In a virtual work session on July 8, City of Winter Park commissioners heard an initial proposed budget overview for the upcoming 2021 fiscal year, which begins on October 1, 2020. City Manager Randy Knight opened the presentation by explaining that in 31 years of working with budget planning, this year was particularly challenging given the obstacles and uncertainty wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a presentation to commissioners, Knight shared details of the City’s financial performance this year in the wake of the coronavirus crisis. Even though the year is not yet over, Knight projects a $3 million loss of revenue, citing the loss of tourism and decline of municipal services. City permits, for example, have been impacted by approximately $250,000 while fees for services like golf greens fees, tennis court usage, and other services have seen a nearly $600,000 impact.
City financial staff is projecting a 24 percent drop in sales tax revenue in the upcoming fiscal year. For context, Knight shared that the drop in similar revenue during the 2009 financial crisis was 12 percent. Knight is projecting an overall decrease of $1.4 million in the upcoming budget year and is making changes to absorb the shortfall, including freezing 15 vacant positions, as part of an overall strategy to reduce personnel costs. The proposed budget also included a decrease of 42 percent in allocated contingency.
Despite revenue shortfalls, the budget also includes an allocation for just over $18 million in capital projects such as underground utilities, a solar energy installation, and $7.5 million in reserves for the possible acquisition of the post office property on Central Park. The City is also budgeting $320,000 for the purchase of a fire station alert system estimated to save 30-60 seconds in emergency response times.
Knight also shared that both property tax rates and electricity rates will remain unchanged. These rates will set Winter Park’s rates lower than those of Orlando Utilities Commission (OUC) and 20 percent lower than those of Duke Energy, the City’s former utility provider.
The City budget will progress through its normal schedule of approval for adoption in late September following multiple opportunities for public input in August.