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What’s on your mayor’s mind? Looks like SunRail, crowded roads, growth — and stealing DeBary’s power plants

Southwest duo — DeBary Mayor Bob Garcia, left, and Deltona Mayor John Masiarczyk share a light moment during the West Volusia State of the Region luncheon. Among mayors present for the round table, only Masiarczyk didn’t say he would steal DeBary’s power plants — just one of which pays about $12 million in property taxes each year.

Southwest duo — DeBary Mayor Bob Garcia, left, and Deltona Mayor John Masiarczyk share a light moment during the West Volusia State of the Region luncheon. Among mayors present for the round table, only Masiarczyk didn’t say he would steal DeBary’s power plants — just one of which pays about $12 million in property taxes each year.

BEACON PHOTO/MARSHA MCLAUGHLIN

Lake Helen Mayor Buddy Snowden

Lake Helen Mayor Buddy Snowden

Deltona Mayor John Masiarczyk

Deltona Mayor John Masiarczyk

DeBary Mayor Bob Garcia

DeBary Mayor Bob Garcia

Orange City Mayor Gary Blair, in a recorded video message

Orange City Mayor Gary Blair, in a recorded video message

DeLand Mayor Bob Apgar

DeLand Mayor Bob Apgar

West Volusia continues to grow by leaps and bounds, according to the leaders of five West Volusia cities.

Mayors Bob Apgar of DeLand, John Masiarczyk of Deltona, Buddy Snowden of Lake Helen and Bob Garcia of DeBary took part in the DeLand Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual West Volusia State of the Region luncheon last month.

Orange City Mayor Gary Blair could not attend, but he made a video message that was played at the forum. During part of the discussion, Commissioner Jeff Allebach stepped up to the dais to represent Orange City. Mayor James Sowell of Pierson was unable to attend.

The city leaders answered questions on topics ranging from transportation to economic development and water conservation. The forum was moderated by attorney Michael Woods of Cobb Cole.

Here are some of their remarks.

 

On how to address the area’s transportation needs

 

Allebach (Orange City): “In Orange City, we have 54,000 people that drive up and down 17-92 daily. Our job is to try to slow it down, so that it can stop at some of our businesses …

“Obviously, finding revenue is going to be a challenge … and also, not to be so concerned about thoroughfares — getting from A to B all the time — but making it where there isn’t a need to go down 17-92 at 80 mph, that you don’t have to go that way … you’ve got to create walkable communities where you live and work and buy your things in a localized area.”

 

Apgar (DeLand): “Nationwide … there is a $1 trillion — ‘T,’ trillion — deficit in infrastructure improvements. Florida is certainly part of that.

“You’re not going to have good economic development, you’re not going to have tourists, you’re not going to have the quality of life that you want if you don’t have a good network to move people through your community, to other communities and into our community ...

“Jeff [Allebach] and I were able to get anywhere in DeLand in the ’60s in three to five minutes. Lake Helen could be in Downtown in maybe seven minutes. That’s no longer the case. While we’re certainly in a far better position than Orlando, the fact of the matter is we are threatened by it; we do have road deficits.

“True story — [DeLand City Manager] Michael [Pleus] and I had a meeting with the county manager and the chairman of the [Volusia] County Council, and we handed him a letter about improvements that were needed at State Road 44 and Kepler [Road]. And before he could open the letter, he said, ‘You know, I came in I-4 today, and it took me 20 minutes to get to Downtown DeLand, and I said, ‘That’s what that letter is about!’

“So, we’ve got those problems, which we’ve got to address.”

 

Snowden (Lake Helen): “I’ve made a point that every time I visit a neighboring community, I wait and see how long it is going to take before I hear a siren. And when you hear a siren, there’s an emergency somewhere … We go for probably two or three days in Lake Helen and we don’t hear a siren. What a blessing. But it just goes to show that — a lot of this is traffic-related, and in our neighboring communities — and we applaud that, we celebrate the fact that our neighbors can develop and just spread and spread and spread and just increase, increase, increase. The fact is, our road network will not accommodate it.

“Lake Helen doesn’t even have a Votran service. We’re just kind of in the center of all of this. We appreciate the fact that we have a laid-back lifestyle, but we feel the side effects of it. As Bob [Apgar] mentioned, if you leave Interstate 4 and try to get to Lake Helen, there’s a backup.”

“Jeff [Allebach] alluded to the 80 mph speeders. We have Prevatt Avenue, that’s an extension of Lake Helen-Osteen [Road, in Deltona]. And we certainly appreciate the fact that a lot of Deltona drivers come through there. We have a 40 mph speed zone, and not all are accustomed to going 40 mph. So, we profit nicely there. And we thank you, [Deltona Mayor] John [Masiarczyk].”

 

Masiarczyk (Deltona): “We threw the idea out years ago … that we need a sales tax, we need to address Votran. ... We have, in our city, we couldn’t even get kids from one high school to the other, and to Daytona State College, because Votran didn’t go down there. They’re addressing that now.

“But my biggest concern is this: Everybody in this room has probably heard about SunRail and the effect it’s going to have … but the county has yet to find a funding source to pay for that. And when that bill comes due, as a taxpayer, I don’t want to be told, ‘Well, we’re going to have to do an assessment on this,’ and couch it under ‘it just came up’ — they’ve known for years.

“And in six or seven years, that chicken’s coming home to roost, and somebody’s going to have to pay that bill … And I support it, I support extending it to SunRail or doing something … but I think somebody has to be held accountable for not addressing that funding measure.”

