budget with a double-digit increase any way.

DAYTONA BEACH -- The leaders of Volusia County's Republican Party proposed a series of measures they believe will go a long way to reducing the proposed 10 percent increase in taxes to support the $585 million county budget in the the new fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, and for future years.

But their reforms fell on deaf ears as the County Council voted 5-2 in favor of the double-digit tax increase.

Now a showdown looms in the wake of Thursday's preliminary vote with the second and final public hearing on County Manager Jim Dinneen's proposed budget slated for Sept. 26 at the Frank T. Bruno County Council chambers in DeLand.

Two of the three Republicans on the council -- County Chair Jason Davis of Edgewater and Council member Pat Patterson of greater DeLand voted with three Democrats -- at-large council member Joyce Cusack of DeLand, Joshua Wagner of greater Daytona Beach and Pat Northey of greater Deltona -- while Republican Deb Denys of greater New Smyrna Beach and Democrat Doug Daniels of greater Ormond Beach voted against it. 

But Denys and Daniels have not publicly stated any offerings to decrease the proposed budget. Denys is up for re-election next year as are Northey, Cusack and Patterson. Northey is term-limited in her seat so she's running against Cusack.

Davis, Patterson and Denys were all elected in the 2012 general elections with strong Republican Party support.

Davis, Patterson and Denys were all elected in the 2012 general elections with strong Republican Party support.

Here are the Republican Party proposals for budget cuts and reforms presented to the council Thursday by GOP Chairman Tony Ledbetter and 2012 chair Stanley Escudero as written by them and their supporters:

What follows are thirteen proposals developed by the Republican Party and other fiscal conservatives for specific cuts or structural reforms which it is recommended that Volusia County make. We believe that adoption of these proposals would eliminate the need for tax increases and produce a more transparent and serially coherent budgetary process.
 
1. Proposed that the structure of the county fire service be altered to become fifty percent (50%) volunteer.
JUSTIFICATION: Volusia County must live within its means. That means that less expensive ways have to be found to provide the services which Volusia’s citizens have come to expect. In light of the substantial cost for provision of fire services to the county under the existing system, a shift to a partial volunteer system is necessary to save money.
 
2. Proposed that the marketing and advertising elements of the Ocean Center be privatized via competitive bidding in order to eliminate or substantially reduce the current annual transfer of funds to the Ocean Center from the General Fund. Estimated annual savings: Up to $1,500,000.
JUSTIFICATION: The Ocean Center is an ill-conceived white elephant which is unlikely ever to be able to pay its own expenses under total county and board management. Its debt level and future bond obligations are such that no private firm is likely to be willing to buy it. But professional marketing and advertising might be done successfully, enabling the Ocean Center to become profitable or at least break even while delivering a contracted fee to the county which could reduce or perhaps even replace its current annual bloodletting.
 
3. Proposed that the county shall budget for no more than 97% occupancy of its FTE personnel positions during any fiscal year. The number of temporary employees shall not exceed the average of the number of temps for the preceding five years. Any proposal for hiring of temporary employees in numbers that exceed that average shall require a non-consent agenda vote of a majority of the elected members of the County Council.
JUSTIFICATION: Normally a bureaucratic structure like Volusia County will have no more than 93-95% of its FTE personnel positions filled at any one time. Budgeting for a 100% fill rate creates a pot of unused money which can become a sort of slush fund. A 97% budget rate allows some wiggle room while protecting against conscious establishment of extra funding. The use of temps requires greater control.
 
4. Proposed that, the county shall not renew the current self insured health care contract for its employees but shall transfer all county health insurance to the Affordable Health Care Federal Health Care Exchange, paying the $2000.00 fine per employee and saving approximately $26, 000,000.00.
JUSTIFICATION: County employees enjoy health care coverage at the taxpayers’ expense substantially better than that enjoyed by many, perhaps most, of those same taxpayers. The cost of the County’s self insurance program, currently in excess of $8000.00 per employee, is substantially greater than that paid by any city in the county for the health insurance programs for their employees. The federal government has provided an alternative means of ensuring adequate health coverage at a much lower cost and the county, in these hard times, has to save money wherever possible.
 
5. Proposed that the county shall explore possible advertising contracts with appropriate American firms for naming rights or other advertising rights for county owned or operated entities such as VOTRAN.
JUSTIFICATION: If successful this would open up new revenue streams for the county without raising taxes, cutting spending or disposing of county property.
 
6. The following four measures are to be considered as a single motion: Proposed that the County Council, not the Manager and Staff, create the core of a five year Strategic Plan for the county budget which would include goals to be met and parameters which would define and constrain all future budgets for the period covered by the Plan. The County Manager and Staff would develop budgets which fit within the parameters and pursue the goals of the Plan, which draft budgets would be approved by the County Council; Proposed that all future budgets must begin with a clear and coherent statement of budget assumptions which are related to and show how the proposed budget would advance the goals of the Strategic Plan; Proposed that all future TRIM budgets be presented to the County Council not later than six weeks prior to the first vote by the Council on the TRIM budget and that said vote be preceded by not less than two full-day budget workshops; Proposed that all future budgets shall be developed on the basis of zero-based budgeting and presented in a form which is transparent and able to be understood by an interested person who is not expert in the interpretation of budgets.
JUSTIFICATION: Budgets are also roadmaps.  In this case they show where the County has been and they should show where it intends to go. But Volusia County’s roadmap is incomplete.  Volusia’s roadmap looks to me more like a series of short term responses to immediate challenges or in some cases to unfortunate decisions by past Councils regarding the use of reserves. The County’s budgets, even though inordinately complex,  should serve as a reliable guide to the future as the Council and Manager see it, but they do not.
 
