State of the County 2015
Jason Davis, Chair
Feb. 19, 2015
2015 State of the County
(Remarks as prepared)
Good morning! I am Jason Davis, your Volusia County Chair, and it is a pleasure to bring you the 2015 State of the County address. First, I would like to recognize and thank my fellow Council members for their hard work on behalf of the community. Also, County Manager Jim Dinneen, who does a great job leading our employees. This is truly a team effort.
Let’s get started by looking at the progress we’ve made on our two most important goals: growing the economy and adding jobs. Last year, Volusia manufacturing firms Sparton, Raydon and U.S. Foods won new, multimillion dollar contracts; Frontier Communications and Boston Whaler expanded. Tourism is up; unemployment is down. An outlet mall is in the planning stages, and construction is under way on several major projects that will transform our community. And of course, we are tremendously excited that JetBlue Airways will begin daily service between New York and Daytona Beach International Airport early next year.
Strengthening the local economy is one of the best ways we can ensure a better future for our citizens, and County government can help by creating a supportive climate that is conducive to job creation. The County Council last year provided a $20 million incentive grant for infrastructure to support One Daytona, a project that is expected to generate more than $800 million in new capital investments and 4,300 jobs, as well as $52 million in property and sales tax over 30 years.
The County also contributed more than $1.6 million in incentives and secured a $2.9 million road improvement grant to bring a Trader Joe’s distribution center to Daytona Beach. The distribution center will supply Trader Joe’s stores in Florida and the southeastern United States. Capital investment in this project is $88 million, and more than 450 new jobs are anticipated.
Here are a few more indications the economy is improving:
Property values grew almost 9 percent countywide, a positive sign for Volusia’s real estate market. Including new construction, the countywide increase in property values totaled more than $3.1 billion – the most improvement in the market since 2006.
Residential construction activity in 2014 was down slightly from the previous year, but the numbers are still strong and homebuilders are anticipating future growth. Last year, 1,182 residential permits with a value of $329 million were issued by the County and the cities, compared to 1,270 permits valued at $385 million in 2013. The first quarter of 2014 was our best quarter, with permits for 348 new homes issued between January 1 and March 31. The City of DeLand processed the most residential construction permits in 2014, with a total of 329.
Ninety-seven new commercial construction permits valued at $324 million were issued in 2014. This includes the single, $152-million building permit granted for improvements at Daytona International Speedway in the first quarter. The Speedway project was one of 34 permits issued between January 1st and March 31st with a total value of $216 million. This made those first three months of 2014 one of the best quarters we have experienced.
As I noted earlier, more people are working. Unemployment in Volusia County is now down to 5.3%, meaning some 5,000 more residents found work in the last 12 months.
That’s a lot of numbers! But the most important number is 500,800. That’s the number of people who live, learn, work and play here, and who depend on our continued ability to help existing businesses grow and successfully bring in new employers.
One way the County can be business friendly is to make it easy for companies to navigate the permitting and fees process. Our online permit center is a good example of this, allowing customers to apply for permits, schedule inspections and pay permit fees at their convenience and from the comfort of their home or office.
Infrastructure is critical for every community, but even more so when you have a growth spurt in the economy like we have experienced. And when you talk about infrastructure, you must include roads and transportation. An effective road network is crucial because it impacts every part of your life – from your commute to work or school to decisions about opening or expanding a business. Last year, two major road construction projects aimed at improving safety and traffic flow were completed. Saxon Boulevard was widened to six lanes and a median was added between Interstate 4 and Enterprise Road in Deltona at a cost of approximately $4.4 million.
Tymber Creek Road was widened to four lanes between State Road 40 and Peruvian Way in Ormond Beach, a $5.3 million project.
In addition, construction contracts were awarded to widen Howland Boulevard to six lanes from Courtland Boulevard to north of State Road 415 in Deltona, and also to install paved shoulders to Dunn Avenue from Clyde Morris Boulevard to Bill France Boulevard in Daytona Beach.
Engineering and design plans have been largely completed for the new, high rise bridge that will replace the Tom Staed Veterans Memorial Bridge. This concrete arch bridge is the first of its kind in Florida and will include ADA compliant pedestrian and bike features and fishing piers. An advisory committee has been assisting the design team and has contributed tremendously to ensuring this new bridge will be a showcase structure over the Intracoastal Waterway and a tribute to all veterans.