Garcia (DeBary): “We talked about this, the mayors, six or seven, maybe eight years ago, when we were talking about SunRail coming in ... and it’s only an idea, it’s not concrete, but we talked about a 1-cent sales tax added on. We estimated that 60 to 70 percent of that funding would come through tourism. We broke it down in three areas on how to appropriate the funding: Votran, infrastructure, and SunRail. Had we turned around and brought it up at that time, these issues would be addressed.

“In the City of DeBary, I need $11 million to do any type of development in my TOD [transit-oriented development] area, just to move that area along ...

“Johnny [Masiarczyk] and I approached the county manager and said, ‘If we can take these three items off the county tax roll and have this funding measure in place, we can reduce the taxes.’ It fell on deaf ears. Nobody wanted to listen to us. When we talked about DeLand and their SunRail station being put there, nobody wanted to listen.

“Part of the agreement, and the main reason we agreed and worked together is that DeLand was going to be agreed on the expansion. Because I did a survey, down in Orlando, and I asked them as they came off the plane … we talked about the SunRail and the connectivity of going to DeBary and this area here and going to DeLand and the beaches, they said, ‘Instead of coming for seven days, we’ll come for 10.’ Do you know what that would do to our economy?

“We’ve been talking about it and talking about it, but we’ve got to find a funding mechanism. Votran needs to expand, but they don’t have the money for it.”

 

 

On how Lake Helen balances its small-town nature with development

 

Snowden (Lake Helen): “We’re hit almost every week with some approach, with some desire to establish a business in Lake Helen. Oftentimes, we get the report that we’re an unfriendly group to work with. Not the case. Certainly, Lake Helen prides itself in the small-business community, and really encourages the development of small businesses. The RaceTracs and the ones that would like to establish themselves really just generate a lot of traffic, and they’re kind of a one-stop that just bypasses the rest of Lake Helen’s community …

“We want business that will support the downtown walking concept, because everything is pretty much centralized in Lake Helen. On the perimeter of Lake Helen, near I-4, we’ve encouraged development. We’re actually looking at the possibility of a Holiday Inn there, and somebody inquired about a Cracker Barrel at that interchange. So, there is some potential for development along Interstate 4 coming to Lake Helen.

“Overwhelmingly, in Lake Helen, they don’t want development on the east side [of Lake Helen]. We really pride ourselves on having that open space.”

 

 

When you look to your other jurisdictions around you, what is that one asset that that other city has, that you wish you could pick up and move into your city?

 

Allebach (Orange City): “Well, if we could pull the power plant from DeBary, we’d get a lot more in commercial taxes … We probably need a better housing stock in Orange City, that DeLand has in the Victoria Hills area. We like the more quiet neighborhoods and the presentation Lake Helen is … that is a very beautiful area … and then of course, Deltona, having people to support your restaurants.”

 

Apgar (DeLand): “I’m very, very happy with the state of DeLand the way that it is. To answer the question, from Orange City, maybe a little bit more of the retail node that you have at Saxon and Enterprise Road. Lake Helen, their appreciation of their historic homes. We would love to have the [DeBary] power plant, too. And as far as Deltona goes, I think the number of people, but what I would do differently than what’s currently happening in Deltona is, I’d try to find a way to keep most of them on this side of the bridge.”

 

Snowden (Lake Helen): “We’re certainly proud of Orange City and the real initiative they’ve taken in the preservation of Blue Springs … I shared a time in history, back in the early 1970s where Lake Helen had one police officer, and Orange City had one police officer, and we would back up one another. The streets would fold up at 10 o’clock at night. That’s no longer the case.

“I’m certainly proud of the fact that you all maintain a certain level of control over the development, but when I travel Saxon Boulevard, I cringe …

“We certainly appreciate the fact that [DeLand has] taken a strong interest in maintaining the historical character of a lot of their historical places …

“When I travel north from time to time with my grandkids, I go through this corn maze. The kids love visiting corn mazes. And I can go to a corn maze, and I can ace that thing in a matter of five minutes. And the kids say, ‘How do you find your way out?’ and I say, ‘Well, I’ve been to Deltona.’ … but I’m certainly proud that we have good neighbors there. They keep our roads active and keep our police officers pleasantly surprised with a different story from everyone who gets stopped …

“And DeBary, we’d love your power plant as well.”

 

Masiarczyk (Deltona): “I think with our working relationship, there’s nothing that we really take but their ideas. We steal their ideas, and we try to make what we have better. We’re never going to be a Lake Helen or a DeLand. We don’t have an airport; we don’t have a seaport; we don’t have things like that.

“Although, some of the environmentalists I’ve been talking with recently think that there may be a chance to have beachfront property in Lake Helen one day …

“But in reality, we have a great [City] Commission that’s working towards trying to make Deltona the best it can be. We can’t really model after any other city.”

 

Garcia (DeBary): “DeLand — oh, I’d like to get your corridor going through the city there … I’d love to get, Orange City, all their commercial places down there, and bring it to the City of DeBary.

“Lake Helen — I’m not touching you. I want Lake Helen to stay as natural and as beautiful as it is. I love going out there with the horses. I was there Saturday, the country-type of atmosphere down there is fantastic.

“And then, ready? [Turns to Masiarczyk] I hope and pray that I can take away your community center so I don’t have to pay for one …

“Even as we look to each other’s cities, we don’t really look to cut each other’s throats. We don’t. As mayors, we actually do sit together and talk to each other, which is amazing, if you go to other cities, where mayors don’t actually talk to each other. And here, we enjoy being together, and we enjoy talking to one another. So, I hope we do that.”

 

- Anthony DeFeo, anthony@beacononlinenews.com

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