First Millage Vote Tomorrow
Second Reading September 23
by Anne Mooney / September 8, 2020
Tomorrow, Wednesday September 9, the first vote on the millage rate — how much we will pay in property taxes in FY2021 — will come before the Commission. If you want to let your Commissioners know how you feel about this, now is the time to write email@example.com or register for Wednesday’s virtual Commission meeting by going to www.cityofwinterpark.org
Perfect storm brewing
Earlier this year in July, the Commission found themselves with the makings of a perfect storm. Higher property value assessments had been set in January 2020 in a strong economy. Within about two months, however, the COVID19 pandemic hit, sending state revenues plummeting. And, being July, we were entering the height of hurricane season. At that time, the State of Florida was unable to come up with a reliable estimate of how much money the City would receive, so the Commission did what they felt was prudent. They agreed to a ceiling – a number beyond which they cannot go – of a half-mil rise in the tax rate, should it turn out the City needed it to maintain essential services. A ‘mil’ is 1/1,000 of a dollar.
The ceiling is not the tax rate
Email blasts from two former Commissioners immediately decried what they characterized as “a vote to raise property taxes.” Yard signs popped up here and there urging, “stop Winter Park tax increases.”
Were the former Commissioners unaware that the July 11 vote did nothing to establish the actual tax rate? In fact, it simply set the ceiling beyond which the current Commission could not go. The current Commission was required to take that action in order for Orange County to send out the “TRIM” notice, which lets us all know the worst we can expect. No doubt you’ve noticed, the TRIM notice has a box advising you in capital letters, “Do Not Pay. The Is Not a Bill.” Happens every year, so previous Commissioners could reasonably be expected to be familiar with the process.
The July 11 vote was a safeguard, not a commitment.
Further email blasts from the former commissioners claimed credit for Commissioners Sheila DeCiccio and Marty Sullivan “publicly reversing themselves” on what they claim was a July vote for a millage rate increase.
State revenue projections adjusted August 24
Commissioner Carolyn Cooper noted it was more than a full month later that state officials told local governments they would be getting more money than originally expected.
The State revised their revenue projections more than a month after the Commission agreed to adjust the cap on the millage rate to give themselves a small half-mil cushion in case it was needed. The August 24 adjustment was a welcome piece of news, and probably means the Commission can leave the current millage rate as is — though we won’t know for sure until September 23.
Commissioners Sheila DeCiccio and Marty Sullivan sent out emails with the good news that, now that we have a better idea what the revenues are going to be, we can probably make the necessary budget cuts and get by without raising the millage rate – and still provide the high level of service for which our City is known. It is disingenuous at best for anyone besides the sitting Commission to claim to have influenced the tax rate.
If you miss the first vote on the millage rate tomorrow, you will have another chance to make your views known at the second and final vote on September 23.
As Commissioner Cooper emphatically stated, “[Weldon’s] spin was definitely not the deciding factor.”
To comment or read comments from others, click here →
No One Has Decided Our Property Taxes
They will September 23, but they haven’t yet.
by Anne Mooney / August 31, 2020
You know that thing we get every year called a TRIM notice? You probably just got yours. It lets you know what your proposed property tax bill is. On the upper right-hand corner of the document is a box advising you, in all caps:
This lets you know, worst possible case, what your tax bill could be if the proposed millage rates from all those taxing authorities in the left-hand column pass. You’ll notice that the City of Winter Park is not the only taxing authority that wants your money, or that has tentatively raised the cap on their millage rate. Orange County and the school board are right in there.
Millage Rates Have Not Passed
With the exception of Winter Park debt, which has to do with the bond issues for the Public Safety complex and the Library-Events Center and is already fixed, those millage rates have not passed and will not pass until late September. This is just a notice so you’ll be prepared in case one or more of the proposed millage rates does go up. That’s why you are advised not to pay; it is not a bill.
That is why it is puzzling to see yard signs and email blasts from people who are in a position to know better claiming that this Commission has raised your taxes. This Commission has not done anything yet.
Early Campaign Literature from Former Commissioner Sprinkel
An August 25 email from firstname.lastname@example.org proclaimed, “The Winter Park City Commissioners voted to raise your taxes – now, during the pandemic.”
Former Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel must know, after nine years on the Commission, that the Commissioners did not have all the information from the state and the county they needed to set a millage rate that would ensure a balanced budget. The Commission voted to increase the ‘not-to-exceed’ rate – the ‘cap’ — in case projected revenue shortfalls did materialize.
Ms. Sprinkel is in a unique position to know also that the millage rate is never ‘set’ until the second Commission meeting in September, just before the October 1 beginning of the new fiscal year.
City Budget Will Be Balanced
At the August 26 Commission meeting, Management & Budget Division Director Peter Moore announced good news from Tallahassee that the revenue shortfall would not be as great as expected, and that an increase may not be necessary.
One thing is sure: additional property taxes were never intended, as Sprinkel stated in her email, for ”. . .government funding (spending) above a balanced budget.”
Weldon Sets the Stage
In an August 16 email blast, presaging Sprinkel’s missive, former Commissioner Peter Weldon advertised “Stop Your Tax Increases” yard signs for anyone who wanted them – well in advance of any actual tax increase.
Weldon stated in his email: “Arguments in support of [the Commissioners’] vote to increase the millage rate include claims of better information by September, concerns about the city’s solvency and hurricane recovery costs, and comparisons of millage rates between cities. The truth is they just want to spend more of your money.”
Weldon’s email goes on: “So what is the truth about the tax increase?”
“The truth is that these four commissioners are spending your money on their pet projects while they fabricate justifications for raising your taxes.”
So what IS the truth about the tax increase?
The truth is, as of now, there is no tax increase. The Winter Park City millage rate will be established sometime after the five o’clock hour on September 23 by the Winter Park City Commission. Until then, nothing has happened.
To comment or read comments from others, click here →