Michael Cameron criticizes city spending and priorities
The first salvo in the mayor’s contest comes as the newcomer and challenger to Vice Mayor Sheila DeCiccio makes his first public comments about the race
Dec. 13, 2023
By Beth Kassab
The relatively unknown challenger in the mayor’s race attempted to separate himself from Vice Mayor Sheila DeCiccio this week by saying he “wants to bring back fiscal responsibility to Winter Park.”
Cameron, who is president of a real estate school and is a first-time candidate, said in a press release this week that he would have different priorities than the current City Commission, though some of his claims underscore his status as a newcomer to local government. Cameron declined to immediately answer questions about his statements in the release, though he did revise a statement that initially asserted DeCiccio is “depleting the city’s cash reserves” after questions from the Voice.
“My campaign is focused on more substantive issues, like making sure the city has a strong cash reserve on hand with low debt, making sure the city is fully prepared for a storm, or economic downturn, making sure our first responders, schools and educators have the resources they need to be successful,” he said. “Making sure this city remains a great place to raise a family, lowering our residents’ tax base, facilitating property value increases and supporting the Winter Park business community.”
The city’s cash reserves have steadily increased in recent years to a record $19.1 million or about 26% of recurring operating costs in the General Fund, according to city documents. The percent of operating costs represented by reserves has declined since 2021 from about 30%, the city’s stated goal, as inflation, labor costs and other pressures on expenses since the pandemic have increased along with the overall size of the city’s budget.
Winter Park shifted significant resources this year to storm preparedness, particularly in the wake of flooding caused by Hurricane Ian last year. DeCiccio has repeatedly sounded the alarm and called for urgency when it comes to studies now underway to help prioritize stormwater projects. Police and fire budgets reached new highs this year as well with first responders making up the biggest slice of the city’s General Fund.
It’s unclear what Cameron meant by resources for “schools and educators.” City governments don’t have any say over school budgets, which are approved by local school boards.
“My opponent’s focus has been on purchasing green spaces, as well as issues like bike paths and extending sidewalks, which in the grand scheme of things aren’t as important, as say, planning for a financial crunch or getting hit by another major storm or readying the city for any other 21st century needs,” he said.
The only greenspace the city has purchased in recent years is the Winter Park Pines Golf Course, which it issued bonds to finance. The operating revenue from golf sales is helping to pay off the debt.
Winter Park is about to begin construction on Seven Oaks Park, which is now projected to cost about $800,000 more than estimates from a few years ago, but the city already owned the land for the project.
Asked to respond to Cameron’s comments, DeCiccio noted that the city hasn’t raised taxes in 17 years. However, the City Commission this year passed a number of increased fees for residents such as the cost at recreation facilities and higher prices for garbage collection.
DeCiccio said improving bike paths and sidewalks is a safety and quality of life issue for families, particularly in Central Florida, which has repeatedly ranked among the most dangerous places in the nation for pedestrians.
“That is a safety issue for our children,” she said.
Cameron’s release said he was born in Winter Park and he and his wife are now raising their two young boys in the city. He touted an endorsement from Republican Jeremy Sisson, who works in real estate and unsuccessfully ran in 2020 against Democrat Anna Eskamani, who represents Winter Park in the Florida House.
“I take my hat off to everyone who came before me who has worked hard to help maintain the old-world charm that Winter Park has to offer its residents and its visitors,” Cameron said. “Because of all of you, my generation and generations after me will get to enjoy the Winter Park that you all created. If elected as your mayor, I would work hard every day to maintain and improve upon that Winter Park we all know and love.”