Commission Raises Tax Cap

Commission Raises Tax Cap

Commission Raises Tax Cap

But Will They Raise the Tax?

by Anne Mooney / August 1, 2020

At their July 22 meeting, the Commission set a tentative millage rate of 4.5623. That figure represents a cap, a not-to-exceed number, and it’s the first raise in 13 years. Between now and September 23, the Commission can decide to leave the rate at its current level of 4.0923, they can raise it a little, or they can raise it to the 4.5623 cap set at the July 22 meeting. Much depends on information the City still does not have, such as information regarding available funds from the state in FY 2021. Ultimately, those projections will depend upon the depth of the recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Nothing is final until September 23.

Because each year’s budget is adopted by ordinance, two readings with public input are required. The first reading of the FY 2021 budget is September 9; the second and final reading is September 23. The FY 2021 Budget will be adopted and the final millage rate will be set when the Commission votes on September 23.

It’s not just the City that sets the tax rate.

The City establishes the millage rate by creating a draft budget that seeks to balance projected expenses and revenues. Simultaneously, four other entities are doing exactly the same thing – each with eyes on our tax dollars. Our tax bill is based on a combination millage rates set by five entities — Orange County, St. Johns River Water Management District, the School Board, the City of Winter Park and the private debt created by Winter Park voters to build the Public Safety Complex and the Library-Events Center. These five millage rates will combine to form the rate we will pay on the assessed value of our property. The current rate for Winter Park is 16.3156.

Only about 25 percent of that total goes to support City services, while 44 percent goes to the schools and 27 percent goes to Orange County.

The economy has contracted in the pandemic.

According to Finance Director Wes Hamill, the City is currently facing a shortfall in 2020 of about $3 million due to the coronavirus pandemic. Hamill said he believes that by cutting costs, but without cutting services, there is still a good chance the City will break even by the September 30 year end. Some events, such as the Fourth of July parade, were cancelled because of the pandemic, thus saving those funds. Several open City positions have been frozen. If there is still a shortfall at the end of September, Hamill said the City will use reserves to cover the difference.

SunRail contribution postponed.

Hamill says he anticipates a $1.4 million decline in the FY 2021 budget from 2020. He did have one piece of good news, though. The City’s obligation to contribute to Sunrail has been delayed for two years, and will not begin until 2023.

Despite the doom-and-gloom spin circulating the blogosphere, the City remains in good shape. The proposed budget document points out, “Winter park is fortunate to have the lowest operating millage rate among major jurisdictions in Orange County.” A comparison of tax rates is below.

 

To review the entire 401-page document, click here. https://cityofwinterpark.org/docs/departments/finance/budget/proposed-budget-2021.pdf

What does this mean for us?

The chart below illustrates the impact a rise to the current Winter Park millage cap would have on the average Winter Park homeowner. (This does not include increases from the other four taxing entities.) The chart was prepared by Finance Director Wes Hamill and Assistant City Manager Michelle Neuner.

There is still much we don’t know about FY 2021projections, and these are very uncertain times. “If you asked us to guess on a hurricane, we’d be pretty good,” said Michelle Neuner. “This year, in a pandemic, it’s a little tougher.”

 

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WP Needs a Financial Advisory Board

WP Needs a Financial Advisory Board

WP Needs a Financial Advisory Board

Open Letter to Mayor & Commissioners

Editor's Note: Articles written by citizens reflect their own opinions and not the views of the Winter Park Voice.  

Guest Columnist Jim Fitch / July 14, 2020

The City of Winter Park has a budget of $170 million. This breaks down to a General Fund of $59 million, $33 million for Water & Sewer and $44 million for the Electric company. The budget document is 401 pages.

Discussions have begun for the FY2021 City Budget, and the annual marathon of Commission workshops to review it is on the schedule.

I believe the City might consider another, perhaps saner, approach to the Budget. That would be to create a Financial Advisory Board (FAB) to review the budget, department by department, and to do it closely, constantly, steadily over the period of a year.

Each Department has a broad category called Operating Expenses, encompassing everything that department does. Take one example. On Page 264 of this year’s budget, we find Street Sweeping. That department has one employee who is paid $77,011. Their operating expenses total $273,670. The annual budget for the department is $350,681.

The document indicates that streets are planned to be swept every two weeks.  My street, Via Genoa, is lucky to get swept once a quarter.  Most street sweeping is done by individual home gardeners.

So, there is one well-paid operator and one piece of equipment. An FAB might be able to delve into the details of what actually is included in that $350,681.

