The CRA Board and City Commission each met on April 8th after two days public notice* and voted to proceed with some of the proposed programs. The CRA Board and City Commission reduced the use of taxpayer funds from that initially proposed.
City management has released a press release (click here) concerning the approved response programs.
Thanks to many who provided comments and suggestions to our city commission. Policy decisions under current circumstances are very difficult. I believe we arrive at the best policy results when we seek experience and wisdom from our community.
Here is my take on what has been approved.
The likely financial impact of the COVID-19 shut down on city operations was reviewed in the March 26 Commission Work Session (watch the video of this meeting). The midpoint of city management’s current expectations is a General Fund revenue reduction this fiscal year ending September 30 of $2.4 million. Staff has identified cost cutting measures to cover this expected revenue shortfall for commission approval.
Approved Community Assistance Programs – COVID Response
CASH COMMITMENT: $500,000 small business utility bill assistance program that will credit the equivalent of one month’s water, sewer and electric bill up to $2,500 on the utility bill of any Winter Park business meeting specific criteria (see press release). This will result in some combination of delays in utility capital projects or future rate increases impacting all rate payers. Think of this as your contribution to help our small businesses.
CASH COMMITMENT: $25,000 to the United Way 2-1-1 Utility program plus an additional city match of private contributions up to a maximum of another $25,000. The city manager has clarified that the maximum annual assistance per utility customer is $650. See the press release for information on how you can help.
CASH COMMITMENT: $75,000 in donations split between two charitable food programs. See the press release for information on how you can help.
POSSIBLE CASH COMMITMENT: $250,000 in CRA money for “micro loans” to small businesses not exceeding $5,000 per borrower, requiring a match from private donors. This program was approved by the CRA Board but rejected by the city commission. The CRA Board may remove this program given both implementation and fairness issues. Such a program would be duplicative of existing State and Federal small business loan programs. If this program goes forward, and private matching funds are realized, these taxpayer funds are likely to become charitable gifts to a selected few at the expense of many (not a wise outcome or precedent in my view).
TIME SHIFTED FUNDING: $750,000 from suspension of electric fuel cost adjustment charges for two months for all customers. This money refunds a portion of fuel cost adjustment charges you have already paid that are held in reserve by the city. These funds are maintained by the city to smooth increases in bills over time should fuel costs spike. These funds can be expected to be charged in future years either as fuel cost adjustments or rate increases. Given the short term expected fuel cost environment, I see this as a smart way to provide every electric customer with immediate relief while not negatively impacting electric utility operations.
ALREADY FUNDED: $30,000 in $500 checks paid to up to 60 business who agree to join the city’s Green Business Program. This money is funded by an annual $30,000 contribution from Waste-Pro as a contract requirement in support of sustainability initiatives. Can you figure out why this is listed as spending in response to the COVID pandemic?
SUMMARY: Expected General Fund revenue shortfall is $2.4 million. Presuming the “micro-loan” program is dropped, cash commitments made by the CRA Board and City Commission for COVID response programs total $500,000 to small businesses, and $100,00 to $125,000 in contributions to charities supporting utility bill relief and food programs. This cash would have been applied to ongoing operations of our city and our utilities under normal circumstances.
As always, email the city commission with your thoughts.
Regards, Pete Weldon
* I misstated the notice required by statute in my message of April 7th. I was referencing the city’s normal practice of at least three days notice based on court interpretation of State law regarding “due” public meeting notice. I had forgotten that the city has a specific Charter section allowing for “Special Meetings” with 24 hours notice, which notice was provided.