Category Archives: Volusia County

Hurricanes cost DeBary $1.8M over 2 years

After Hurricane Irma in September, tree limbs quickly piled up along streets throughout DeBary.

As residents’ complaints mounted about the debris, DeBary City Council members assembled, agreeing to act quickly to remove the debris and protect residents from public-safety threats.

The debris mostly vanished from River City roads about a month after Irma hit Central Florida in 2017.

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.

Elizabeth Bauer
Elizabeth Bauer

Most of the cost -$1.5 million – came from Irma, said Finance Director Elizabeth Bauer.

The city’s annual budget is about $16 million.

FEMA funds

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.

‘Strong position’

Bauer also said the city is scaling back its mandatory reserve period from 150 days to 120 days because of the budget crunch.

Ron McLemoreInterim 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.

To help pay for public safety, City Council members authorized a $70,000 study in December for a possible fire-protection fee for residents and businesses.

The first phase of the study should be completed in about three to four months.

$140K approved for 3 projects

At the meeting on Jan. 17, City Council members also approved three projects with an estimated cost of $140,000.

City council members discussed these projects last year but delayed a decision because of financial concerns.

“These numbers are so small it doesn’t have that much impact in your budget or your reserves,” McLemore said.

City Council members agreed to spend $70,000 for three automobile-plate readers to help the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office to fight and solve crimes. Sheriff Mike Chitwood explained the technology at the meeting. He first proposed the request in June.

City Council also approved $45,000 to replace a broken-down, 11-year-old truck for the recreation department.

“It’s already been in the shop three times this year. We’re throwing money down a rat hole. We need to go ahead and replace it,” McLemore added.

Council members also agreed to spend $25,000 for a transportation plan to help DeBary better manage mobility issues related to growth.

McLemore said the study will save the city millions of dollars.

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DeBary defends $4M in drainage upgrades targeted by Stephen Bacon

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.

Stephen Bacon
Stephen Bacon
Lita Handy Peters
Lita Handy Peters

“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.

Drainage woes

DeBary voters in 2006 approved bonds to upgrade stormwater after widespread flooding in 2004 and 2008.

DeBary flooding
DeBary flooding

The floods destroyed property, causing millions in damage, and revealed dramatically inadequate, incomplete, broken and non-existent drainage citywide.

They happened in new and old areas alike, sending water into homes that were not in flood zones or wetlands.

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.

DeBary flooding
Torrential rain from Tropical Storm Fay flooded this neighborhood lake, forcing many people from their homes in DeBary. George Armstrong/FEMA

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.

Stephen Bacon
Stephen Bacon

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.

Homeowners in DeBary pay $192 annually for stormwater for homes on public roads.

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.

Moral responsibility

Ron McLemore
Ron McLemore

“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.

Nearly 12 inches of rain fell during Hurricane Irma last year and no homes flooded.

Tropical Storm Fay in 2008 dumped close to 24 inches of rain in 24 hours on parts of West Volusia in 2008, overflowing lakes, putting streets underwater and flooding 130 homes in DeBary.

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DeBary Burger King robber gets 12.5 years in prison

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.

2 witnesses

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.

Violent past

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.

State prison

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.

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DeBary bust: Coke, pot, mushrooms and ‘monkey face’ pills

Deputies uncovered a diverse hoard of illicit drugs – everything from psychedelic mushrooms to MDMA /ecstasy pills imprinted with monkey face designs – during a recent DeBary bust.

Josh Kuzlik
Josh Kuzlik

Joshua Kuzlik, 32, of DeBary was taken into custody and charged with:

  • making hash oil
  • possession of alprazolam
  • trafficking more than 400 grams of cocaine
  • armed trafficking of MDMA (10-200 grams)
  • possession of schedule I substances
  • possession of marijuana with intent to sell
  • possession of amphetamines

A detective got a tip  on Friday that someone living in a house on
Colomba Road had a large amount of marijuana.

Two detectives knocked on the door at about 8 a.m. Friday. (Jan. 12).

“Detectives with the West Volusia Narcotics Task Force (WVNTF) performed surveillance of the residence and awaited the arrival of an occupant or for an occupant to emerge from the house,” a report said.

A man later identified as Kuzlik pulled into the driveway in a white van at about 2:25 p.m. and opened the garage door.

The detective could smell marijuana when he walked to the van to talk with Kuzlik, who was still sitting in the driver’s seat of the
van using his phone, a  report from the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office said.

The officer could smell an “overwhelmingly noticeable odor of fresh/raw cannabis emitting from the garage.”