7. Proposed that the County terminate its membership in VCOG.
JUSTIFICATION: The County does not enjoy a benefit from its membership in this organization commensurate with the current $48,000.00 annual cost of its dues.
 
8. Proposed that the County lease management of its orange grove and associated land to a commercial grower on terms which ensure that the County will remain able to dispose of treated effluent from the South East Volusia Waste Treatment Plant on this land as required by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
JUSTIFICATION: No governmental entity, including the County of Volusia, has any business competing with the private sector. This grove has lost over $500,000.00 in past years and, though expenditures are reduced in the current budget, it will still cost the taxpayers $45,000.00 and this expense should be eliminated altogether.
 
9. Fund 104 Library: -- $ 450,000 – Landscaping/maintenance
JUSTIFICATION: Landscaping of library properties is a luxury which the county cannot presently afford. Reduce the amount to the barest level needed for simply mowing and removal of debris. Five Year Projection Expenditures: -- $2,000,000 - self service check in/out program -- $3,000,000 - new auditorium in Port Orange -- $ 250,000 - expansion of downloadable audio/video/electronic book collection -- $ 750,000 - expansion of children‘s area of DeBary Library TOTAL: Current Budget - $450,000; Long Term - $6,000,000.
JUSTIFICATION (2): The County Council has been using reserves to fund library-related projects. These are all laudable projects but should not be funded from the reserves, which have been improperly drawn down by past Councils. In these difficult financial times the people of Volusia cannot afford higher taxes to pay for these projects. Remove these projects from the projections now and add them back in better times.
 
10. Fund 350 Economic Development: -- No new or expanded CRA’s -- $72,000 - Defund the federal lobbyist -- $25,000 - Defund support for the LPGA Symetra Tour -- $25,000 -Defund the Buy Local Program -- $20,000 – Defund the Brawl on the Beach TOTAL: $142,000 plus CRA savings
JUSTIFICATION: These programs fall into the category of nice to have but cannot easily be defended given current fiscal challenges. The CRA Programs were not always well-chosen and some have been abused. The program needs to be thoroughly restructured and greater county oversight added before it can continue.
 
11. Fund 456 VOTRAN: -- $120,457 - Defund the commuter van -- $81,501 - Eliminate the trolley service -- $81,740 - Eliminate the night service -- $28,840 - Eliminate the holiday service TOTAL: $312,538
JUSTIFICATION: VOTRAN loses money. The services proposed for elimination are extraneous to VOTRAN’s primary function of providing inexpensive transportation during the primary workday. These services might be re-instated if other efforts such as the sale of naming rights, fare increases, etc. are able to put VOTRAN on a paying basis.
 
12. Fund 114 Ponce DeLeon Inlet and Port District: Reefs: -- $450,000 - Delete this item and build no reefs this fiscal year TOTAL: $450,000
JUSTIFICATION: Over the longer term the construction of artificial reefs provides a useful service for a limited number of residents and visitors. The projects should be continued when the county can afford them. But at the moment the County Manager admits that demand has decreased to the point that he recommends defunding the reef projects from FY 14/17. Therefore there is no basis for the expenditure of the money planned for the current fiscal year either. Money saved could be used to pay down the bond debt of the taxing authority.
 
13. Land Acquisition for the Public Works Center: Delete the $2,783,000.00 for land acquisition from the FY2013/14 budget and issue a tender for private outsourcing of all repair and maintenance for County Vehicles.
JUSTIFICATION: This land purchase is the first step in a planned $15,000,000.00 consolidation plan for County vehicle repair and maintenance. Rather than leap into such a large project at this time, first investigates whether the same functions can be performed as well and cheaper by the private sector. The private sector is usually cheaper and more efficient than the public sector in provision of such services. Should the tender show that costs are too great, the consolidation project could be revisited in future budgets.

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Henry Frederick is publisher of Headline Surfer®, the award-winning 24/7 internet news outlet covering the Daytona Beach-Sanford-Orlando metro area via HeadlineSurfer.com since 2008. A longtime cops & courts reporter focused on breaking news & investigative reporting, Frederick is among the Sunshine State's most prolific daily news reporters, having amassed close to a hundred award-winning byline stories narly eveenly split in print and digital platforms. Frederick earned his Master of Arts in New Media Journalism with academic honors from Full Sail University in Winter Park in February 2019. He was a metro reporter with the Daytona Beach News-Journal for nearly a decade and then served as a city editor for the Taunton Daily Gazette in Taunton, Mass, while maintaining a residence in Central Florida. Prior to moving to Florida, Frederick was a metro reporter for the Rockland Journal-News in Wst Nyack, NY, for seven years. Headline Surfer was named the Sunshine State's top internet news site by the Florida Press Club in 2018.