It was a time to see and to be seen.
An estimated 450 Volusians braved un-Florida-like weather to attend the annual State of the County Address in the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach Feb. 8, for a look at the past year and a call to confront the difficulties at hand.
Still against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, many attendees wore masks, but the social distancing of the past two years was rather rare at one of the area’s prime social/political gatherings of the year.
“COVID-19 will not defeat us. You are free to move about the county and enjoy your life,” County Chair Jeff Brower told the luncheon crowd.
He called for people to adopt healthy lifestyles and become more physically active. “We can also be the healthiest place to live, work and play,” Brower said.
With a multimedia presentation that brought other members of the County Council into the act, Brower highlighted county government’s advances in public safety — as noted in the addition of more firefighters and emergency medical personnel — and environmental preservation, as evidenced by anti-littering campaigns and waterway cleanups.
There was also progress in economic development and a new push for affordable housing, leaders said, as the county and the nation move to recover from the pandemic-driven downturn in tourism.
“When it comes to quality of life, we sure had a lot to be thankful for in 2021,” County Council Member Billie Wheeler said in one of the several videos shown to the audience.
“We work hard; we play hard; and we help each other,” Brower said, as he touched on side effects of the disease that has dominated life since early 2020.
Business closings and suicides have risen, he added.
“Our children have had to deal with a great deal of anxiety,” Brower continued, turning to offer hope that his constituents will unite and find common ground to solve the problems at hand and ahead.
“Let’s come together across the county,” he urged. “I’m calling on the builders and developers to work to bring [affordable] housing to our hospitality workforce. .. we can work together.”
Brower further advocated better planning for growth, with the understanding of water as a limited resource.
“If we don’t plan responsibly, then we plan to fail,” he said.
Not least, Brower called for more effective county government.
“We have to lower the tax burden, … by reducing the cost of government,” he proposed.
Coupled with the lower cost of government, Brower said the county should encourage Volusians themselves to come to the drivable beaches, without having to pay tolls.
“Let’s welcome our own residents to their own beach,” he concluded. “They’ve already paid for it with their property taxes.”
The State of the County Address was an event funded by sponsorships from private companies and institutions. The attendees were charged nothing to attend and dine upon the catered cuisine. The estimated cost of the event is about $24,000, according to County Community Information Officer Gary Davidson. Brower drew applause when he suggested any leftover proceeds from the State of the County Address — after costs are paid — will be donated to organizations that feed those who would otherwise be hungry.
“I can’t think of a better use of our funds than to help our neighbors in need,” he said.