When it comes to protecting the public’s safety, health and well-being, County government is the first line of defense. Hundreds of dedicated employees in the Sheriff’s Office, Fire Services, Corrections, Beach Safety, Emergency Medical Services and the Health Department work tirelessly to safeguard our community. Last year, the Sheriff’s Office embarked on an ambitious new program to outfit all patrol deputies and specialized patrol units with body cameras. When fully implemented in a few months, the program will have significant benefits, including enhanced transparency in our operations and improved officer safety. The use of body cameras is also expected to strengthen evidence in criminal cases and positively impact citizen complaints and litigation.
Looking for a way to quickly reunite lost children with their families last year, one of our Beach Safety officers hit on the idea of having youngsters wear paper wristbands listing their parents’ contact information. More than 1,000 bracelets have since been distributed at beach toll booths, local hotels and portable lifeguard towers as part of this low cost initiative called RES-Q - Reuniting Everyone Safely and Quickly. This is significant because our Beach employees find a lot of missing kids – more than 230 last year. Beach officers also rescued more than 2,500 people from the surf, treated 450 first aid cases and helped more than 1,350 stranded motorists.
Two months ago, I adopted a rescue cat, one of the thousands of feral and abandoned cats roaming our community. County Animal Control officers for the past several years have spent an enormous amount of time responding to nuisance calls and requests to trap feral cats, and the County has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to impound the animals. Last year, the County Council approved a new program with a proven track record of reducing the feral cat population called trap, neuter and return, or TNR. Volunteer groups and local residents assist animal control officers in trapping the feral cats, who are then vaccinated, spayed or neutered, and returned to where they were captured. Sterilizing the cats instead of euthanizing them is a more humane approach that saves money and will ultimately reduce the feral cat population.
The County’s Pet Vet Cruiser has played a significant role in reducing the unwanted animal population. The Cruiser last year performed almost 2,400 spay-neuter surgeries in unincorporated Volusia County and the Cities of DeLand and South Daytona. The increased use of the Cruiser coupled with the County’s mandatory spay-neuter ordinance resulted in 245 fewer animals impounded by Animal Control in 2014. More than 14,000 spay/neuter surgeries have been performed by the Pet Vet Cruiser since its inception in 2007.
By the way, Smokey the rescue cat has adapted well to his new home in the Davis household and is doing is great. I encourage all residents looking to add a pet to the family to first consider adopting from a shelter or rescue group.
In addition to maintaining infrastructure and ensuring the safety of our residents, the County is charged with protecting our natural resources. Our beach, rivers, parks and green spaces are what make Volusia County unique and appealing, and it’s essential that we safeguard them. As part of the County’s ongoing commitment to public beach access and coastal beautification, several parks, restrooms, showers and informational signs were renovated to improve their appearance and functionality. These included the Riverview Avenue restrooms and parking area in Daytona Beach; the Dahlia Avenue Park in Daytona Beach Shores; the Neptune Avenue parking area in Ormond Beach; and the parking area, restrooms, and canoe launch at Mary McLeod Bethune Beach Park in New Smyrna Beach.
We continue to seek ways to reduce costs and be more efficient, with the goal of providing the highest level of service at the lowest cost to taxpayers. A case in point is the County’s library system. According to a 2013 study, taxpayers receive an economic return of $10.18 for every $1 invested in public libraries. Volusia County’s cost per visit of $15.79 is the lowest in the state, proof that citizens are receiving a high return on their investment.
Volusia residents continue to visit our libraries and check out books and other materials in record numbers, and more than 114,000 people attended library programs last year. But the real growth is in e-books and the use of technology. Circulation of electronic library materials increased 40 percent in 2014, and there were more than five million virtual visits to networked library resources, which are of course available 24/7.
Votran has launched a new website with improved functions as well as an iPhone app with a trip planner and real time bus arrival information. Votran customers can gather information on bus schedules, fare information, and even find out where their bus is located any time during the day.
Last fall, more than 110,000 pounds of food were collected during the third annual “Feed the Need” countywide food drive. Public employees from County government, Volusia municipalities, schools and universities took part in this friendly competition, which is a great example of what can be accomplished when a community works together. Another example is the new Round Table of Volusia County Elected Officials. The Round Table includes elected representatives from the County, the cities and the school board. They meet once a month to seek solutions to issues that affect all of us, such as transportation and water quality. It’s a good way to improve communications and strengthen relationships between local governments.
As our community grows and changes, County government must change as well. We must continue to look for ways to work with our cities as well as businesses, education, and community organizations for the benefit of everyone. We must seek opportunities to provide greater services with less cost and less duplication. In conclusion, I believe the state of your County government is good. But I don’t want to settle for good. I want us to aim higher.