LOOKING AHEAD — The Volusia County Council meets with professional facilitator Herb Marlowe May 10 to discuss the council’s goals as they move forward and set countywide policy. From left are County Council Members Danny Robins, Matt Reinhart, County Chair Jeff Brower and County Council Members David Santiago, Troy Kent and Don Dempsey. Not pictured is County Council Member Jake Johansson.

Cutting the size of government, reducing regulations, eliminating redundancies and saving tax dollars were among goals voiced by members of the Volusia County Council in a planning workshop May 10.

Professional facilitator Herb Marlowe, hired to lead the discussion, urged the seven County Council members and County Manager George Recktenwald not to beat around the bush.

“Be brief. Be blunt. Be gone,” Marlowe told them.

The elected officials’ goals will have an effect on the coming year’s budget, which county staff members are working on now.

The budget is probably the most important policy document that the County Council approves, as virtually everything county government does costs money, and the lion’s share of that money comes from taxes paid by owners of homes and businesses.

On the way to a goal

Creating a leaner, more efficient government was a repeated theme.

County Chair Jeff Brower urged an easing of the regulatory burden on constituents.

“I’m looking at it more from the perspective of the property owner, the homeowner,” he said. “I would like to not penalize homeowners for working on their own homes.”

In that vein, Council Member Don Dempsey voiced support for less government in everyday life.

“You should have a whole lot more personal freedom to do what you want with your own property,” he said.

That was part of one of Brower’s bigger goals, which is “to reduce the size of government.”

“I want to eliminate redundancy,” he said. “We have to find things that we can eliminate.”

For Brower, cutting the size of the bureaucracy is key to giving everyday people a break in their own household and business budgets.

“I don’t want to hand them an increased tax bill this year,” he added.

Council Member Jake Johansson said it’s also important to help county residents understand and navigate county government.

“People don’t have a process to follow through the bureaucracy,” Johansson said.

“We have to make it as easy as possible for people to get what they need.”

He also suggested a thorough examination of the county’s budget. “We need to look at every dollar spent [and] … save every stinking dollar,” he said.

The next fiscal year promises to be a challenging one.

“There’s a lot of new costs that are going to hit us,” Dempsey noted, citing as an example the SunRail commuter-rail system, which is currently operating with a $40 million-per-year deficit.

The Florida Department of Transportation now owns the regional commuter-rail line, but is working to hand it off to five local partners: the counties of Volusia, Seminole, Orange and Osceola, and the City of Orlando.

Spending money and time — and patience

Council Member Matt Reinhart agreed the county should work on “eliminating that bureaucracy, because it’s frustrating to me and frustrating to the public.”

Brower also called for county officials to work with developers to revise regulations to achieve better and more conservation minded uses of water. He also proposed the county establish “a one-stop shop” to consolidate permitting for new or expanding businesses, to help businesses get open faster.

The need to reduce levels, steps and time of permitting and review got the attention of Council Member David Santiago.

“Go back and look at everything you do that interacts with the public,” Santiago told County Manager Recktenwald.

Brower noted that the goals of the seven members — six Republicans and one member with no party affiliation — seemed to be mostly in harmony.

“There’s a lot of agreement on the council,” Brower said.

HELP IN STAYING ON TRACK AND FOCUSED ON GOALS — Longtime consultant and facilitator Herb Marlowe guides the Volusia County Council’s May 10 discussions of its main responsibilities, as proposed by council members in his prior conversations with them.

Time to relax?

The discussion moved from work to play, as members took turns advocating for more and better places for sports and other outdoor pastimes.

“One thing I have thought about is a motocross area,” Brower said, suggesting DeLeon Springs may be a good place for such a facility. “I don’t want it in the Wildlife Corridor.”

Dempsey liked the idea of giving bikers more places to ride. He recalled his younger years when he and friends would ride outside DeLand on dirt bikes.

“Now there’s development. There’s nowhere to go. If you’re a transplant from New York and you want to ride dirt bikes, there’s nowhere to go,” he said. “There’s a large segment of this community that wants this.”

“There’s a demand for more baseball fields over here,” Dempsey added, referring to the western part of the county.

On that note, Recktenwald mentioned the county staff is reviewing reports of a shortage of playing facilities.

“We are out now with a study to look at all of our sports fields,” he said.

Brower raised anew an issue that has dogged the council for months.

“A dog-friendly beach? We’re still working on that,” he added.

Recktenwald said the County Council’s June 6 meeting will include another round of discussion about allowing dogs on a part of the ocean shoreline. Recent debates on the topic have filled the council chambers, as those for and against allowing canines passionately argued their positions.

Supporters say the dogs are part of their family and are well-behaved, while critics contend too many dog owners do not clean up after their animals, and the dogs may run free into turtle-nesting and seabird-nesting places.

The council has raised the possibility of designating a limited stretch of the beach where dogs and their owners may recreate together. The county now has two beach parks, Lighthouse Point and Smyrna Dunes, where leashed dogs are welcome, but dogbeach supporters have requested yet another such place.

As for other recreational opportunities, Council Member Troy Kent suggested the county offer fishing tournaments and family-friendly movies shown on large outdoor screens on Friday nights.

“I’m for wholesome family activities,” he said.

Is change inevitable?

The changes suggested by the council members will require change on the part of the county’s administrative staff, especially personnel and agencies that deal directly with the public.

“There’s going to be a change in the culture, because the voters demanded that,” Kent said. “When you do what you’ve always done … you want to keep doing that.”

Recktenwald reminded the council that Amendment 10 and the pandemic both brought change to county government.

Amendment 10 refers to the 2018 change in the Florida Constitution that re-established constitutional officers in the county.

After a long judicial battle to keep its home-rule charter intact, the county conceded defeat in 2020 after voters approved the change that removed the sheriff, elections supervisor and property appraiser from county hierarchy and made them state officials no longer under the county manager, but rather answerable to the governor.

Volusia County’s voters also elected a tax collector for the first time in decades, and the tax collector assumed the responsibilities of the county’s Revenue Department.

The onset of the highly contagious coronavirus caused a number of changes in routines and prompted many employees to work from home.

“If you don’t change, you’re not growing,” Recktenwald said.

What’s the goal?
The five goals that framed the County Council’s discussion were:
1. Create a more efficient regulatory framework
2. Increase the efficiency and effectiveness of government operations, particularly public safety and economic development
3. Develop and implement a plan for expanded recreation and sports tourism activities
4. Continue and enhance fiscal stewardship
5. Foster and support a solution-oriented culture
The goals were listed on a document titled “Volusia Goals, DRAFT 4.0,” which county staff members said had been finalized right before the meeting.
Each goal had several objectives, or steps, necessary to achieve the goal. For example, the fifth goal relating to “a solution-oriented culture” lists recommendations such as making the County Council meetings themselves more effective with “time management.”
Better management of time would include, according to the document, encouraging “briefer staff presentations” of issues before the council. During a recent council meeting, a presentation took nearly two hours.
The council may conduct a workshop on the objectives at a later date.

At the end of the day

Was the County Council’s time together worthwhile, or just another meeting that will be soon forgotten?

“I think it brought the council together on our goals. The county manager listened to what we said and made notes,” Brower said.

Johansson concluded the meeting had probably made the council “more cohesive, more collaborative and more collegial.”

“Self-observation and what we are here for,” Johansson said. “That’s what we are here for — to serve the people.”


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