Candidate Ron Durham’s Q and A Report for the BNW
Durham: As the Community Relations Manager for Daytona Beach and the retired pastor (Greater Friendship Baptist Church of Daytona Beach -13 years), I have spent my entire life involved in community service. As a concerned citizen, I feel it is my duty to step up and make a difference for the citizens of Volusia County. Councilwoman Joyce Cusack, our current At-Large representative encouraged me to run for her seat.
Q&A (candidates did not know the questions ahead of time)
Q: What is your vision for our beach in ten years? Driving? Expanded boardwalk? More off beach parking? Beach trolley? Etc...
The privilege of driving on the beach is a long-standing tradition that sets us apart from the customary beach experience, and it should be protected. Anything we do to enhance our uniqueness as a tourist location will profit us and our home values. But I'm concerned about more than just the beach. I want Volusia to create economic engines that benefit everyone. The money and opportunities seized by big businesses must filter down into our neighborhoods.
Q: How and when do you propose increasing impact fees?
Durham: Impact fees are important to the sustainability of our infrastructure with the advent of new development. The fees should be carefully studied. Raising them too high will discourage development, while not raising them can place an undue hardship on the taxpayer.
Q: Should the half cent sales tax fail, what’s your plan to fund these necessary projects?
Durham: The half-cent sales tax, if properly managed and disseminated, will help to keep our community viable. If the passing of the half-cent sales tax fails, the county will arguably need to consider raising our taxes. No one wants more taxes, but we need to keep our roads and bridges safe.
Q: Give us your understanding of Go To Zero and tell us where you stand on this plan.
Durham: I was unfamiliar with that exact term at your meeting, but I promised to research it, and I have begun to do just that. According to County Mgr. Jim Dineen, “Volusia County’s “Go to Zero” plan will eliminate all $8.5 million of current debt from the county’s general fund — while at the same time, forego $30 million in future tax collections over five years by keeping the tax rate at a set level. And because previous plans called for borrowing another $45 million of new debt to pay for future construction projects and the new proposal is pay as you go, the savings may actually be much greater.”
Here’s what we need to consider. According to County Mgr. Dineen, the plan is based on the following:
Stabilized construction costs for capital projects already in work (This is out of our control. During the construction of my childcare learning center, four hurricanes came through Volusia, raising the cost of construction materials significantly).
No emergencies drawing from our reserve fund (This too is out of our control; who can control emergencies?)
No legislative changes to reduce our revenue (Sate decisions are out of our control)
Homeless project costs shifted away from county responsibility (First Step Shelter Inc. is striving to be self-sustaining through grants and donations).
No new projects (This requirement could stifle growth; how would it impact the need for, say, a new Court House?)
No major drop in sales tax or property tax (This is the easiest of the manager’s wish list to hang our hats on; the county is not likely to reduce taxes.)
No unreasonable department budgets (How will we address rapidly rising healthcare costs?).
No coverage of Phase II of the commuter rail project (Where does that leave the project? Unfinished?)
No new Community Development areas (Some cities who have areas yet to benefit, may consider that unreasonable.)
No elimination of revenue-generating fees (We must then hold the line on the Echo Fund)
Raises held to 3%; pensions follow state guidelines; healthcare increases held at 9% or less (Increased healthcare costs would have to be fully passed on to the employee, resulting in non-competitive wages/benefits with surrounding counties. This will make it difficult to keep our skilled employees, especially our trained law enforcement personnel.)
As you can see, the Go To Zero proposal is based on a ‘best case scenario’. My experience is that life does not unfold that way. We can and should strive for Go To Zero, since some of these requirements are achievable. However, consider that since introducing this proposal, the county has been through several costly hurricanes. Storms keep coming! Buildings will need repair. Debris will need to be collected.
We must be prepared to sensibly consider alternative solutions as crises arise. Just as we tighten our belts and look for alternative funding when the unexpected occurs in our personal lives, the county must be prepared to do the same, in order to meet emerging CRITICAL needs.
Q: What’s your plan to balance current demand for resources with the impending county wide building boom?
Durham: Growth is inevitable. We need a smart plan. Many developers looking to come here ask what they'll get from us. There are some incentives we can give, but we need to get something back. We need to manage the giveaways against the potential for growth and improvement.
Q: Do you support a constitutional Sheriff and the independence and control that would give him over his own department and budget?
Durham: I absolutely support Sheriff Chitwood, and would therefore not hesitate to relinquish to him more department oversight. I've worked with him on the Operation Safe Surrender program here in Daytona. He was successful here because he had control here. He needs to be allowed the latitude to introduce new ideas for our safety and his department’s efficiency. His track record proves he can get the job done.