“Kuzlik was informed of the information received and he denied being in possession of any cannabis,” even after the detective said he could smell it.

Two other officers arrived and confirmed the odor. The detectives entered through the garage door to ensure no additional persons or hazards were inside.

“This was done to ensure the integrity of the residence and its contents as well as ensure the safety of law enforcement personnel at the scene while a search warrant was constructed,” the report said.

The officers found a large amount of marijuana and a “hand rolled marijuana cigar.”

After obtaining a search warrant, officers combed the property and found a variety of drugs.

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Erin Boyd: Once-missing woman charged in motel abduction lie, cops say

Erin Boyd jail photo
Erin Boyd jail photo

An Orange City woman who went missing this week was arrested for lying about being abducted, deputies say.

Erin Boyd, 31, is accused of two charges related to falsely reporting a crime, according to the Volusia County Branch Jail in Daytona Beach.

Her boyfriend reported her missing Sunday.  She was found safe and alone at the Chimney Corner Motel in DeLand, according to Andrew Gant, a spokesman for the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office.

“Initially, Boyd was evasive on the circumstances around her disappearance,” Gant said in a statement.

She pretended to she was being held hostage, even calling 911 while deputies were on the scene, Gant said.

While deputies were on scene at the motel, she called 911 from her room asking for deputies to let her out, as if she was being held against her will.

“She then attempted to report to a deputy on scene that she was intimidated into leaving home and coming to the motel, and that she had been deprived of her phone,” Gant added.

A deputy later found her phone in the motel-room toilet.

“Boyd alleged again Friday that she was imprisoned against her will, and her claim was disproved,” Gant said. “She is being charged with two misdemeanors: making a false report to law enforcement and making a false official statement.”

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Nicole Grebosz named Volusia County Teacher of the Year

Nicole Grebosz, a technology teacher at Citrus Grove Elementary in DeLand, was named Volusia County’s top teacher late Friday.

Grebosz, one of five finalists for Volusia County School’s 2019 Teacher of the Year, took top honors at a gala ceremony attended by roughly 900 at Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanwalk Resort.

In her role at Citrus Grove, she teaches students in kindergarten through fifth grade and serves as a mentor to new technology teachers.

She took the newly created position of technology teacher at Citrus Grove Elementary in 2015.

Grebosz, who earned her bachelor and master degrees from Stetson University, began her teaching career with Volusia County Schools in 2006 at Pine Ridge High in Deltona.

At that school, her alma mater, she taught English/Language Arts and served as the sports science/emergency medical services academy teacher until 2008.

That’s when then became a career and technical education teacher at Pine Ridge. She also taught a web design class part-time for a few months at Florida Virtual School.

Grebosz will be nominated for the state Teacher of the Year competition.

She also gets to drive a  new automobile provided by Craig Conway of Diamond Motors & Marine and Daytona Mitsubishi/Kia.

The FUTURES Foundation for Volusia County Schools hosts the annual event.

The presenting sponsor is Halifax Health, according to Nancy Wait, spokeswoman for the Volusia County School District.

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DeBary, Florida faces cold front, thunderstorms today

 

 

 

 

Get ready for a messy commute home this afternoon.

A gigantic cold front will sweep through Central Florida between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. today, bringing thunderstorms and lightning. Twenty to 30-mph gusts are possible.

Saturday’s high will be in the 50s.

The front will drop temperatures into the mid-30s Saturday night into Sunday morning, according to the National Weather Service in Melbourne.

Saturday’s high will be 60.


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Duke Energy wants rate hike for Hurricane Irma

DeBary residents and others across Florida would see their energy charges go up to pay for Hurricane Irma costs under a new Duke Energy plan.

Duke residential customers would get a $5.20 monthly rate hike per 1,000 kilowatt-hour of electricity, assuming a three-year payment plan.

The energy giant wants $381 million in “cost recovery” revenue and an additional $132 million to replenish the utility’s storm reserve account.

“This past hurricane season impacted Florida significantly, from damaging homes and infrastructure to affecting agriculture and tourism. Duke Energy Florida understands the impact this filing has on both our residential and business customers,” Harry Sideris, Duke Energy Florida state president, said in a statement. “We will continue making smart investments to significantly enhance service reliability throughout the year, including during storm season.”

Florida Power & Light, another electric provider in DeBary and elsewhere in Florida, has also proposed an Irma-related surcharge.

Customers will be charged $4 a month per 1,000 kilowatt hours, assuming state regulators approve, according to the Palm Beach Post.

Duke Energy came under heavy fire from local officials for response and communication after the storm passed through.

