Candidate Ben Johnson’s Q and A Report for the BNW

Opening Statement

Good evening, my name’s Ben Johnson. I’m your retired Sheriff. I spent 43 years with the Volusia County Sheriff’s Department – the last 16 as your Sheriff. I’m a life-long resident of Volusia County and a graduate of Rollins College. Why am I running? I love public service. I love helping people. I miss helping people, and I have a lot left and a lot of excitement. I know this county. I was born and raised in this county, I’ve worked in county government and I know what it needs and what the county needs and what I can do to help the citizens of Volusia County – all the citizens. I’m running because I believe in economic development. And also, I was recruited by the business community and people who said: you were a good Sheriff. We feel like you will make a great County Councilman. Once again, Ben Johnson. I appreciate your support and I appreciate you being here. Thank you very much.”

Questions from the moderator

1.What is your vision for our beach in 10 years? Driving? Expanded boardwalk? More off-beach parking? Beach trolley? Height limits?

A: I was born and raised here and have always enjoyed going to the beach and being able to drive on the beach all of my life. Beach driving is a heritage. It’s what people want, it’s one of the reasons that people from all over come to our beaches, it’s one of our greatest natural resources and we need to protect it. I will protect beach driving and make sure that we keep the beaches clean and safe.

2. How and when do you propose increasing impact fees?

A: The roads and other infrastructure in our county are going downhill and we have to do something about it. While it’s a proven fact that impact fees don’t cover the total cost of growth, it’s a piece of the funding puzzle and I think the recent decision not to increase impact fees was a mistake. We’re going to have growth whether we want it or not. But we need to use all of our available resources to make sure it’s good growth that’s done in a manner that helps pay for itself.

3. Should the half-cent sales tax fail, what’s your plan to fund these necessary projects?

A: We need more economic development that brings in more industry and good-paying jobs that will help expand and diversify our tax base in order help fund needed services and projects in a way that alleviates some of the burden from our residents and homeowners.

4. Give us your understanding of go-to-zero and tell us where you stand on this plan.

A: As it relates to zero-based-budgeting, I’m for it. Rather than basing one year’s budget on the previous year’s budget and expenses and carryover funds, it’s much more prudent to start each new year’s budget at zero and then justify the necessity of every program and expenditure. This is not only more responsible, but it helps hold down budget increases.

5. What’s your plan to balance the current demand for resources with the impending countywide building boom?

A: You’re going to have a building boom no matter what, but you have to have smart growth that fits in with the neighborhoods and areas where it’s taking place. You can have good growth, but it requires appropriate zoning and proper oversight. We also need to make sure that our building standards and code enforcement keep up with the demands and impacts of growth. The bottom line is that we must take care of our neighborhoods and our residents in all that we do.

6. Do you support a constitutional Sheriff and the independence and control that would give him over his own department and budget?

A: The Sheriff is an elected official, and no one can tell the Sheriff what to do. No one ever tried to do it to me in the 16 years that I was Sheriff. And you still have to submit your budget to the county even as a constitutional Sheriff. However, it’s true that being a constitutional Sheriff does give you some additional independence. If I had my choice, I would have preferred to have been a constitutional Sheriff when I was in office. But there also are some potential pitfalls, and I’ve seen some constitutional Sheriffs get into trouble – even go to prison – because of the lack of oversight.

7. Should beach patrol be brought into the sheriff’s department? Why or why not?

A: When I was Sheriff, I supported bringing the county’s beach patrol under the Sheriff’s Office. I thought the Sheriff’s Office was in a better position to patrol the beachside areas and that it also would have been a more efficient use of those additional sworn resources by temporarily utilizing them in other areas of the county during times when beach access is temporarily shut down due to things like high tide or extreme weather.

8. Has the county made an adequate commitment to the first step homeless shelter?

A: Yes, the county has stepped up to make a significant commitment to the First Step Homeless Shelter. But we have to remember that homelessness is a societal problem that requires the support and assistance of the entire community, including public-private partnerships, the faith community and federal government, in order to effectively address. We need to place a priority on helping the situational homeless and those who need assistance in getting back on their feet. And we need to have more mental health resources because that can help prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place. We all need to work together to help break the cycle of homelessness and make sure that these shelters, though needed, don’t become a bottomless money pit that simply provide a place to house people without addressing the underlying causes of homelessness.

9. Do we need a new courthouse? If so, where?

A: Yes we do, because the City Island Courthouse is antiquated and no longer meets the security standards and requirements needed to adequately protect the people who work in the facility or those who go there to conduct court business. I think the best location would be downtown Daytona Beach. That would be a convenient location for East Volusia residents and also would help continue the rejuvenation of Daytona Beach and keep the downtown area bustling.

10. Do you favor extending the ECHO tax beyond its end date of 2021? Why or why not?

A: While the revenue generated by the ECHO tax has done a lot of good, voters should decide whether it should continue beyond its current end date. The voters should decide whether continuation of the ECHO tax is something that they still need and want and can afford.