The City Manager of Haines City, FL instituted an FAB some years ago. The FAB consisted of five people — a banker, an educator, a housing administrator, a retiree and a civil engineer.  Over the course of the year, the FAB met during the week with each department.  The meetings were held in the early evening. They were publicly posted, open and informative – and they rarely lasted past 8:00 pm. The FAB spent 125 hours reviewing the $40 million budget. The five Haines City Commissioners spent less than 10 hours reviewing the budget, but they had the advantage of the knowledge and the advice of the FAB.

The Haines City FAB made several recommendations to the Commission about such things as the annual millage rate, adoption of a Fire Service fee, purchase of a $700,000 fire truck and other capital equipment and the reorganization of the Water, Sewer, Parks & Recreation departments. The Haines City Commission adopted all of the FAB recommendations. The Commissioners felt the FAB provided a valuable service to the City.

With the size of the Winter Park City Budget – not to mention the size of the budget for a single project, the Winter Park Library-Events Center – we, the taxpayers, would be well served with a Financial Advisory Board.

I believe the City Manager wants to hire yet another outside consultant to audit the Library-Events Center Project. It’s only Taxpayer’s Money. . . .

(No, I am not available to serve on such a Board.)

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Change is Necessary

Change is Necessary

Change is Necessary

by Mary Daniels / June 30, 2020

Events since the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police have raised more questions than answers. Floyd’s death seems to have been the proverbial ‘straw that broke the camel’s back.’ 

What to do? First, we examine those questions. The answers will come when we are able to engage in honest conversation about the systemic racism that has plagued our culture for 400 years. The black community is not the only community to suffer from racial injustice, but it is my community and the community for which I can speak authentically. 

What can we do?

One has to look deep within oneself and acknowledge the fact that the problem has and does exist.  No problem can be solved unless you can first truly acknowledge that there is a problem.

Does one have to ask why “Black Lives Matter”?

Black lives have NOT mattered in this society’s system for 400 plus years, when our ancestors were first brought here as slaves in the hulls of ships in inhumane conditions.

The institution of slavery created systemic racism.

We’ve all been told for years that our system works. “If it’s not broken why fix it? it’s worked for years!” Yes, but for whom does it work? And who is being disenfranchised by our system? 

Who needs to worry they might be killed while they’re driving, jogging or simply walking home? Should a doctor unpacking his car in the driveway of his home be worried? Should you be worried, sleeping in your bed, that authorities with no warrant and without announcing who they are will break into your house and open fire? 

On May 25, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black male, was murdered on national TV in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Mr. Floyd was handcuffed by a white police officer who had his knee on Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. Mr. Floyd was crying he couldn’t breathe, asking for help and calling for his [deceased] Mom. 

While Officer Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck, looking into the middle distance with his hands in his pockets, and while two other officers knelt on Floyd’s back and a fourth officer stood by watching, George Floyd took his last breath.   

If this brutal act of murder did not touch everyone, there is definitely something wrong. This ls one of many such events across this nation. And they continue. 

Winter Park finally speaks in a soft voice.

On June 4, ten days after Floyd’s death, Winter Park Chief of Police Michael Deal posted a message on cite-news stating the City of Winter Park was committed to de-escalation and has banned excessive use of force, such as the use of choke holds.

On June 24, City Manager Randy Knight posted a letter on the city website on behalf of the Mayor, Commissioners and Staff as a follow-up to the June 22nd Commission meeting. The mayor himself has never spoken.

Being silent sends the wrong message.  

Although conversations on racism are difficult, especially for white people, we can start the process by reaching an understanding that black people did not create racism. 

Black people were thrown into it by being brought over in the hulls of slave ships and sold as chattel to slave owners. They suffered inhumane treatment, raping of the ladies and their daughters, and filthy congested conditions. The males, for sale to slave owners like cattle, were seen as inferior because their skin was black. 

These captives were stripped of their culture, their birthright and even their names. As slaves, they were required to assume the surnames of their new masters.

What was my great-grandfather’s name?

These were people who were good enough to breast-feed your white babies, raise your white kids, cook your food, clean your homes, wash your clothes, plant and harvest your food — but not good enough to sit at a table and share a meal with you or sit next to you at Church or at a restaurant or on a bus.

The color of our skin, that beautiful brown and black complexion, that color you yearned for when you sat in the sun to get a tan, was what made black people perceived as something dirty and inferior. 

How does this 400-year history of systemic black oppression play out within the context of the history of Winter Park?

Black Men Mattered in 1887, when the Town of Winter Park was incorporated.

At that time, there were not enough registered Democratic white voters for the community to become a town. One black man, Gus Henderson, editor of Winter Park’s first newspaper, The Advocate, rallied the black Hannibal Square Republicans to march across the tracks after sunset to exercise their voices and their right to vote. It was the black Republican vote that secured the incorporation of Winter Park as a town. 

