Trash-talking lobbyists take note: DeBary City Council members won’t chat with you in private.
Council members last week unanimously backed a recommendation from Interim City Manager Ron McLemore, who urged them to avoid private discussions with representatives from solid-waste companies.
Those discussions should only be held during public meetings, McLemore said.
McLemore, a veteran public administrator, said the no-private-chat measure is needed as DeBary faces critical decisions on waste services.
DeBary residents pay $179 annually for garbage, recycling and yard-waste removal, all once-a-week services.
City council members need to decide whether to renegotiate the terms of DeBary’s contract with its contractor, Waste Pro, or seek competitive bids for the next contract.
Homeowners pay $179 annually
The city originally hired the company in 2004, with service beginning on Jan. 1, 2005 at a rate of $129.84 for the same level of service.
DeBary’s garbage contract is worth millions annually.
DeBary council members will be asked to make key decisions between now and April in public, McLemore said. Trash reps who want to talk to council members in private should be told those discussions should only be held in public meetings, he added.
Solid-waste companies are aggressive, he said, adding that decisions about solid-waste could “go awry” if elected officials hold private discussions with representatives from garbage haulers.
“This is something that I have been involved with for a long long time, as well as most city managers, and you have to be very careful how you deal with this,” McLemore said. “There are good companies. There are bad companies there are companies in the middle. There’s a lot of money at stake.”
Waste Pro’s revenues
Waste Pro USA, based in Longwood, has annual revenues of $600 million. It calls itself “one of the country’s fastest growing privately owned waste collection, recycling, processing and disposal companies…”
It operates in Florida and eight other southeastern U.S. states. It has 2 million residential and 40,000 commercial customers.
An emergency patch-up for Fort Florida Road just cost $50,000.
Now a longer-term fix for nearly half of that road – as well an upgrade to a section of West Highbanks Road – are just weeks from getting underway.
Amid safety concerns, the DeBary City Council approved more than $270,000 for the projects on Wednesday.
Officials blame Henin Group — the developer of two subdivision expansions – and its big dump trucks for damaging both roads.
But it’s too soon to try to get money from the developer to help pay for repairs, interim City Manager Ron McLemore told council members.
DeBary has to wait until the work is done before it can calculate the developer’s share for the work, McLemore added.
Holding Henin responsible
The city can hold Henin Group responsible for a majority of the damage to Fort Florida Road under a road-maintenance agreement with DeBary, he said.
Dump trucks hauling dirt from Springview to Riviera Bella damaged Fort Florida Road, prompting DeBary to declare an emergency Jan. 17. That’s when the city approved spending $53,000 to quickly fix the worst sections of the road.
That work is done. But dump trucks started using West Highbanks Road, causing additional damage to that road, according to City Council member Erika Benfield.
“Now you’ve got the rerouting of all these trucks that just destroyed the other road,” Benfield said Wednesday.
Council members hired low-bidder P&S Paving of Daytona Beach for nearly $170,000 to put down an asphalt overlay on 1.2 miles of Fort Florida Road. Officials said that will extend the life of the roadway for several years.
It will upgrade sections of the road that didn’t get asphalt overlay last year. That project spanned about 1.8 miles and cost about $180,000.
Fort Florida Road wasn’t built to modern standards. It was paved for the first time about eight years ago using temporary asphalt meant to last roughly five to seven years.
Traffic, primarily development related, increased over the last two years.
The city on Wednesday also agreed to hire P&S Paving to mill and resurface more than 4,000 feet of West Highbanks Road between Fort Florida Road and the railroad tracks.
That work will cost $100,000. Construction could start in March and take about a month to complete. A similar resurfacing job was recently completed on a section of West Highbanks from the railroad tracks to Donald E. Smith Boulevard, city officials said.
‘There’s no stopping them’
Benfield and City Council member Mike Brady also said they want to look at options to possibly lower the speed limit on West Highbanks. That would require a traffic study, McLemore said, among other steps.
Benfield said drivers go as fast as 50 miles per hour in the 40-mile-per hour section of that road.
