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Council takes initial steps to set budget, tax rates for next year

Posted On: July 20, 2021

The Volusia County Council began the process Tuesday for adopting a new budget and tax structure for the next fiscal year, taking preliminary votes to roll back the Ponce de Leon Port Authority tax rate and leave the remaining tax rates mostly unchanged.

The only exceptions were for the county’s two voter-approved land preservation and environmental, cultural, historic and recreation programs – ECHO and Volusia Forever. Volusia County voters overwhelmingly approved continuing the programs for another 20 years along with a small annual property tax rate to finance them – up to 0.20 mills. With a considerable amount of money left in the fund, the council in 2020 paused the ECHO tax levy for a year. The council is proposing to levy the full 0.20 mills for the next fiscal. And with both programs getting ready to gear up again, the council also voted to increase the Volusia Forever levy from 0.1052 mills in the current fiscal year to the full 0.20 mills next year.

The council decided to keep the tax rates the same for the county’s six other property tax-supported funds – the general fund, library fund, municipal service district (MSD), fire rescue district, East Volusia mosquito control district and Silver Sands-Bethune Beach MSD. For the average Volusia County homeowner with a homestead exemption, the proposed rates would result in a modest increase of no more than $46.71 in property taxes to support county government operations.

The proposed budget includes the equivalent of approximately 34 new fulltime positions, nearly 26 of which are for public protection – such as additional firefighters, corrections officers, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, ambulance supply technicians and triage nurses for the communications center. Also included in the budget is money for several high priority capital improvement projects, including E911 technology upgrades in the Sheriff’s Office, network and security upgrades for corrections, construction of Fire Station 47, replacement funds for Sheriff’s Office helicopters and funding for a planned expansion of the Port Orange Regional Library and boardwalk renovations at Lighthouse Point Park.

While all of Tuesday’s votes were preliminary, they set the stage for the Property Appraiser’s Office to mail out the annual Truth In Millage (TRIM) notices next month notifying property owners of the proposed tax rates for all of the taxing authorities in Volusia County. Now that the county’s TRIM rates have been adopted, the council can reduce the tax rates prior to final adoption, but can’t increase them beyond what was approved on Tuesday. While the adopted figures could change, the county’s operating budget for the next fiscal year is recommended at $963.9 million. The portion that finances countywide services, the general fund, currently is proposed at $352.1 million. Approximately $224.4 million of the general fund budget would be raised through property taxes, with the tax rate proposed to remain at 5.45 mills. The rest would come from a combination of other revenue sources and the fund balance remaining from the current budget. Of the 5.45 mill tax rate proposed for the general fund, 63% of the rate is attributable to spending for public safety and the county’s elected constitutional officers – the sheriff, property appraiser, supervisor of elections, tax collector and clerk of the court.

Councilman Ben Johnson seemed to sum up the feelings of the majority of the council when he mentioned a list of added expenses that the county is facing for things like Amendment 10, SunRail, fuel hikes, employee raises and increases in labor and materials related to road construction as necessary expenses that make it difficult to trim the budget.

“There’s nobody up here who likes the idea of raising taxes,” said Johnson. “But we can’t vote for these things, then turn around and say we’re going to cut taxes.”

After the vote, County Chair Jeff Brower underscored the fact that the budget and tax rates will be discussed several more times before any final decisions are made.

“This isn’t done. The conversation continues,” said Brower.

The new budget and tax rates will undergo two public hearings in September. The first hearing has been scheduled for Sept. 7. The 2021-22 fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.

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