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 firstname.lastname@example.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.”