“There’s no stopping them,” she said. “We need to be concerned for the children.”
City Council member Stephen Bacon said Henin should chip in something at the front end of the projects.
“My question is what did you do with the developer?” Bacon asked McLemore.
The manager said staffers have been in contact with Henin and will get money from the developer in the future. “The outcome is when the job is finished we’ll know what the cost is and we [will] sit down with him with the agreement and we [will] figure out what his share of that cost is, which in this case would be predominate cost,” McLemore said. “But we have to get the job over first.”
McLemore: Trucks OK
At the Jan. 17 meeting, residents accused of Henin of using loaded dump trucks that were too big for residential roads.
McLemore said the city checked and Henin met state regulations when it moved dirt from Springview to Riviera Bella on Fort Florida Road.
“Now, you have to allow trucks to move from one site to another site or they would never move off one site, and there are rules under the state [about] how you do that,” McLemore said. He noted that Henin agreed not to send loaded trucks between the properties in the future.
DeBary’s Independence Day festival has a new party planner.
The City Council, on a 4-1 vote Wednesday, hired a small Ormond Beach company for $10,000 to run DeBary’s biggest annual party – the daylong Fourth of July festival at Gemini Springs Park.
Concerns about professionals
City Council member Stephen Bacon cast the lone dissenting vote against the arrangement with Festival Designs, echoing previous concerns about having professionals- instead of volunteers– running the show.
Volunteers still needed
“I think the community needs to get involved again,” Bacon said.
Parks and Recreation Director John Fletcher noted that Festival Designs will still use volunteers to help run the show, which draws 7,000 to 10,000 attendees from across Central Florida.
Festival Designs will also have to work with DeBary’s fireworks vendor, Creative Pyrotechnics of Orlando. DeBary hired Creative Pyrotechnics for $20.000 last April. The deal can be renewed for two years at $20,000 for each show.
Council member Stephen Bacon, who cast the dissenting vote, went along with the recent decision to negotiate with Festival Designs. But he still expressed an interest in having a community-based operator like CPPI.
“People like to get involved,” Bacon said.
Mayor Bob Garcia’s response: “It’s not as easy as you think it is, sir,”
Festival Designs said in a letter to DeBary that it is licensed with Volusia County and the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
Festival Designs pitch
“As a graduating company of the UCF Business Incubator Program in 2013, started by Volusia County, Festival Designs has grown to provide festival and event management services to several regional events,” the letter said. “These include the World Rowing Championships in September, Christmas Tree Experience in November, the Chuck Strauser Candy Cane 5k in December.”
Cathy Pulliam, a 35-year resident and veteran office manager with experience in finance and law, is the sole member of Festival Designs LLC.
“Scott Chesley is the Director of Operations and will be the primary contact,” the letter added.
Chesley has more than 38 years of festival design, layout, and event management experience and has participated in more than 3,000 festivals and events.
“The purpose of Festival Designs is to create events of any size that exceed the expectations of the attendees and enhance the community, the city and this region,” the letter added.
Now the cost of Irma is coming into focus. That storm, along with expenses from Hurricane Matthew in 2016, cost DeBary taxpayers $1.8 million over two budget years, City Council members learned during a recent meeting.
Most of the cost -$1.5 million – came from Irma, said Finance Director Elizabeth Bauer.
The city’s annual budget is about $16 million.
DeBary hasn’t received any help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for Irma or Matthew. But it continues to ask.
For budgeting purposes, the city is anticipating FEMA funds. It is conservatively estimating federal reimbursements between $932,000 and $14 million in the 2019 budget year. Some of that might come in during this budget year, Bauer said.
If the hurricanes had not happened, the city’s 2017 general fund would have closed with a $562,000 positive cash flow. Instead, it has a negative balance of $75,000, Bauer said.
Bauer also said the city is scaling back its mandatory reserve period from 150 days to 120 days because of the budget crunch.
Interim City Manager Ron McLemore stressed that DeBary remains financially secure.
“So you’re in a very, very strong position,” McLemore said.
