The Stewardship of New Smyrna Beach….
Imagine living in a sub-tropical oceanside community with miles of beach, an ocean inlet, two quaint shopping and restaurant districts, a low cost of living along with parks located at either end of its barrier island. All of this is located within an hour’s drive from a major metropolitan area with world class entertainment, an international airport and seaport. To those of us living in New Smyrna Beach we don’t have to imagine it, we are already here.
Of course, the very things that make our area attractive to its residents also make it attractive to others. For example, New Smyrna attracts approximately hundreds of thousands of visitors per year, many of whom come from other Central Florida’s inland communities but also from around the U.S. and the world. NSB is also experiencing population growth, in a 7-year period from 2010 to 2017 NSB population grew from 22,464 to 26,470 according the U.S. Census estimates. Unlike many smaller communities in the U.S. NSB is a growing and vibrant family area with increasing opportunities for all.
Most, and probably all of us, agree that maintaining New Smyrna’s look and feel into the future is important and worth pursuing. After all it was what caused many of us to seek NSB and now call it home. Today there are those that feel that the character of the town is being lost and are concerned that we may be overwhelmed by new residents, visitors and traffic. This may be providing a sense that NSB is changing for the worst and many don’t like it. It is a valid concern.
Some may think If we could just stop this growth perhaps it would be easier to maintain the character of our town. It is, of course, difficult if not impossible to stop population growth. None the less imagine if we did. At first, we might find that there is less traffic, more parking, quicker access into restaurants, etc. However, over time, we might also find that our stagnant population has caused some of these same restaurants and shops to close among other business impacts. We should understand the impact of inflation and how the cost of city services increases each year. Or find that we have infrastructure in need of repair or replacement. We might also experience a loss of younger people and those of working age who are unable to find local opportunities and seek greener economic pastures elsewhere. While some might find this appealing, it is representative of a community in decline.
Regarding city finances in a declining community. As you know residents demand services for police, fire, environmental issues, drivable roads, etc., if no new tax revenue is coming into the city from growth. The only course left is for the city to raise taxes on current residents to help offset these increasing costs. Since the bulk of local tax revenue here is tied to our homes you might expect property taxes to increase. With no net new population, demand for homes may decline leading to declining home values. This is the start of a vicious cycle, one which the residents in the state of Illinois are currently facing. Of course, this impact doesn’t happen overnight, it will take time. Slowly and inexorably, NSB would start to decline.
Of course, this example paints a dire outcome. The economic path described above has impacted many other locations in the U.S. Perhaps in areas that some of our current residents have chosen to leave.
There is no doubt that the challenges of increasing population can be difficult for residents, elected officials and city staff. Growth can put strains on infrastructure, create traffic and force unpopular choices among other challenges. This change increases uncertainty about the area and will likely create controversy. This same growth, however, may also create some positive impacts as well. You should know that expanding population growth attracts business investment into the community. This investment may well result in improved employment opportunities, a greater choice of goods and services for residents and visitors alike, additional community focused philanthropy and an increasing business tax base to the city. Perhaps the only bigger challenge than living in a growing community is to live in one where economic growth and population are shrinking.
An additional factor that will likely influence future population growth in states like Florida, counties like Volusia and cities like New Smyrna Beach is an aspect of the 2017 Federal Tax act. As you may know part of this new tax law limits the federal deduction for state and local taxes (SALT) to $10,000 annually. In many states in the Northeast, Midwest and West Coast impose both income and property taxes on residents. This level of taxation can readily impose a SALT burden substantially over this $10,000 limit. According to the Rich State, Poor State study, from 2007 to 2016 Florida was the beneficiary of 850,000 people migrating to Florida from other states. While someone’s reasons for re-locating here are many, it is highly likely that many new residents received a tax savings by simply changing their state of residence to Florida. With the new SALT tax feature, the Study projects that low tax states like Florida and Texas may experience an increasing rate of migration from those desiring to re-locate from higher tax areas. As an example, the Wall Street Journal estimates that of New Jersey’s $3.5 billion income outflow in 2017 about two-thirds went to Florida.
One of the battle grounds in NSB has been over the economic development of the area. The concern over development may be the belief that it is the cause of additional traffic and people in our area. In some instances, development projects have been rejected while others have been improved by citizen input. It should be clearly understood that economic development follows population growth trends and not the other way around. Hence the decision to limit economic growth may well have the impact of limiting the economic opportunity for residents of working age and even depress their wages. You may be aware the three cities of Southeast Volusia; Edgewater, New Smyrna Beach and Oak Hill have formed the Southeast Volusia Marketing Initiative. This joint effort along with Team Volusia and Volusia County, is the first of its kind, will cooperate to bring light manufacturing, technology, medical, aerospace and other specialty business to our area. The goal is to bring higher wage jobs, improve opportunities for our citizens and diversify our business tax base.
So, what can be done……
First, it is imperative to understand that NSB (like other areas of Florida) is attracting new residents and visitors. And that we are likely to experience and even greater flow in the future. Whether we like it or not, it is occurring all around us in Central Florida. We cannot escape this change, it is already upon us and finding methods to deal with it is of paramount importance.
Second, it is critical to understand and recognize the role that business investment and economic development play in the character, finances and opportunities of our City. While not all businesses may be a fit for NSB, they play a very important role in helping provide for the community in so many ways. Stopping economic development in a mistaken attempt to slow population growth will have dire consequences on both city finances, resident choices for products and services, limit employment opportunities and damage wage growth. This effort is short-sighted and will leave a legacy of even larger problems for the generations that follow us. Not understanding the symbiotic relationship between residents, business and the city will come at the peril of ourselves, our neighbors and the community we profess to love.
Third, there is an old saying “failing to plan is planning to fail”. With the election of a new mayor and 2 commissioners in New Smyrna Beach it is imperative that both candidates and citizens are clear about the issues before us. We should be asking those who are running for office the following questions and expecting sensible answers.
You may be aware that NSB recently celebrated its 250th anniversary of its founding. It goes without saying that the character of the town has been altered many times over the years as it has grown and changed. It also should go without saying that we, the current residents, are beneficiaries of the legacy of the planning, economic vision and actions of those that came before us. NSB didn’t just happen. it was the result of the efforts of many to help it become what it is today. What legacy will we leave? It is now our turn and our obligation to take a realistic approach to challenges before us.