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This is one of the races profiled in the 2020 edition of The Beacon Voter’s Guide. Click here to see the full edition.

Meet the candidates:

Jeff Brower

Town: A DeLeon Springs resident for 39 years, Daytona Beach for 23 years before that.

Born: November 1954.

Background, experience, etc.: Graduated Mainland High School. Volusia County lifeguard from 1970 to 1979. Attended Daytona Beach Community College 1976 and 1977. First of two lifeguards to earn EMT certification. Served as captain of the busy Daytona zone. Earned a Bachelor’s in Science in Agriculture from the University of Florida in 1979. Elected as the leader of the Horticulture College at UF and the student division of the Florida Nurseryman’s and Growers Association. Worked since college as a nursery manager, sales and marketing manager, six years as an executive recruiter, and for 16 years has owned and operated a landscape-design-build company. Married Terri in 1985. Elected as church elder at 33. Father of nine children, two currently active-duty military. Our family operates a direct-to-consumer farm since 2000. Jeff is a soil consultant for a nationally respected soil-sampling-and-testing company, 16 years. Currently serves on the State of Florida Volusia County Soil and Water Conservation board.

Deb Denys

Town: Resident of New Smyrna Beach for 31 years.

Born: March 1954.

Education, experience, etc.: My husband and I instantly fell in love with Volusia County when we visited here more than 30 years ago, and have called it home ever since, settling in New Smyrna Beach and starting a business and a life in the community. We’ve devoted ourselves to our community and were licensed therapeutic foster parents. I also served as a Guardian Ad Litem for the 7th Judicial Circuit, serving as a voice for vulnerable children. I have chaired Early Learning Coalition and River to Sea Transportation Planning Organization, and also served on Volusia County Children and Families Advisory Board, the Southeast Volusia Habitat for Humanity and the Boys and Girls Club, and am a member of local chambers of commerce. Despite my service, both on the Volusia County Council and the Volusia County School Board, my family – four children and 12 grandchildren – remain my proudest accomplishment.

Why should someone elect you over your opponent?

Brower: Experience as a lifelong resident, businessman, and active community leader has given me the desire and knowledge to make Volusia a better community for our residents and businesses. As a student of urban and community development, I am leading a community-driven desire to restore Volusia residents’ quality of life.

Denys: I’m the only candidate in this race with the proven, effective leadership skills to work collaboratively with our cities and regional, state and federal partners to achieve results and improve the quality of life for our citizens and community. Leadership and experience are what set me apart from my opponent.

Why is this year’s election important?

Brower: Volusia must move from its destructive growth-at-all-cost philosophy to a focus on current residents, businesses, and the environment. I have a vision based on the successful transformation of communities across America that goes beyond political self-preservation. We must move from an economy dependent on tax increases to stability.

Denys: Volusia is electing a new county chair at a crucial time when many initiatives are underway to address the challenges of our future. A seamless and stable transition in leadership and experience is necessary to continue to build on our successes and unite the community behind a shared vision.

The job

  • The county chair is one of seven members of the Volusia County Council. Although the chair is in many respects simply one of seven voting members, he or she does have special duties and powers
  • The chair is the ceremonial head of the County Council, and runs the meetings. He or she also delivers the “state of the county” annual report, signs official documents, and often represents Volusia County in the public arena.
  • The chair is elected for a fouryear term, and is paid $54,588 per year. If Amendment 10 is upheld, the salary will likely change, as it will be set by the Florida Legislature.

The candidates

  • Current County Chair Ed Kelley is retiring. Vying to replace him are current County Council Member Deb Denys, who has the best-funded campaign by far, along with DeLeon Springs farmer Jeff Brower. 
  • Brower says he wants to bring new ideas and accountability to the County Council.
  • Denys touts her experience on the County Council and her track record of leadership. 

Jurisdiction

  • All of Volusia County

Who can vote

  • The race is nonpartisan. All registered voters who live in Volusia County may cast ballots.

What will be your top two priorities?

Brower: Restore and protect our fresh and recreational water resources. This will require ending the constant changes to our Comprehensive Land Use Plan, which have resulted in the destructive development of our environment. This overdevelopment of our county, and subsequent loss of our quality of life, is not acceptable to Volusia residents and visitors. Smart growth is a failure, and I will insist on responsible growth, including the improvement of our neglected areas. Our focus must be countywide, and not just for winners chosen for political benefit. Yearly property-tax increases and the proposed 1-percent sales-tax increase must end. We are one of the highest-taxed counties in Florida, with one of the lowest per-capita-income levels. We can strengthen our tax base, and improve job security and income levels with the use of an economic-gardening program, which will improve our current business and entrepreneurial efforts. Volusia should be known as the best place to conduct good clean business in Florida, not the home of pay-to-play special favors. With your support, we will end corporate welfare and convert Volusia to a thriving community attractive to young workers and current residents.