However, he noted that he wants City Council members to chat at some point on ways DeBary can better prepare financially for future storms.
“A series of additional hurricanes at these cost levels, however, could seriously challenge the financial health of the City,” a city memo says.
Fire fees study
City auditors will provide more details about DeBary’s finances during a meeting in March, McLemore said.
The city routinely shifts money from reserves to the general fund to balance the budget.
Annual shortfalls of about $400,000 could grow by another $248,000 annually if Florida voters approve a property-tax exemption in November.
In DeBary, City Council members like Stephen Bacon earn $4,800 annually.
That’s not enough for him, Bacon said Wednesday while arguing unsuccessfully for a referendum to raise elected officials’ taxpayer-funded salaries.
Bacon said other cities pay their elected leaders more compared to DeBary, and the River City hasn’t reviewed the salaries for City Council members for years.
What’s more, Bacon said his monthly paycheck for serving as a City Council member is only about $300 after taxes and other deductions.
Bacon’s pay-hike pitch
“We’re doing three meetings a month and some of them were into the wee hours of the morning,” Bacon said. “So when you take home a paycheck for $300 and you’re doing work for the people and, in a sense, a Hippocratic oath kind of thing. Not the medical profession. But from a professional standpoint … we’re trying to do good for the people and we’re putting in the time and effort.”
He asked his colleagues to approve a motion to put the issue before voters during a referendum to evaluate and possibly increase council members’ salaries.
His motion died because no one else on the City Council supported it.
“Based on that, no action needs to be taken on this,” said Mayor Bob Garcia.
Bacon’s pay proposal died on the same night he fought unsuccessfully to have a voter referendum to approve $4 million in storm-water projects.
DeBary pay history
The mayor and city council member positions were unpaid when DeBary became a city on Jan. 1, 1994.
In 1996, voters approved charter amendments setting an annual salary of $6,000 for the mayor and $4,800 for council members.
DeBary voters in 2001 voted down a proposed increase for council members.
In addition, City Council members in the past twice voted against giving themselves salary increases.
Interim City Manager Ron McLemore prepared a memo for the City Council about the issue and provided research comparing DeBary’s salaries to other cities in Central Florida. That information is below:
DeBary’s long-established drainage campaign will continue for now after a failed attempt by City Council member Stephen Bacon to seek a referendum on $4 million of expenditures.
“This issue has been discussed and reviewed enough … This is ridiculous,” Vice Mayor Lita Handy-Peters said of Bacon’s concerns.
Bacon on Wednesday frustrated his colleagues as the only member to raise concerns about an issue called he called “contingent liabilities” that he feared could interfere with DeBary’s ability to borrow money.
“You do not have contingent liabilities,” interim City Manager Ron McLemore assured council members. City auditors have no concerns, and DeBary’s financial position, including borrowing ability, remains strong, he said.
A majority of council members, including Bacon, on Wednesday eventually voted to table his concerns indefinitely.
A contingent liability, according to Investopedia, “is a potential liability that may occur, depending on the outcome of an uncertain future event.”
Bacon is the only council member to consider the $4 million package of roughly 36 projects separate from the overall effort to improve DeBary’s drainage launched more than a decade ago.
DeBary voters in 2006 approved bonds to upgrade stormwater after widespread flooding in 2004 and 2008.
The floods destroyed property, causing millions in damage, and revealed dramatically inadequate, incomplete, broken and non-existent drainage citywide.
Some blamed the county, which approved growth in DeBary before it became a city on Jan. 1, 1994. DeBary was criticized, as well as regional water managers and other agencies.
Others blamed unusually heavy rainfall, including a tropical storm, that would have overwhelmed even the best drainage system.
Some say it was a complex problem with multiple contributing factors.
The most important takeaway, most city officials have said consistently, is to make reasonable drainage upgrades to prevent floods in the future.
“The city assumed the responsibility to protect its citizens from damage like this. Nobody’s built houses in wetlands. Nobody’s built houses in unimproved areas,” DeBary resident Howard Gates told council members. The projects questioned by Bacon are largely located in sections of the city build years ago without modern drainage systems.