Q: Should beach patrol be brought into the Sheriff’s department? Why or why not?
Durham: The Beach Patrol is part of the public protection budget which is higher than the Sheriff department’s budget. I believe everyone falling under the category of law enforcement should fall under one budget and one rule.
Q: Has the county made an adequate commitment to the first step homeless shelter?
Durham: For the past two years, I have poured my energies into the homeless project, as the Community Relations Manager, working with Volusia mayors and city managers to raise awareness and the money needed to move this project forward. The County Council has made a tremendous commitment of 2.5 million to support the project, without which this wouldn't have been possible. The County is an invaluable partner.
The shelter under construction will provide temporary housing and health services, with the goal to reintegrate every temporary homeless resident back into society.
Q: Do we need a new courthouse? If so, where?
Durham: The City Island courthouse is deteriorated. We certainly need a new one. The courthouse lacks the necessary structure to keep inmates and victims separated during the court hearing process. A new courthouse will provide efficiency and safety for all.
Q: Do you favor extending the ECHO tax beyond its end date of 2021? Why or why not?
Durham: The ECHO TAX has done some great things for Daytona, such as Breakers Park and the Cornelia Young Library renovations. Any move that helps our communities to shine should be renewed.
Q: What is your response to those in the community who feel political office is awarded to the best fundraiser?
Durham: Large donations help to influence elections through advertising, but is doesn't guarantee an election win because it represents very few votes. Meeting people one-on-one does. The key is to develop a personal relationship with the voter...to connect on a personal level. I've served this county and this community for many years. Those who know me gravitate toward me. I'll remain active in the county, and give the voter the right to choose who wins this election.
Q&A from Audience:
Q: What plan do you have for Main St. Daytona?
Durham: Main St needs a creative plan, sufficient resources and community action. Without it, the transformation we desire will not take place. The County and City should be encouraged to develop a unified plan, since the transformation will positively impact tourism to the benefit of every citizen of our county.
Q: How do we take care of our disadvantaged while making Daytona inviting for our guests and our citizens?
Durham: The number one move is to complete the shelter being constructed on 17-92, and make our county ‘Pottinger Compliant’. The Pottinger Law prohibits us from removing the homeless from our street corners, simply for performing life-sustaining actions, unless we have an alternative solution for them. The shelter will fill that gap, with beds, case management, mental health and getting their issues dealt with.
Q: If elected, will you stop the giveaways to the wealthy businesses that don't need it?
Durham: Incentives have always been an issue in Volusia. Incentives are the draw for most developers. Incentives have a shelf-life; they are temporary. We are temporarily giving back what the new developer gives us. Incentives are not a negative; they simply delay some of our expected profitability from the new development. In other words, we are giving back what the developer is giving us, for a time. In the meantime, we reap the benefit of increased jobs. Eventually, when the incentive period ends, we reap the full reward of an increased tax base, a beautified community, and an increase in jobs.
Q: Are you in favor of Beach Patrol having AR-15s (rumored this happening now)? Why or why not?
Durham: I'm in favor of law enforcement having what they need to face off against the perpetrators of crime. Police must be allowed to meet their attacker with equal force. We must give law enforcement what they need to end the threat.
Q: What is your stance on the secret boardwalk expansion and the lack of transparency from County Manager?
Durham: Above all, we must require full transparency with every government contract and transaction.
Q: What will you do to stop the deterioration of county buildings so we don’t have to always tear down and rebuild?
Durham: Like any other building, county buildings must be maintained. If we see a problem, we must address it. Proper maintenance is critical to county buildings, just as it is with our own personal homes. Small problems become big problems when we ignore the issue and kick the can down the road. We must resolve issues in a timely manner. The county should set the right example for its cities, with a systematic inspection system that addresses issues promptly.
Q: What area in Daytona Beach do you see a courthouse going on considering lack of large piece of land?
Durham: Let’s put a nice, glistening, energy-efficient, well-planned building in a central location with easy access and sufficient parking…one we all can be proud of. I prefer that it remain in Daytona Beach.
Durham: First, let me say that I am honored to be here with one of the most active neighborhood groups. I share your dreams for a better community, and it’s obvious you understand that it can only happen when we are all engaged in the process.
Let me say that this election is not a popularity contest. An old farmer once told me that “you have to plant new seeds if you want a new crop”. My track record attests to my experience as a progressive-thinking, consensus builder who advocates peace and prosperity for ALL of our citizens.
My motto is “Do what is right, not what is easy”. And if elected, I plan to do just that.