Walter B. Simpson, a land-owner, was elected Alderman and served from 1887 to 1893.

Frank R. Israel, a land-owner, also served as Alderman from 1887 to 1893.

De-annexation

Once the white power brokers had achieved their goal of incorporating the Town of Winter Park, they sought to overturn the election results because they did not want blacks to serve in any governing capacity. Initially they failed. Later succeeding, they finally were able to remove the Hannibal Square community from the town limits. Hannibal Square, as a whole, was kicked out of the Town of Winter Park. 

Re-annexation

Thirty years later, in the 1920s, Winter Park still lacked the required number of registered voters to achieve their new ambition to become a City. Once again, they needed those black Republican voters. So the Hannibal Square community was brought back and restored as part of the City of Winter Park. The rest is history. No black man or woman has served in an elected capacity since 1893.

Black Women Matter.

Some 50 years ago, a black woman, Mary Allen Howard, ran for City Commission. She was told she would never win. In 2019, 50 years after Mary Allen Howard’s unsuccessful bid, a young black Winter Park entrepreneur, Barbara Chandler, also ran for a City Commission seat. Chandler is the manager of the Hannibal Square Heritage Center. She lives in Winter Park.

In the course of her work, Chandler learned the history of the Hannibal Square community, which has had no representation since 1893. As she continued to meet the residents, Chandler became concerned and inspired. She asked herself, ‘what I am doing to make a difference to help eradicate such disenfranchisement through systemic racism?’  Barbara’s campaign for a commission seat, though not successful, made an impact and hopefully has inspired others to be involved and to claim a voice in the city’s governing body.

Fairolyn Livingston, Chief Historian of the Hannibal Square Heritage Center, was

born in Winter Park, attended Hannibal Square Elementary, Hungerford High School, and Howard Community Jr. College. She graduated from Rollins College. 

Fairolyn has researched and interviewed every contributor to the permanent collection of Oral & Pictorial History exhibits at the Hannibal Square Heritage Center. She oversees the project in which she records residents and documents their rich history in the Hannibal Square community.  I often tell her she is a walking encyclopedia. The Hannibal Square Heritage Center is a program of the Crealde School of Art. Everyone is welcome to come there and learn the history of what was a thriving community.

All Lives Matter

I have heard people respond to the “Black Lives Matter” movement by saying, ‘All lives matter.’ All lives do matter – but in our current system, black lives matter less. That is wrong! 

What is my Name?  Can you see me? Yes, I am still HERE in 2020!

My name is Mary Daniels. I am beautifully Black! I Matter!  

Yes, “BLACK LIVES MATTER”! 

SILENCE Is Not an Option. Change Is Necessary. We Are ALL Humans and We All MATTER!

Mary Daniels is a citizen of Winter Park. About who she is, Mary writes, “All that anyone is came from the beginning ancestors Adam & Eve. So then, who are we blacks, and even more importantly, who are you whites – and all the different races of the world? We breathe, bleed and have the same organs as all other human beings. I make no apology for my being born black, my culture and heritage of being a strong, respectful, beautiful woman of color.”

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Black Lives Matter in Winter Park

Black Lives Matter in Winter Park

Black Lives Matter in Winter Park

Peaceful Demonstration in Central Park

by Anne Mooney / June 11, 2020

It’s been nearly a week since demonstrators gathered peacefully on June 5 in Central Park to support the Black Lives Matter movement and to mourn the deaths of George Floyd and others at the hands of law enforcement officers.

A crowd of roughly 300 baked in Florida humidity and 90-degree heat. Young and old, black, brown and white, they took a knee to stand for the future they want to see.

Watchful Winter Park police officers kept a respectful distance.

After listening to speakers, several of whom were from Winter Park’s African American community, the group joined in prayer. The youthful organizer of the gathering, Adrian Bouchout, asked the crowd to remain peaceful as they turned to march out of Central Park and down Park Avenue.

The crowd marched down to Fairbanks and back up through the Hannibal Square neighborhood, finally ending up at the Public Safety Building, where protesters and police thanked one another for a peaceful and successful event.

Present at the rally were Commissioners Marty Sullivan, Sheila DeCiccio and Todd Weaver. Later in the week, Sullivan and DeCiccio sent messages to constituents.

DeCiccio Calls for Support for Police

“I believe it’s essential for our Police Department to have the support it needs,” wrote DeCiccio. She spoke with Police Chief Michael Deal, who confirmed that the Police Department adheres strictly to the following policies.

