During the July 22 Winter Park City Commission meeting, the Commission voted to bring an 11.5 percent increase to the city millage rate to a vote at the September 23 meeting.
In response to this motion, Winter Park resident Bill Sullivan organized the distribution of yard signs that read “Stop Winter Park Tax Increases.”
A 30-year resident of Winter Park, Sullivan felt he needed to take action after receiving emails from multiple city commissioners explaining why the tax increase may be necessary. “They didn’t seem to care about the little person,” said Sullivan. “They seemed to be more concerned with their agenda than with the people who actually live here… [and] it made me upset.” He added “The majority of people who live in Winter Park… don’t live in fancy homes… they live in smaller houses, and their voices are hardly ever heard.”
The signs are being funded by yourwinterpark.com, a 501(c)(4) organization that Sullivan started a few years ago to help fund local initiatives.
Sullivan said that he has distributed approximately 175 signs to residents of Winter Park so far and has received nothing but positive feedback. He also mentioned that many people didn’t realize that the commission was considering raising their taxes until they started noticing the signs.
Commissioner Marty Sullivan, who proposed the increase to the millage rate in July, stated in an email to constituents this week that he would be voting to keep the existing rate of 4.0923 “unless the City foresees serious financial trouble.” He also stated in the email that he had received 132 emails opposed to the tax increase since he proposed it last month.
When Commissioner Sullivan first proposed the increase July 22, he stated “we don’t know what kind of [financial] hit we are going to take… If [the hit] is severe, and we have set the [millage] rate slightly higher, we have the option of not taking as much of a hit as we would [have] otherwise.”
According to Commissioner Sheila DeCiccio, a quarter mill increase will represent $75 a year on a $300,000 home, and the maximum potential increase that could be approved at the September 23 meeting is a half mill increase, which would equate to $150 a year on a $300,000 home.
In response to Commissioner DeCiccio’s comments, Winter Park resident Lenore Stephens said “If you really know what it’s like, then you’d know that the people who are stung the most by a millage increase are the masses who live in the $300,000 homes that you cite. You’d know that $75 makes a big difference.”
In an email to constituents, DeCiccio listed various factors that the Commission must consider when weighing its decision to potentially raise the millage rate next month. She stated the fact that the City has approximately $3 million less year-to-date revenue than expected due to COVID-19, and in response, has tightened its belt across the board by freezing open positions, providing utility bill assistance, and running short-staffed departments. In her email, DeCiccio echoed Commissioner Sullivan’s comments, promising that she will not vote for an increase “unless necessary to keep our City financially solvent and services strong.”
In a recent email to the city commissioners, Winter Park Residents Daniel and Toni Assael urged the commission to give thoughtful consideration to the situation, rather than a knee-jerk reaction, saying “It is not a good idea to raise everyone’s real estate taxes, especially by a whopping 11.5%. It will punish everyone in Winter Park, especially, our many neighbors who, through no fault of their own, have lost their jobs, their businesses and their livelihoods.”
The City’s tax rate was last increased 13 years ago, and the current millage rate ranks 8th out of 12 nearby municipalities. According to Commissioner Sullivan, his proposed increase would not change that standing.