Residents to pay more for parks, utilities, garbage pick-up and more
City points to inflation, looming recession, weaker housing market as drivers for raising local fees in proposed budget
By Beth Kassab
Winter Parkers will notice a jump in fees for park facilities, ambulance rides, water utilities and garbage collection if next year’s budget is approved. The proposed $207 million budget represents a 4.2% increase over FY2023.
The preliminary budget, which does not include a property tax millage rate increase, also does not include several high-profile requests such as the purchase of the Bank of the Ozarks property, keeping the library open on Sundays, two additional police officers, one additional firefighter or increasing the city’s cash reserves.
The budget will be considered by the City Commission for the first time on Wednesday and final approval is expected by September.
City leaders pointed to inflation and the higher cost of wages as justification for raising fees and trimming other costs even as home values increased and translated to 10% growth in the city’s General Fund led by property tax revenue.
“As a result of upward pressure on operating costs, the proposed budget defers and trims some capital investments, raised fees across many areas, and had to prioritize among many needs presented by departments and community stakeholders,” reads the budget overview.
Proposed fee increases include:
- The cost of the city’s garbage collection contract with WastePro is set to go up by 45%, sending fees up by about $20%. The budget estimates homeowners will pay about $5 extra on average each month to account for the higher prices.
- Fees associated with the city’s parks, facilities and programs will go up by 5% to raise an additional $350,000 to cover higher expenses of maintaining the buildings and greenspaces.
- Ambulance transport fees will go up by 10% to raise an additional $100,000 to $150,000. The fee hasn’t been raised in more than five years and is sometimes covered by health insurance or Medicare rather than residents, the proposal noted.
- Water and sewer rates will go up by 7% in line with the index put out by the Public Service Commission, which regulates investor-owned utilities across Florida.
- Stormwater rates, which help cover the cost of drainage and infrastructure to prevent and reduce flooding, will go up 8% next year following two previous years of increases of 5% each. Owners of the largest homes will pay more while owners of smaller properties could pay less, according to the new rate structure.
Meanwhile, nonprofit groups traditionally supported by the city or its Community Redevelopment Agency are seeing across-the-board proposed increases:
- Winter Park Library will receive $1.9 million, a $92,000 increase.
- Mead Botanical Gardens will receive $93,500, an $8,500 increase.
- Winter Park Historical Association will receive $88,000, an $8,000 increase.
- Winter Park Day Nursery will receive $38,500, a $3.500 increase.
- United Arts will receive $18,400, a $1,400 increase.
- Blue Bamboo will receive $11,000, a $1,000 increase.
- Polasek Museum will receive $25,300, a $2,300 increase.
- Enzian Theater will receive $10,000, a $3,000 increase.
- Heritage Center will receive $50,000, a $10,000 increase.
- Welbourne Day Nursery will receive $38,500, a $3,500 increase.
- Winter Park Playhouse will receive $44,000, a $4,000 increase.
- Depugh Nursing Home will receive $25,000, a $2,000 increase.
Leaders noted that the yearly $100,000 obligation to the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center will end after next year. But the city’s local share of operating the SunRail commuter train, which has a stop in Central Park, is expected to come due next year and the first payment is budgeted at $146,000. The annual payment is expected to be $350,000 in future years.