Fee Increases, Possible Future Millage Rate Hike Highlight City Budget Discussion

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City Commission began this year’s round of budget discussions at its July 12 meeting. Assistant City Manager Michelle del Valle presented an overview of the 2023-24 fiscal year proposal that included revenue increases, inflationary impacts, and a brief discussion on the possibility of a future millage rate increase.

The General Fund of $77,191,371 marked a 10% increase over the previous fiscal year. Property tax revenue of approximately $33.4 million accounts for 43% of the total.

A breakdown of revenue growth rates in the General Fund. Image courtesy of: City of Winter Park

“Revenue growth and inflation are duking it out in this year’s budget,” said del Valle, referring to the rising costs of labor and materials necessary for city services. Concrete pipe and cement are among the highest construction materials increases, at 17.40% and 13.60%, respectively, and first responders are also feeling the impacts. “A police cruiser that used to cost $45,000 is now costing $65,000, and a firetruck that used to cost $600,000 is now rounding the $1 million mark.”

She added that residents will see increased fees “related to specific services affected by inflation.” Among the increases: stormwater fees will be based on a flat charge of $0.005 per square foot of impervious surface, and solid waste collection will go up 20% to a total of $24 per month, per household.

An overview of fee adjustments that are resulting from labor and materials increases. Image courtesy of: City of Winter Park

The Capital Projects budget totals $27.5 million with the following projects receiving the most funding in each category:

  • General capital projects: $1.5 million for pavement resurfacing, bike path, curbing, and brick road repairs.
  • CRA: $2 million for planned improvements to MLK Park including landscaping, lighting, beautification, parking, play areas, stormwater, and water features.
  • Stormwater: $250,000 to replace Stirling Bridge.
  • Water and Sewer Fund: $3,292,900 for Winter Park’s share of capital improvements at the Ironbridge wastewater treatment facility in Orlando.
  • Electric Services Fund: $7,392,000 to underground electric utility lines.

The budget was prepared using the current millage rate of 4.0923 (one mill is equal to $1 in taxes for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value). Commissioners can move that number to increase funding as the budget plan evolves over the next two months, but have avoided doing so since 2009. However, at the end of the General Fund discussion, Commissioner Marty Sullivan floated the idea of introducing a small millage rate increase that would provide funding for city parks.

“An increase like that, dedicated to parks, I think would be looked on favorably, depending on our constituents’ opinion,” he said. “I don’t think we would want to shoehorn it into this budget, but I think it is really something we should look at very hard.”

When Vice Mayor Sheila DeDiccio asked if the idea should be a referendum on the next ballot, Sullivan said, “There is a big advantage to doing it that way; in my opinion the question isn’t whether to do it, the question is how to do it.”

Upcoming commission meetings and workshops will include discussions of additional items, not covered in the current budget draft. Among them are $350-550,000 for the first year of debt service in the possible purchase of the Bank of the Ozarks property, $500,000 for two additional police officers and one additional firefighter position, and $150-300,000 to keep Winter Park Library open on Sundays.

Commissioners will also vote on whether or not to adopt the tentative millage rate at their July 26 meeting, and cast their votes on the final budget draft during the last commission meeting in September.

The entire City of Winter Park 2023-24 budget proposal is available here.

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