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DeLand is booming, but residents still likely to pay more taxes

Puppy power — DeLand Community Development Director Rick Werbiskis, standing, decided to enlist the cuteness power of golden retriever puppies in his department’s budget presentation during a July 11 workshop. The photo’s caption reads “Satisfied Customers.” DeLand city commissioners had requested department heads use more images in their presentations, and several included pictures of their staff or of the commissioners,  but as of press time, Werbiskis was the only one to include any cute animals in his p

Puppy power — DeLand Community Development Director Rick Werbiskis, standing, decided to enlist the cuteness power of golden retriever puppies in his department’s budget presentation during a July 11 workshop. The photo’s caption reads “Satisfied Customers.” DeLand city commissioners had requested department heads use more images in their presentations, and several included pictures of their staff or of the commissioners,  but as of press time, Werbiskis was the only one to include any cute animals in his presentation.

BEACON PHOTO/ANTHONY DeFEO

Editor's note: A previous version of this story misquoted the price for audiovisual upgrades at the Sanborn Activities Center.

The economy is doing well, DeLand is growing, and home values are rising, but DeLand residents may still see an increase in their property taxes in the coming year.

The city held its first public meetings July 10-13 to discuss the 2017-18 city budget. City commissioners and staff discussed financial priorities, encompassing everything from departmental wish lists to tax policy.

Although the city could bring in the same amount of revenue that it has this year by lowering the property-tax rate to what’s known as the rolled-back rate, City Manager Michael Pleus’ proposed budget would keep the city’s operating millage rate at its current level of $6.92 per $1,000 of property value.

Most property owners would end up paying a bit more, since property values are rising.

In addition to the operating millage, property owners would be charged 0.2554 mills to cover the city’s debt- service obligations, for a combined rate of 7.1785 mills.

The owner of a $150,000 home with a $50,000 homestead exemption would pay $717.85 to the city.

“One of the challenges that we've had is we've been very conservative on the millage rate each year trying to keep taxes down,” Pleus said. “During the recession, we did not do a whole lot with capital and virtually nothing on the general fund with personnel. We are still operating with less personnel than we had over a decade ago.”

The city has put off some large expenditures during the lean years, including replacing 16 police vehicles and a fire engine. And, while property values have increased in the city, other city revenue hasn’t grown as quickly.

“At some point, we have to recognize that we do have still a pent-up demand that we did not meet during the recession, and we have to ask ourselves the question: Do we want to address that, or are we just going to continue to just kind of limp along?” Pleus added.

The city’s overall proposed budget is $73.88 million, up 12.3 percent from $65.77 million in 2016-17, with the general fund up 5.2 percent, from $26.68 million to $28.06 million. The general fund covers most aspects of city government outside of things like utility services and the airport.

The budget is capital-heavy, including funds for replacing the aforementioned police and fire vehicles, along with constructing a new Spring Hill Resource Center ($500,000), a new audiovisual system at the Sanborn Activity Center ($76,989), and several water-related projects.

Only one new position will be added to the city’s payroll, bringing total staffing up to the equivalent of 262.24 full-time employees, still fewer than the city’s peak of 270 during the pre-recession 2006-07 fiscal year.

Employees will receive 3-percent merit-pay increases, at a total cost of $412,220.

“If you look at the population when we went into the recession and where we are now, we’ve increased our population by a whole lot, and we’re still trying to provide the services for everybody — for more people, with less money,” Vice Mayor Leigh Matusick said. “A 27-percent increase, and we have less employees than we did, and we’re still providing good services. At some point, there’s going to be that breaking point, and I’m not sure where that’s going to be.”

City Manager Pleus also expressed concern about the so-called super homestead exemption Florida legislators have placed on the November 2018 ballot.

The measure would allow some homeowners to claim an additional homestead exemption. People whose primary homes are worth more than $100,000 could exempt another $25,000 on the value between $100,000 and $125,000, in addition to the $50,000 in exemptions already allowed.

If passed, the decrease in revenue would blow a $700,000 hole in the city’s general fund. Pleus called it “something I can’t easily make go away.”

The budget hearings this week mark only the beginning of the budget process.

The city must formally adopt a proposed budget and millage rate in August at a regular City Commission meeting. Homeowners will receive notice of the proposed taxes sometime that month, in the form of a TRIM, or “Truth in Millage” notice.

After some final tweaks, the budget and tax rates typically are finally adopted in September, in time for the Oct. 1 start of the new fiscal year.


The new chief’s wish list

Only a few weeks into his new job, DeLand Police Chief Jason Umberger made his first budget presentation to the City Commission July 10.

Umberger, who has said he intends to emphasize community policing, largely inherited his proposed budget from former Chief Bill Ridgway, but added a few new requests.

Among them:

$82,347 for 19 additional body cameras, bringing the city’s inventory up to 59 cameras, in addition to cloud storage for recorded video. Umberger noted the department needs more cameras than those in use at any given time, because cameras sometimes are taken by the State Attorney’s Office for use as evidence.

$64,000 for 50 Tasers, to be financed over five years at about $14,000 per year. Umberger said the investment is needed because the department’s current Tasers are out of warranty.

— Money to launch a Crimewatch portal for DeLand, which would act as a website for the city’s Police Department and a place where citizens could submit crime tips. The portal would cost $11,950 to launch and $7,750 annually to run.

$4,631 for hurricane-preparedness equipment.

— A $6,000 contribution toward the West Volusia Police Athletic League, to take over sponsorship of the program from the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, which dropped it earlier this year. The department’s funds would be joined with $7,000 from The House Next Door and $7,000 from PAL itself, and the program would be renamed DeLand Police PAL.

Also listed in the Police Department’s budget is $45,675 for the city’s one-man Parking Services division, which is set to take in an estimated $32,500 in ticket revenue this year.

City Manager Michael Pleus said the city used to collect more than enough ticket revenue to fully pay for the parking officer and, formerly, a supervisor, but merchants asked the city to be less aggressive in its parking-enforcement practices.

Meanwhile, Pleus said he will try to accommodate Umberger’s requests without impacting the rest of the budget, through the use of special law-enforcement trust funds.

 

- Anthony DeFeo, anthony@beacononlinenews.com

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