BY JAMES HARPER
DAYTONA TIMES STAFF
The Daytona Beach Vision Plan’s Community Vision Statement states that the city “move(s) in harmony with… a focus on a bright future with an expanded economy, a living experience enriched by world class cultural, recreational and educational opportunities available to everyone and a community where individuals flourish, families grow, economy thrives and guests long to return.”
Some citizens argue that has not been the case during the past six years with James Chisholm as the city manager, a time when tax revenue to the city fell drastically because of property value reductions and the city reducing the tax rate.
Under Chisholm’s watch, there have been only two raises for city employees. Streets are crumbling. All departments are understaffed, forcing employees to do double duty with residents suffering as services are cut or reduced.
Daytona Beach City staff is now recommending to commissioners to raise property taxes 15.4 percent, from a 6.5 to 7.4-millage rate. The vote was 4-3 in favor at a September 4 meeting to support the increase. The final commission vote will be September 18 during a public hearing at City Hall on whether to finalize the increase.
Resident John Nicholson blamed Chisholm for the problems the city is facing.
“I told you so,” Nicholson said to Chisholm at the September 4 meeting. “We couldn’t keep rolling back (taxes). Don’t do rollbacks because eventually, you will have a big increase.
“Jim is trying to cover his butt,” he told the commission. “I don’t like big jumps. A little at a time increase is much easier,” said Nicholson, who told the commissioners to support the property tax increase.
“Do it now. We have a lot of things on our plate,” he said.
Since 2007, Daytona Beach has seen a cumulative reduction of $47.8 million in property tax revenue, according to Daytona Beach Chief Financial Officer Pat Bliss.
Bliss reported during the September 4 City meeting that general revenue funds have dropped from $224.6 million in 2006 to $187.9 million in 2013-14. City expenditures have dropped from $222.7 million to $184.6 million.
The number of full time employees has dropped from 967 to 800. That is a reduction of 17.3 percent since 2006, and the lowest personnel level since 1977.
Since 2006, general fund revenue has fallen from $73.1 to $68.6 million. General fund expenses have fallen from $72.7 to $68 million.
The proposed 15.4 tax increase for Daytona Beach property owners is not as drastic as it sounds. Property owners with homes valued from $70,000 to $200,000 will only pay an average of $15 to $100 more a year. This is after having received no increases in taxes and tax cuts over the past six years.
Tom Cox, chairman of the Budget Review Committee, reminded the commissioners that the budget is “more than a collection of numbers. It represents an attempt to link what taxes are about and objective of city government.”
Cox said Daytona’s budget has been a “defensive” budget during the past five years that dealt with reduction in property values and a cut in taxes to assist the citizens.
“We can’t continue to cut expenses indefinitely. A tax increase is reasonable,” Cox said.
Cox reported for the first time since the city has been operating red light cameras, revenues are projected to up by $600,000.
Cox also noted city staff didn’t set the revenue bar too high, which means a number of projects will still be deferred, such as improvement of infrastructure throughout the city.
He pointed out it makes sense to increase taxes if Daytonans want to improve or at least maintain their current quality of life.
“When we say let’s invest in the community, there is pushback. It’s worth the investment,” he concluded.
The commission’s expectations for the proposed budget include continued police, code and fire levels; additional Leisure Services staffing; rejuvenation of city facilities and properties; and a three-percent salary increase for employees.
Takes some blame
Zone 2 Commissioner Pam Woods admitted during the meeting that she is one of the reasons Daytona Beach residents are facing the large increase. She said during the last five years, property taxes were rolled back. One year, taxes did not increase or decrease.
“We’ve had a commission in the last six years that has reduced the millage rate in this town, cut our employees and cut our costs,” Woods said, noting they can’t afford to do so anymore.
Woods is worried if the Republican-controlled Florida House and Senate get their way next year, the city will lose control of setting its millage rate. Woods said proposed legislation would cap how much cities can raise millage rates, which could mean the city might not be able to fund city services with property taxes.
Mayor Derrick Henry, along with Commissioners Woods, Patrick Henry and Paula Reed, voted for the increase.
Commissioner Robert Gilliland, who was on the commission when it previously cut taxes, said he still would not support a tax increase.
“I can count,” he said noting there were four votes against Commissioners Kelly White, Carl Lentz, and him.
“I’m sure this thing (increase in taxes) will pass. It’s just too much. I am not going to support 15 percent. Get it down to a manageable rate,” Gilliland said.
CFO Bliss told commissioners a 15.4 percent property tax increase will mean no reduction in the budget. A 14.1 increase will mean a $268,224 reduction; a 10 percent increase will reduce budget by $1,107,882; and a 5 percent property tax increase will cut the budget by $2,127,826.
Supporting the increase will mean at least more two full-time and three part-time employees in the city’s Leisure Services Department, which had seen the biggest cut in services and employees in recent years.
The additional funds for Leisure Services will allow Director Percy Williamson to hire employees to staff all the community centers that have been understaffed since the opening of the Yvonne Scarlett Golden Cultural and Education Center.
The budget also includes $99,000 to paint Campbell Pool, Schnebly Rec Center, Sunnyland Park, Dickerson Center and the Peninsula Club.
City employees will see a 3 percent increase in the pay, only the second increase during the last six years.