What was probably a record turnout for a Deltona City Commission meeting resulted in savings on upcoming tax bills.
For a time, there was standing-room only in the meeting chambers Aug. 7, when perhaps 200 or more people upset about pending increases in their stormwater and trash collection charges made their presence known to elected leaders. The sheer size of the audience had an effect on the commission.
“I want to make a motion to deny it,” Commissioner Jody Lee Storozuk said, referring to the resolution to raise the stormwater assessment.
There was no immediate second of Storozuk’s motion, but Mayor Santiago Avila Jr. called for a public hearing on the matter.
Though mostly respectful, the audience at times was restive, raucous and even rowdy, as they were in no mood for anything less than dropping the proposed 25-percent increase in the stormwater fee and 15-percent boost in the solid-waste assessment.
Put simply, the annual stormwater charge would rise from $128 per standard home to $160, and the yearly cost of having household refuse collected would escalate from the current $202.80 to $233.15. The combined increase would amount to $62.35.
“I drive a 21-year-old car. I don’t travel or cruise. I rarely eat out,” Mary Ford, a widow, told the officials. “Many of us are on set incomes. … The city gave tax-free benefits to the Amazon businesses on Normandy [Boulevard] — “
A chorus of boos, jeers and groans erupted, prompting Mayor Avila to rap his gavel for order.
“Why should the bulk of the taxes fall on us, the property owners. There’s a considerable amount of new building,” Ford said. “Please listen to your constituents’ concerns. Don’t let this be a blanket increase.”
Speaker after speaker decried the proposed increases in assessments.
“I cannot afford these taxes on a fixed income,” another widow said. “I have been retired for about 25 years. My husband is gone. Think about the elderly and the people who built this City Hall and this city.”
Hearty applause followed.
“We get no benefit from the stormwater tax, and yet you want to increase it,” David Jones told the commission.
Jones said he was representing the Twin Lakes Homeowners Association.
“Money is tight for everybody,” Maria Rodriguez said. “There hasn’t been any information provided to us, other than this letter with technical information. … I had a sneaky feeling it is more money coming out of my pocket.”
“With inflation, with everything going on, this is not a good time for this council to be increasing a hefty fine on the residents,” Deb Abel said. “Gas, food, everything — everybody’s trying to cut back.”
When the last member of the audience spoke, the City Commission’s deliberations began.
“We have $15 million in projects. That’s a lot of money,” Vice Mayor Anita Bradford said, as she moved to adopt the increase in the stormwater assessment.
Another chorus of disapproval came from the audience.
Council Member Maritza Avila-Vazquez offered a second.
At that point, Avila passed the gavel to Bradford, signaling for her to preside over the meeting.
“I want to make a motion to deny [the increase],” Avila said, drawing a rapid second from Storozuk.
When the vote was taken, it was a surprise unanimous decision against raising the stormwater charge. Even Bradford and Avila-Vazquez joined in voting down the resolution.
A similar vote came a while later, after the critics had the opportunity to vent against hiking the charge for collecting and hauling away household trash and garbage. There was similar opposition to raising the solid-waste bill.
“You need to pay attention to what we’re saying,” Maria Rodriguez said.
“It’s basically — tax us more, and give us less,” former City Commissioner David Sosa said.
“I’m hoping that you guys will say no,” Kathy Bryan followed up.
The commission’s decision to trash the solid-waste assessment likewise was 7-0.
At the urging of several speakers, however, the governing body agreed to reconsider adding recycling to the pickups. Deltona discarded recycling in 2019, amid reports the resale and reuse of scrap paper, cardboard, plastic, metal and glass was actually costing the city, and that much of the material separated for recycling was actually being dumped in Volusia County’s Tomoka Landfill.
In other action, the City Commission unanimously adopted special assessments for aquatic-weed control on Lake McGarity and for streetlight districts.