Winter Park city managers offered updates on projects and answered questions from the public during the latest edition of the CoffeeTalk series of conversations with city leaders.
City Manager Randy Knight began the Aug. 3 meeting with an overview of accomplishments from the past year:
- The average emergency response time for police is at 01:41.0 and violent crimes have decreased for the third year in a row.
- Electric utility rates are currently the lowest in the state – 30% less than Duke Energy – and electric utility undergrounding is 70% complete. The project will not be fully complete until 2030.
- Commissioners have adopted the Sustainability Action Plan that includes measures toward a city-wide switch to renewable energy by 2050.
- Winter Park Pines Golf Club remains profitable and covered the debt service for its purchase after the first year of operations.
- The city purchased two acres of construction laydown property on Wymore Road from FDOT for $75. The land will house a fire training facility and a possible future fire station.
City Commission is also awaiting responses to the latest RFP for the old library building, proposals are due in November. The city will also begin discussions with Orange County for the extension of the CRA, which is set to end in 2026.
Knight, who has been city manager since 2007, said he is currently planning to retire by January of 2027. He is working with del Valle to increase her role and responsibilities as she prepares to take over the position.
Assistant City Manager Michelle del Valle continued the program with an update on Winter Park’s infrastructure upgrades.
Stormwater improvement plan
“We’ve already received a $3.2 million grant from NCRS (Natural Resources Conservation Service),” she said. The funds are going toward dredging and drainage projects. The city was also awarded a $500,000 grant from Orange County that was matched with CRA money for drainage improvements to the MLK Park area. And three basin studies are currently under way to assess improvements for water storage and flow throughout the city.
A draft of the Winter Park Transportation Master Plan has been completed. The 20-year project comes with a price tag of $141 million and focuses on connectivity throughout the city’s green spaces, sidewalk improvements and bike paths, and pedestrian safety at crosswalks and intersections. The city is looking at long-term funding for the projects through the capital improvement plan.
Improvements to police response times were just the beginning as the city is looking to improve emergency medical service response times from the current average of 6.5 minutes. The 2024 budget draft includes two additional firefighter positions and one police officer, and the city is looking into adding a third ambulance to its emergency fleet.
Public questions included a request for assistance in the mitigation of safety issues, landscaping infringement, and traffic problems in areas where residential construction projects are in progress.
“It’s a constant challenge,” Knight said, adding that he is aware of similar issues at several ongoing projects, and that residents should call the city if they encounter problems in their neighborhood. “We’ll send our building department or our code enforcement department – depending on the violation – to try and rectify the situation.”
A question about assisting homeless individuals occupying parks and public areas was answered by del Valle.
“We have a surprisingly deep set of resources,” she said. “Every day we check on people – and we’ve had good success – but there are some who are unwilling to take the resources.”
While panhandling is not allowed, and public parks need to be vacated from 2-6 a.m., the city cannot remove individuals from public areas as long as they are not causing a disturbance.
Knight and del Valle both addressed frustrations over the city’s attempts to purchase properties and add green spaces while the utilities undergrounding project remains unfinished.
“We’re competing against OUC and Florida Power – they buy (generators) 1,000 at a time,” del Valle said, adding that bulk purchases would be made by the city if the supply was available.
“The money that’s going towards buying parks is not the electric utility money,” said Knight. “It’s not a lack of money, it’s the lack of supplies.”
West Meadow addition
During his presentation, Knight said that the CRA Advisory Board will be looking at a plan to add amenities to the Central Park West Meadow. According to the 2024 city budget, currently under discussion though September, $750,000 is set aside for permanent restrooms, a landscaped plaza, and shaded seating to complement the Saturday morning Farmers’ Market and other events.
The Aug. 10 City Commission work session will focus on CRA projects with an overview and diagrams if the West Meadow project.
The CoffeeTalk series will continue in September with one conversation scheduled each month. Information on the events and instructions for virtual access will be listed on the meetings page and monthly event calendar of the City of Winter Park website.