Two decades ago, DeLand city voters overwhelmingly approved going $5.3 million in debt for a new, larger home for the DeLand Police Department.
Starting next year, for the first time since Bill Clinton occupied the Oval Office, property owners in the county seat will no longer pay a chunk of property taxes for the 219 W. Howry Ave. police station.
As a result, the city’s overall millage rate is set to be a bit lower this year, although the new rate is still considered a tax increase.
At their July 15 meeting, DeLand city commissioners voted 4-1 to set the city’s millage rate at 6.7841 mills, or $6.78 per $1,000 of taxable property value.
That’s down from last year’s overall rate of 7.1194 mills, which included 0.2353 mills set aside for the 1999 general-obligation bond for the police station. The proposed rate is just more than 4 percent above the rolled-back rate of 6.5199 mills, or $6.51 per $1,000.
The rolled-back rate is the millage rate that would give the city the same amount of revenue it collected this year, not counting new revenue from construction and annexations.
Because property values have increased in the city by 11.9 percent since last year, the rate needed to bring in the same revenue went down, and the new rate is considered a tax increase.
The owner of a home with a taxable value of $150,000 would have paid $1,065 in city property taxes at the old rate during the 2018-19 tax year. Assuming the home appreciated 10 percent, to $165,000, the owner would pay $1,122 this year at the new rate.
City Manager Michael Pleus said the city is still trying to catch up on a number of priorities it had to put on hold during the Great Recession, including staffing.
Nine new positions are budgeted for this year: two new police officers, three new fire lieutenants, an arborist technician and a vehicle mechanic in the public-works department, and a maintenance worker and construction technician in the parks and recreation department.
In all, there are the equivalent of 277.35 full-time employees budgeted for in the city’s $32.8 million general fund, which finances most city-government services, like police, fire, parks and other essential services.
Notably, this is the first year since the financial crisis that the general-fund staffing exceeds the city’s previous peak of 270 during the pre-recession 2006-07 fiscal year.
The city’s still playing catch-up, however, Pleus said. In 2006, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated 24,375 people lived in DeLand. As of 2018, that number had grown to 33,532.
“In 2007-08, we cut a bunch of positions, and we never made up for them,” Pleus said. “With the 35-percent increase in population, we were still at pre-recession-level staffing.”
While this year’s new positions will certainly help, he said, the city could still use additional police and fire personnel, among others.
In the years since the recession, Pleus said, the city has focused more on capital needs than staffing, since capital needs are one-time expenditures.
“When you’re unsure of future revenues, capital is a better bet,” he said.
This year, the DeLand City Commission decided to make street resurfacing a priority. The city normally receives about $200,000 each year for streets from fuel taxes collected by Volusia County. Commissioners decided to match that amount with money from city reserve funds.
Still, Pleus said, that means the average city street will go about 40 years before seeing resurfacing, compared to an industry standard of about 20 years.