“I have issues with Duke Energy and how they went about it, ” DeBary Mayor Garcia. “Yes, they need a lot of fixing. Yes, they need to turn around and hire more people.”

Florida Power & Light responded within 48 hours and had 98 percent of customers’ power restored after Hurricane Irma, Garcia said.

“Duke Energy took almost nine to 10 days before they turned around and addressed the issue of power in the city of DeBary,” Garcia said.

Duke Energy said it restored power to more than 75 percent of customers in just three days and 99 percent within eight days.

Duke Energy Florida just filed a petition with the Florida Public Service Commission to recover from an estimated $381 million in costs associated with the company’s response to September’s Hurricane Irma in Florida.

In addition, the company is seeking to recover $132 million to replenish its storm reserve fund for use in responding to future storms.

“The company depleted the remaining $62 million in the reserve fund as part of its Hurricane Irma storm response,” a Duke statement said

“Commercial and industrial customers will see an increase of approximately 2.5 to 6.6 percent, though bills will vary depending on a number of factors,” Duke added

The Florida Public Service Commission will review the proposed initial storm cost recovery surcharge within 60 days.

Duke Energy said “crews and contractors traveled to Florida from as far as Canada to get 1.3 million customers restored as quickly and safely as possible.”

In Florida, more than 12,000 line and field workers replaced approximately 1,800 distribution poles, 140 transmission poles and 1,100 transformers.

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DeBary, other cities eye e-filing option for candidates

In DeBary’s early days, you had to comb through candidates’ campaign reports by hand if you wanted to know about their finances.

You could only do it in person at City Hall during regular business hours.

Now the reports are online.

But the documents are in a clunky format – PDFs – making them harder to digest than streamlined electronic reports provided by county, state and federal officials.

Now, for the first time, Volusia County’s supervisor of elections is inviting cities to share her modern reporting system to track donations and expenditures in their local elections.

DeBary, Deltona, Orange City and several eastside cities are interested in the offer from Volusia County Supervisor of Elections Lisa Lewis.

“This is the first time the supervisor of elections has opened it up to the cities,” DeBary City Clerk Warren Graham told Council members at Dec. 6 meeting.

After a brief discussion, City Council members gave staffers the OK to begin the process to use the county’s system.

Erika Benfield
Erika Benfield

“I think this is a good thing,” said City Council member Erika Benfield. “because I like to do all of my filing electronically and I think it’s just bringing us up to date.”

It requires changing DeBary’s charter. Do do that, the City Council must approve an ordinance, which requires an initial vote and final approval, both during public hearings.

A tentative timetable was not discussed. DeBary has three seats up for grabs in 2018: Mayor and seats 3 and 4. Under the law, candidates are required to disclose sources of their political donations and recipients of campaign expenditures.

Graham said the debate in other cities considering the change involves the possibility of computerless candidates.

“Some of the other clerks are saying, [if] you don’t have a computer, go to the library” to use public computers, Graham said. “I can’t imagine anybody in today’s environment not having access to a computer that’s running for an election, especially.”

City Council member Mike Brady agreed, saying candidates without computers also would have the option of using someone else’s computer for filing reports.

“I don’t think this is a new concept,” added City Council member Stephen Bacon.

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SunRail announces special services on Dec. 28, Jan. 1

SunRail on Wednesday announced special train services on Dec 28 and Jan. 1.

The services are options for Orlando Bowl Game traffic on both days.

The Camping World Bowl will be at Camping World Stadium on Dec. 28. Virginia Tech and Oklahoma State are competing.

Overton’s Citrus Bowl, also at the same stadium, is on Jan. 1.

Special night trains on Dec. 28 will leave from LYNX Central Station at the following times:

Northbound

  • 9:28 p.m.
  • 10:18 p.m.

Southbound

  • 8:48 p.m.
  • 9:49 p.m.

SunRail added: “On New Year’s Day, SunRail is offering more than 11 hours of special service, with the first southbound train leaving DeBary at 8 a.m., and the last northbound train leaving Sand Lake Road at 6:15 p.m., arriving in DeBary at 7:18 p.m.”

Check for details at www.sunrail.com.

“This New Year’s Day special service provides a transportation option to those attending the Overton’s Citrus Bowl game featuring Notre Dame vs LSU at Camping World stadium in downtown Orlando,” SunRail noted.

“It also provides a transportation option for those who wish to try the train and tour local sites along the SunRail service area on New Year’s Day,” the agency added.

Shuttle bus service will be available between LYNX Central Station and Camping World Stadium for both athletic events.

Get details at www.golynx.com