With the start of the new fiscal year Oct. 1, property owners in DeBary face a whopping tax bill, but city leaders say it is for a good cause — namely, improving drainage.
“It will cover some urgent projects on that list,” DeBary Mayor Karen Chasez said, referring to the city’s stormwater-control priorities.
The City Council Sept. 25 ratified an ad valorem levy that is 41.8 percent higher than the rollback rate, but still lower than the rates in other municipal governments in Volusia County.
The council voted 4-1 in favor of a tax rate of 3.5 mills, or $3.50 per thousand dollars of taxable value. That’s well above the previous rate of 2.95 mills and the rollback rate of 2.47 mills.
The rollback rate is the millage rate that would give the city the same amount of revenue it collected in the preceding year, not counting new revenue from construction and annexations.
Some of those backing the higher property tax sought to allay opposition by promising the levy is a one-time increase.
“Just for a year for us to fix the problem,” Council Member Patricia Stevenson said.
Despite the huge increase in the city’s levy, DeBary has the lowest property-tax rate of any municipal government in Volusia County, thanks largely to the presence of two privately owned electrical-power plants, one owned by FPL and the other by Duke Energy.
Still, Chasez expressed reluctance about the tax hike.
“It’s not something I like to do — increase taxes,” she said.
City Manager Carmen Rosamonda promised he and the council will “try to reduce the burden” next year. He also said he will plan future budgets with a “baseline” tax rate of 2.947 mills, the tax rate of the preceding fiscal year.
He made no promises the adopted tax rate next year will revert to its prior level, however.
For now, Chasez said the property-tax increase is necessary because a majority of Volusia County’s voters rejected the proposed half-cent sales tax in May.
That tax, she added, would have provided cash for the city to upgrade its roads and drainage.
Not everyone was ready to celebrate.
“If you can explain to me why next year will be different from this year … I’d like to know,” William Sell told the council. “Don’t tell me you’re going to roll back.”
DeBary Vice Mayor Erika Benfield dissented from her colleagues.
“I’m not in favor of this increase,” she said. “As I was praying over this decision … there are people in this city working paycheck to paycheck.”
Benfield also said many of DeBary’s small businesses that employ people may not be able to afford the increase.
The increased revenues will help cover a new budget totaling $18.3 million, and enable city officials to accelerate needed stormwater projects.
City officials have formulated a five-year program for improving stormwater management, especially in such locations as Woodbound Lakes, Valencia and Floridana roads, and the intersection of Sunrise Boulevard and Margarita Road.
In addition, some old metal drainage pipes that were installed in and around Glen Abbey decades ago are rusting and breaking apart, creating more problems that demand attention, Rosamonda noted.
The actual cost of all the capital outlays in the program will run into millions.
“We won’t know until we put it out for bids,” Rosamonda said.
“All projects require engineering and blueprints. We’ll be getting these things done in the next 12 months,” he added.
Rosamonda said he is working with the St. Johns River Water Management District to determine if DeBary may qualify for grant funding for some of its stormwater projects.