11. What is your response to those in the community who feel political office is awarded to the best fundraiser?

A: The reason I’m able to collect campaign contributions is because the citizens of Volusia County know me and they know that I have a proven track record. As Sheriff of Volusia County, I watched over the tax dollars, went through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and kept the office running without laying anybody off and despite having to absorb a 10 percent reduction in deputies, still managed to reduce crime. Yes, I have a lot of big-dollar contributors, but those are contributors who live here and support this community. And I also have a lot of small-dollar contributors too. In fact, I have more contributions of $100 or less than the total number of contributors to both of my opponents combined. And most of the money contributed to my campaign has come from right here in Volusia County, not other areas of the state or country. I’ve been able to attract financial support for my campaign because my contributors know that I will fight for the citizens of Volusia County.

Audience Questions

12. What plan do you have for Main Street?

A: While it concerns everyone, Main Street is mainly a Daytona Beach issue. The county should be there to help in any way possible, but Daytona Beach needs to take the lead. You also need to tackle the issue one piece at a time. A good first step would be to improve the appearance of International Speedway Boulevard and S.R. A1A and then start down Main Street. It’s a unique downtown, and many cities have successfully improved their downtowns, like DeLand, New Smyrna Beach, Mount Dora and Winter Park. It takes all of us working together, but with Daytona Beach taking the lead.

13. How do we take care of our disadvantaged, while making Daytona inviting to our guests and citizens?

A: The first step is a homeless shelter. The next step is to work on mental health issues. Daytona Beach and Volusia County have taken that first step – to help all of our citizens. Because it doesn’t just affect the people living on the street. It’s also the people who want to go downtown and enjoy themselves without being bothered by somebody panhandling. That’s also a big problem.

14. If elected, will you stop the give-aways to the wealthy businesses that don’t need them?

A: What you’re looking for are jobs. And so I’m for performance-based incentives. While it’s a shame that we have to offer incentives, you’ve got to do it because we’re competing with the rest of the state and the country for good businesses and good jobs. How many of us here, our children live somewhere else because we don’t have enough good-paying jobs in Volusia County? So we offer incentives to bring in good businesses that will bring jobs and money into the community. It’s like an investment in our future. It brings in money and jobs that take care of our children and help support our community and expand tax base.

15. Are you in favor of Beach Patrol having AR-15s? If so, why?

A: Absolutely. But they don’t have to be seen – unless they’re needed. If you have a shooter on a hotel balcony firing into the crowd, you need to have something to neutralize the threat. And a handgun isn’t going to do it. If this was a perfect world, you wouldn’t need it. But this isn’t a perfect world. We have to provide our law enforcement with the correct tools to protect us.

16. What is your stance on the secret Boardwalk extension and the lack of transparency on it from the County Manager?

A: The Boardwalk is always one cash infusion from success. You’re going to have to show me what it’s going to provide to our citizens and what it’s going to do for us instead of just spending tax money. You’re going to have to prove to me that it’s going to be a real benefit to the community. No, I’m not for it.

17. What will you do to stop the deterioration of County buildings so we don’t always have to tear them down and rebuild them?

A: I’m a big believer that when you build a new building, you build it to meet the future needs and not just today’s needs. You build something that’s big enough and will last a long time. It doesn’t cost that much more to do it right the first time. Preventive maintenance of buildings is very important and no different than driving a car. If you run the tires off of it and don’t change the oil and don’t change fan belt, it’s going to break down. A building is no different.

18. Where would you foresee the actual geographic area of Daytona Beach to put a courthouse, given the lack of large pieces of land?

A: The current plan is to put it right near the current building. And that’s where it should go. There was talk at one time of putting it out on Indian Lake Road. That’s just too far out for too many people. Put it right downtown and make sure it looks good and fits the area, makes this community look good, is a credit to the community and helps downtown Daytona Beach grow in the right direction.

Closing statement

Ladies and gentlemen, to start off with, let’s give a round of applause to Joyce Cusack. She has given a lot of her life for this county. You know, she’s not supporting me, but I wouldn’t have run against her out of pure respect. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming tonight. I’m excited about this. You know, I’ve been a public servant for 43 years in this county, and I love this county. I was born here, I was raised her, and I’m going to die here – I hope no time soon, but I’m going to die here. But I have the excitement, and I have the knowledge. I know this county. I’ve always been innovative. You talk about new seeds, you take an old tree. It keeps sprouting new limbs out there to cover the whole community and that’s what I’m going to do for you. I don’t care whether it’s the east side or west side. I’m here for everybody. I’m here to do what’s best for all of our community and I have that proven record throughout all of my career – my 43 years and my 16 years as Sheriff. One of the things I did when I came in was to improve the relationship between the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office and all the cities in this county –

that was by working together and working as a team. And because of that, I have a very large support through most of the city councils in Volusia County. I want to thank you for being here. I want to thank you for your support. I’m asking you for your support so that I can continue to represent you in this great county of ours and make it even greater. Thank you very much.”