In the peaceful setting of an oak-shaded clearing in rural Northwest Volusia, candidates for two seats on the County Council gathered to present their ideas and seek support from voters.
Pesky gnats seemed to be the biggest problem at the June 21 event, but the otherwise tranquil scene in DeLeon Springs seemed far removed from the increasing urbanization elsewhere in the county and the Sunshine State.
Onstage at the forum arranged by the DeLeon Springs Community Association were the four contenders for the at-large seat on the County Council — Sherisse Boyd, Jake Johansson, Andy Kelly and Doug Pettit — along with incumbent District 1 Council Member Barb Girtman. Girtman’s opponent, attorney Don Dempsey, did not attend.
As some 60 or 70 people watched and listened, candidates wasted no time decrying the seemingly out-of-control growth and development in Volusia County.
“The No. 1 issue for me is overdevelopment,” at-large County Council candidate Doug Pettit said. “We didn’t get here overnight. … This is years of bad decisions.”
Others agreed, pointing out related and compounding problems.
Candidate Andy Kelly, who was the County Council’s representative for District 1 from 2006 to 2012, said he has seen many years of changes in the county.
“I’m home; born and raised in Volusia County,” he told the crowd. “I’m here to say no to all sprawl development.”
An abundance of development, Jake Johansson said, has resulted in a lack of infrastructure, such as water and sewer utilities, stormwater control and roads.
“We need to address our infrastructure — the care of our roads,” he said. “I believe infrastructure is our No. 1 issue.”
While agreeing growth is a serious challenge, at-large candidate Sherrise Boyd raised another concern.
“The No. 1 problem in our county is a lack of faith in government,” she said. “The main issue is that we are not working together now. … If we don’t come together … then what are we going to do?”
Boyd highlighted her background, especially her educational accomplishments, including master’s degrees in emergency management and project management. She was recognized by Women of Distinction Magazine for her work in emergency and disaster management.
Girtman, who is seeking re-election to represent District 1, mentioned her connections with DeLeon Springs, recalling that her first employment in Volusia County was at Sparton Electronics, a defense contractor.
“DeLeon Springs has a special place for me,” she said.
Girtman said she is committed to protecting agriculture.
“One of the big concerns of mine was the agricultural property,” she said. “When I first ran for office … I met with farmers.”
On a related subject, each of the candidates voiced familiarity with government finance.
“I’m fiscally conservative,” Johansson said, adding he supports “keeping us at the lowest tax level we possibly can.”
Pettit, meanwhile, has staked out an anti-tax-increase position.
“I will not be an advocate for any tax,” he said.
Kelly reminded property owners their taxes increased in 2021, as property values rose and millages were not reduced.
“Taxes went up 9.4 percent last year,” Kelly said.
“I don’t understand how ‘miscellaneous’ is allowed as a line item [in the budget],” Boyd said. “I don’t believe that raising taxes is the answer.”
For her part, Girtman said Volusia County’s tax base needs a larger commercial sector.
“I think a lot of taxes are high because we don’t have a strong base,” she told the audience. “It’s always a big challenge. … It’s always difficult to say what you will or will not do.”
The field of at-large candidates will be narrowed in the Tuesday, Aug. 23, primary. On that day, if one of the candidates takes more than 50 percent of the votes cast, he or she will win the position. If not, the two candidates with the highest numbers of primary votes will advance to the Nov. 8 general election.
Girtman is seeking to continue to represent District 1, which covers most of the western portion of the county, including the northwest area and extending southward to a part of DeBary.
In all, six of the seven County Council seats are on the ballot this year, meaning voters could usher in sweeping change.
Under the state’s reapportionment law, the winners of the council’s races in Districts 2 and 4 will serve two-year terms, rather than the normal four-year terms. The members elected at-large and in Districts 1, 3 and 5 will serve four-year terms.
Only the county chair position is not up for election.