Denys: My top two priorities will be diversifying the economy and maintaining Volusia’s fiscal strength. These are two priorities that go hand-in-hand, because each one helps strengthen the other. Regarding the economy, I will continue to push, promote and champion ongoing efforts to establish a responsible and seamless regulatory atmosphere to help diversify, strengthen and recruit sectors of the economy that provide a great deal of promise for future jobs growth, including the medical, pharmaceutical, aviation and aerospace industries. I also will continue to support efforts and actions to bolster and expand our local businesses that are already here, particularly the small businesses that form the backbone of our local economy. Ongoing economic-development initiatives are critical to maintain Volusia’s fiscal health and diversify our economy, and shift some of the property-tax burden off of our homeowners. With rising costs of services Volusia provides to our citizens, a broad approach to our future is required.

Basic positions: Taxation

Brower: Stop the yearly property-tax increases and the proposed 1-percent sales-tax increase used to fund more overdevelopment

Denys: As a fiscal conservative and a proponent of lower taxes, our general fund millage is lower now than in 2013! To the maximum extent possible, we must continue to be fiscally conservative, limit the residential tax burden and expand the commercial base to diversify our economy while ensuring sufficient revenues to support the service needs of our residents. 

Growth and development.

Brower: Smart growth is strangling our quality of life and outstripping our freshwater supply. It is time to stop changing our Comprehensive Land Use Plan to allow development in our wetlands, water-recharge areas and river basins. We need to maximize the value of our existing infrastructure by filling in our downtowns and core areas.

Denys: A certain amount of new growth is inevitable. And while I support private property rights, government must balance those rights with appropriate measures for managing growth and enforcing community standards that prevent the degradation of services or aesthetics.

Renewable energy and environmental conservation.

Brower: I am running on a pro-environmental economic platform. We need to help our current businesses grow and be welcoming to good clean businesses. I will propose a commercial composting system that will be a model for our state, to end the danger of toxic biosolid disposal on our lands and waterways. We should be proactive in bringing the hemp industry to Volusia. 

Denys: There is exciting new technology that is opening up new opportunities for renewable energy, and this should continue to be encouraged, supported and explored. As a society, we must do everything we can to protect our natural environment and conserve our finite resources.

The role of the arts.

Brower: I will promote and participate in the private funding of the arts. Volusia County should be providing high-quality art-and-craft events much like DeLand does. We should be known for the arts, music, food, and our excellent natural resources.

Denys: The arts play an important role in our community aesthetics and quality of life while contributing to our economic well-being. Art brings people together, allows expression and encourages discussion of our thoughts and ideas. And, it’s great for tourism!

Criminal justice reform.

Brower: I will work with Sheriff Chitwood to offer training for municipal police departments in the de-escalation policies the VCSO champions. We are fortunate to not have a problem with systemic racism in our area law-enforcement agencies, but it requires constant attention and training to prevent racism and unfair treatment of any of our residents.

Denys: While this clearly is a work in progress, the societal dialogue that’s underway is healthy. Current discussion of a juvenile justice center is a good beginning for Volusia, that will lead to reforming policies of incarceration of our children and teens for minor crimes and offenses.

Poverty in your district and social services.

Brower: Volusia County has one of the highest tax rates and lowest per-capita incomes in the state. We need to reduce tax burdens on all taxpayers, help our current businesses and entrepreneurs grow and expand, and be the county to do business in. We can attract good clean business with higher-paying jobs without choosing winners and losers with your tax dollars. I will also promote and welcome private providers of services to the homeless and poor.

Denys: Much of the poverty is tied to the lack of viable job opportunities, which is why the economy, jobs growth and economic diversification are my top priorities. We also need to remove any barriers to accessing social services that support our families that may exist.

Water policy and costs.

Brower: Water quality and availability is the most pressing issue in Volusia County. The constant changes to our Comprehensive Land Use Plan, as well as some zoning changes, are allowing our freshwater supply to be outstripped. The Indian River Lagoon is dead in places and struggling everywhere. We must eliminate the pumping of effluent into our waterways, improve the failing infrastructure in our wastewater-treatment plants, and convert the toxic biosolids these plants produce into a valuable resource with commercial composting.

Denys: My approach to water protection will be a continued focus on working collaboratively with the St. Johns River Water Management District, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, our cities and other local and regional partners to secure grant funding in support of water protection and preservation projects that will benefit the long-term health of our drinking and recreational waters. Grant-funding opportunities exist now, and we should continue our aggressive approach to apply.

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