“To suggest the city should not take this on is preposterous,” Gates added.
‘They should make the decision’
Bacon is the first DeBary City Council member to publicly question the program to this degree.
Bacon, who took office in January 2017, said he consulted with a certified public accounting firm and “they say we should not touch this project unless we are liable for this situation.”
He had planned to have a representative from the firm attend Wednesday’s meeting but that didn’t happen.
“It’s a contingent liability,” Bacon insisted. “It wasn’t a contingent liability when it wasn’t defined but now it’s defined and the accountant can give an opinion. That’s why I asked for him to be here. Our city manager is not an accountant. He can’t give a professional opinion [about] how it’s going to be reflected on the financial statement. So this is not a small-change item. It’s $4 million. The people – this is the people’s money. They should make the decision. Not five of us on the council. They should make the decision. That’s what this is all about.”
2006 voter approval
Other council members say they are simply following through on an existing voter mandate, previous City Council policies and DeBary’s state-approved growth plan calling for adequate drainage.
They said voters already voiced support for stormwater upgrades when they voted to tax themselves for a drainage-improvement campaign in 2006.
That vote approved $10 million in bonds specifically for stormwater upgrades.
Those funds, along with grants and other sources of revenue, have been combined over the years, resulting in roughly $30 million worth of projects and better drainage.
The fee was enacted in 2005 at $84 per home and raised to its current level in 2015.
‘Bean counter’ concerns
The city has completed most of its major drainage projects and it is now focusing on a collection of smaller projects, mostly clustered in DeBary’s oldest neighborhoods in the southeast area.
About nine of those 36 smaller projects have been completed.
McLemore told council members it wouldn’t be fair to stop the program now.
In fact, it would require a change to DeBary’s adequate-drainage policy in its growth plan.
Moreover, some people have paid into the program for years and have yet to get the benefit. Many of the uncompleted projects are in lower-value, older homes occupied by seniors, said McLemore, dismissing Bacon’s “bean counter” concerns.
“Millions of dollars have been spent on it. Most of the job has been done. This is to finish up the program with smaller less expensive projects. But if it’s your house involved, it’s important,” McLemore said. “You do it as a matter of a moral responsibility and to treat people in your city equally.”
City officials say all the work they’ve done so far has helped prevent flooding.
The felon who robbed the DeBary Burger King last year was recently sentenced to more than a decade in prison.
Mathew H. Juan, 33, flashed a gun while robbing two employees at the restaurant at 305 Sunrise Blvd. before noon June 21, according to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office.
No one was hurt. The robber ran into the woods.
Minutes later, an Orange City police officer spotted his getaway vehicle – a silver Ford SUV – in the area of Saxon Boulevard and Threadgill Place in Orange City and conducted a traffic stop.
Deputies responded to the scene with two witnesses who identified Juan as the suspect. Deputies said they think he was homeless.
“Deputies also recovered cash from the wooded area near the Burger King where the SUV had been parked,” the Sheriff’s Office report said. “At the scene of the traffic stop, deputies noticed a piece greenery stuck to the back of the vehicle, as if it had been recently parked amid some brush and vegetation.”
Juan entered no-contest pleas to charges of robbery with a firearm/deadly weapon and false imprisonment.
Volusia County Circuit Judge James R. Clayton recently found him guilty and sentenced him to 12.5 years in state prison.
Clayton on Jan. 12 also declared Juan a habitual violent felon, meaning he’ll have to serve at least 10 years of his sentence.
Juan has a violent criminal past, both as a juvenile and an adult, records show.
Records show Juan served more than three years in state prison before he was released in December 2012.
He was adjudicated guilty in Volusia County in 2007 after pleading no contest to charges of aggravated battery and aggravated assault.
Juan was accused of attacking his wife’s brother with a baseball bat in Edgewater.
He was placed on probation in the 2007 case but was charged the following year for violating his probation for allegedly attacking his wife.
A judge sentenced Juan to five years in prison with credit for 153 days in jail and five years of probation.
He entered the state prison system in March 2009 and left in December 2012.