City Commission Reviews Long-term Funding Options, Upcoming CRA Projects

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Winter Park commissioners reviewed funding sources that would accelerate prioritized capital projects during their Aug. 9 meeting. City Manager Randy Knight, responding to a request made at the July 26 commission meeting, presented a list of long-term options ranging from the sale of city assets to increasing property taxes.

City Commission previously proposed revises to the 2024 strategic capitol plan that would allow for short-term flood prevention upgrades, but funding goals over the next 25 years include:

  • $70-100 million in projects related to Winter Park’s Transportation Master Plan
  • $20-25 million in flood prevention and stormwater drainage fixes
  • $10 million for a new fire station at Ravaudage and to upgrade the Lakemont Avenue fire station

Mayor Phil Anderson also noted that, with the failure of Orange County’s proposed penny sales tax, the city is looking for a dedicated SunRail funding source.

A bond issue was the first option that Knight reviewed, but a referendum would require the identification of individual projects and community education leading up to the vote; a process that may not be possible in time for the upcoming March ballot. “It could be done,” said Knight, “but we’d really need to move quickly on identifying what those projects are.”

Anderson noted that identifying flood prevention projects would be especially difficult before the completion of stormwater studies that are currently under way. “While we have brainstormed the projects, there’s no real design out there,” said Anderson.

Knight also floated the option of selling city assets to raise capital, citing the old library property and the city’s tree farm as the most likely choices for possible sale. “Proceeds would be completely unrestricted,” he said. “You would have the ability to use those funds for any purpose that commission sees fit.”

Commissioners have long been against the sale of the library property, recently issuing a new RFP for its reuse that only offers a land lease to any developers interested in the project. However, Commissioner Marty Sullivan asked if a sale would be restricted with the current RFP process under way. Knight stated that, if commission desires, an addendum could be issued to immediately close the RFP process and put the property up for sale.

Another option would be an increase to the millage rate of 4.0923, which has been in place since 2009. Commission had discussed and voted down the possibility of a 0.25 mill increase for 2024, but the option remains a possibility for the future.

While the rate hike can be approved by commission with a majority vote, Knight stated that the issue can be put to a non-binding voter referendum that would come with a risk. “If (voters) say no and the commission decides we need to do this anyway, that looks bad.”

Another funding possibility Knight included would involve pulling certain projects from the CRA budget and reallocating funds. Commissioners, during an Aug. 10 workshop, reviewed CRA projects that are currently part of next year’s budget plan, but shifting projects and reallocating funds was not part of the conversation. Among the projects are:

  • A streetscape project along 17/92 between Nottingham Street and Monroe Avenue that will improve storm sewer drainage, add ADA upgrades, repave streets, and offer traffic signal improvements. The cost – just north of $5.1 million – would be spread over three years with $1 million in improvements planned for next year, $2 million for 2025, and the rest in 2026.
  • Upgrades to Community Playground at MLK Park, previously discussed during community meetings and city workshops, that are set to begin next year at a cost of $2 million. The project is slated to begin in March and finish by June. A Martin Luther King Jr. memorial and community event space called Unity Corner is part of the 2023 budget and set to begin later this year.
  • The addition of permanent amenities and storage facilities at the Central Park West Meadow, meant to compliment the Saturday farmers’ market and seasonal events. Commissioners voiced concerns that designs should more closely resemble the stage and train station, offer more restroom facilities to accommodate attendance at holiday events, and include a larger, shaded gathering space. Construction of the $750,000 project is expected to begin next year, but requested design changes will be subject to further review.
An illustration shows a portion of the 17/92 improvement project, slated to begin next year with funding proposed through 2026.

A copy of the Aug. 10 agenda item and additional CRA project information are available here.

Commissioners will continue budget discussions until their September 27 meeting when votes will be cast on the adoption of the final budget draft. The entire City of Winter Park 2023-24 budget proposal is available here.

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