But generally, it seems, residents are happy with their City Council
In the run-up to the big Nov. 8 general election for federal, state and local officials, there is no sign of a voters’ revolt or widespread discontent with the River City’s political establishment.
Only one municipal race is taking place in DeBary, and that’s between incumbent Seat 3 City Council Member Patricia Stevenson and a newcomer, Donnie Taylor.
DeBary City Council elections are citywide, meaning every eligible voter within DeBary is free to cast a ballot in the election.
Two other City Council races that could have happened this year did not, as the incumbents — Mayor Karen Chasez and Vice Mayor Phyllis Butlien — were automatically re-elected because no one challenged either of them.
Perhaps the most remarkable characteristic about the race for City Council Seat 3 is that the candidates sound alike on the issues. The top concerns, Stevenson and Taylor agree, are the massive growth of DeBary’s population and the increase in residential building in a city that many see as small and insulated from the urbanization of Greater Orlando.
As DeBary nears its 30th anniversary as an incorporated city, the settlement bisected by U.S. Highway 17-92 now has more than 20,000 people — and it is growing. When questioned — separately by phone — each of the two candidates gave answers that were remarkably similar, as if they had almost memorized the same script.
“The top issues in DeBary are managing our growth, while preserving our green spaces and our small-town feel,” Stevenson said.
Compare that statement with her opponent’s view of the challenges for DeBary and its leaders.
“The biggest is the growth and development, as we move forward with Main Street DeBary,” Taylor said. “I would like to bring small businesses to DeBary to preserve the small-town feel.”
When asked why she wants another four-year term on the City Council, Stevenson said there is still unfinished business.
“I’d like to be able to finish some of the projects we started in my first term, especially improving our stormwater infrastructure and our SunRail station,” she said. downtown Main Street area near the
Another goal near and dear to Stevenson is making certain Alexander Island, located on the south shore of the St. Johns River, west of the U.S. Highway 17-92 bridge, is shielded from development.
“The conservation project, Alexander Island — that is supposed to be preserved for conservation and green space,” she said.
The city is seeking to purchase the 170 or so environmentally sensitive acres, whose listing price is about $3 million.
Saving part of what DeBary used to be is what moved her challenger, Taylor, to run for office this year.
“I want to be involved in the community, as we make decisions about growth and developing, while preserving our green spaces,” he told The Beacon.
Though he is the outsider in the race, Taylor said he is the better candidate for DeBary’s future.
A pharmacy technician by trade, Taylor said he has worked in supervisory roles and as a civic volunteer. Asked about his qualifications to be a City Council member, he responded, “The leadership I have as a veteran, as well as over 20 years of business management, while aligning teams in the community to make local decisions for the future.”
“Aligning teams,” Taylor said, means working to get more people involved in civic affairs and activities.
Stevenson, meanwhile, says she has proved herself worthy of remaining in office.
“I kept my campaign promises, including to keep taxes down while making critical infrastructure improvements,” she noted.
Both candidates are fiscal conservatives.
Stevenson said one of her goals is “to keep our government small and efficient, so that we can maintain our low tax rate and our quality of life.”
Indeed, of all the local governments in Volusia County, DeBary has the lowest property-tax rate at 2.9247 mills, or about $2.92 per $1,000 of taxable value.
The city’s ability to keep that low rate is thanks in large part to the taxes paid on two electric plants in the city, which belong to FPL and Duke Energy.
“I also want to support grant applications that bring state and local tax dollars back to DeBary,” Stevenson said.
Taylor voiced his preference for an even-lower tax burden.
“I would like to accomplish much by keeping taxes down and using the money to make local decisions, and by bringing the community closer together,” he said.
As for problems that arise from the growth, Stevenson cited a pair that frequently get attention at City Council meetings.
“DeBary has two main challenges, as I see it: stormwater and traffic,” she said. “Regarding stormwater, we will have to improve and upgrade our stormwater system.”
“For traffic, we have implemented plans for supporting multimodal, or different forms of transportation that help relieve some of the congestion; for example, bike trails and allowing golf carts.”
Taylor, meanwhile, is concerned about more of DeBary’s land being lost to development.
“A lot of property has been sold, and we have lost a lot of green space,” he said. “We’re already having problems with baseball fields.”
As they look ahead, what do the candidates see for their city in a decade?
“I think in 10 years DeBary will have been fully developed, and that’s why it’s so important now to ensure that developments are held to the highest standard,” Stevenson said.
“I see Main Street 10 years from now at its peak,” Taylor said. “DeBary will be landlocked, and we need to bring small businesses. I don’t want to see businesses fail.”
Asked how she would like to be remembered as an elected leader, Stevenson said she would like to be known as one “who represented the values of our residents in the community, especially regarding the green spaces and our small-town feel.”
Taylor also said he wants to reflect the needs and preferences of DeBary residents.
“Knowing that I did my best listening to the community and being a voice for the community. I feel that gets lost in politics. People get elected, and the promises get lost,” Taylor said about how he would like his time in office to be remembered.
Each of the candidates for DeBary City Council Seat 3 discounted future political ambitions.
“As of right now, I’m focused on DeBary. I want to help protect the future of DeBary,” Taylor said.
Similarly, Stevenson is not looking past DeBary City Hall.
“Not at this time. I don’t want to be in a higher office,” she said.