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 mayorandcommissioners@cityofwinterpark.org 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.”

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    By: Anne Mooney

    Anne Mooney has assumed the editorship of the Winter Park Voice from founding editor Tom Childers.

    Mooney got her start in New York as a freelance line editor for book publishers, among them Simon & Schuster and the Clarkson Potter division of Crown Books. From New York, she and her husband and their year-old toddler moved to Washington, D.C., where the two ran a newswire service for Harper’s magazine. “We called it Network News,” said Mooney, “because it was a network of the Harper’s writers, whose work we edited into newspaper style and format and sold to papers in the top U.S. and Canadian markets. We were sort of like a tiny UPI.”

    The newswire ceased operation with the death of Mooney’s first husband, but Mooney continued to write and edit, doing freelance work for Williams Sonoma cookbooks and for local publications in D.C.

    In 2005, Mooney moved to Winter Park, where she worked as a personal chef and wrote a regular food column for a south Florida magazine. She took an active interest in Winter Park politics and was there when the Winter Park Voice was founded. She wrote occasional pieces for the Voice, including the Childers bio that this piece replaces.

    The Winter Park Voice is one of a large number of “hyper-local” publications that have sprung up across the U.S. in response to the decline of the major daily newspapers and the resulting deficit of local news coverage. The Voice’sbeat is Winter Park City Hall, and its purpose is to help the residents of our city better understand the political forces that shape our daily lives.

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