  • No chokeholds or strangleholds.
  • De-escalation is required, and officers have received special training.
  • Officers must issue a warning before firing a weapon.
  • Officers must exhaust all other means before shooting.
  • Officers have a duty to intervene when they see a breach of procedure, especially one involving excessive force.
  • Shooting at moving vehicles is prohibited.
  • All officers are required to employ the “use of force continuum.”
  • Comprehensive reporting of all incidents is required.

Chief Deal stated the WPPD has zero tolerance toward police brutality.

The body cameras that were approved last year by the city commission arrived just as the COVID19 crisis hit, so the department is still in the process of training officers on their use. Deal said, “Everyone is looking forward to wearing their cameras.”

Sullivan Calls on Winter Park to Support All of Its Citizens

In his message to constituents, Commissioner Marty Sullivan wrote, “We have outlawed government mistreatment of minorities, but we have yet to exterminate racism.”

He called on the city to hold a referendum on single-member districts, to provide participation from all neighborhoods in city government, to reflect citizen desires with Advisory Board appointments and Commission decisions and to provide infrastructure support for all neighborhoods.

“Peaceful gatherings across the country show that we still care,” wrote Sullivan, “we still love our fellow citizens, and we ask, rather demand, that entrenched racism be defeated. Most Americans desire this, and I believe that continuing nonviolent action will bring about this needed change.”

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Happy Mother’s Day!

Happy Mother’s Day!

City Hosts Special Mother’s Day Weekend

by Anne Mooney / May 6, 2020

May 8 – 10, the City is hosting a special Mother’s Day weekend of socially-distanced restaurant dining and limited retail therapy.

Streets Closed for Distance Dining and Shopping-Withdrawal Relief

To facilitate safe outdoor dining, portions of Park Ave., Morse Blvd. and New England Ave. will be closed to vehicular traffic from 4:00 pm Friday, May 8, to 11:00 pm Sunday, May 10.

Park Ave. from Swoope to Fairbanks

New England Ave. between Pennsylvania and Virginia Ave.

Morse Blvd. between Center St. and New York Ave.

 

All Shops & Restaurants May Participate

Outdoor shopping and dining is not limited to Park Ave. and Hannibal Square, however. Any retail store or restaurant within the City limits may apply for a permit from the City to extend their business outside. The permit is good only through the weekend.

Restaurants and shops must maintain the 6-foot required distance between patrons outside and limit inside occupancy to 25 percent of capacity.

Mini-Sidewalk Sales

Retail shops must also adhere to the 25-percent-capacity rule, but they may also have a single merchandise rack or table on the sidewalk outside the shop.

Each business will bear the responsibility of ensuring its customers meet social distancing requirements at all times. “As we continue to take methodical steps to reopen the City following the State guidelines, we are hosting this special weekend to help our business community and to give the public a chance to support our local businesses and celebrate Mother’s Day,” said Assistant City Manager Michelle Neuner.

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You Must Pre-Register for Virtual Commission Meeting Tomorrow at 5:00

You Must Pre-Register for Virtual Commission Meeting Tomorrow at 5:00

Registration is Open Now

by Anne Mooney / March 29, 2020

The virtual dais at the Live Virtual Commission meeting at 5:00 pm tomorrow night, Monday, March 30, will once again feature five live Commissioners. Newly elected Commissioners Marty Sullivan and Sheila DeCiccio will now be sitting in Seats #1 and #2 respectively.

Our gratitude for their service goes to former Commissioners Greg Seidel and Sarah Sprinkel, who can now watch from the comfort of their homes.

Registration for the Meeting is Open Now

Go to https://cityofwinterpark.org/government/live-video-broadcasts and click on “Live Virtual Meeting” in the yellow banner. That will take you to the registration page.

Public Comment Will Be Taken

As this is a regular meeting of the Commission, public comment will be taken during the meeting. There are three ways for citizens to comment – by email, by submitting a comment form or by phone.

Email — You may comment in advance of the meeting by emailing mayorandcommissioners@cityofwinterpark.org. Emailed comments will become part of the record but will not be read aloud.

Public Comment Form — If you would like for your comments to be read during the meeting, submit the Public Comment Form found at <cityofwinterpark.org/public-comment> The form will be accessible at 5:00 Monday as the meeting begins.

Phone – If you are unable to submit online comments, the City will activate the public comment phone line at 5:00 pm Monday – 407-599-3410. Calls will be answered by City staff, and your verbal comments will be entered into the online system on your behalf. Phoned-in comments will be read during the meeting as part of the official record.

All comments will be monitored in accordance with City standards of decorum.

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