Check your new TRIM notice from the Orange County Appraiser to see how much the 11.5% millage rate increase will cost you. TRIM is an acronym for Truth In Millage. A very apt phrase in current circumstances.
Here are the responses of the four commissioners who addressed your questions about their vote to increase taxes.
Arguments in support of their vote to increase the millage rate include claims of better information by September, concerns about the city’s solvency and hurricane recovery costs, and comparisons of millage rates between cities. The truth is they just want to spend more of your money.
Departments in state government make financial projections on an ongoing basis. Such projections are exactly that and contain no new information about the ongoing social and economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The truth is there are no experts who can reliably predict the impact. What we do know is that we are all subject to this social and financial risk and uncertainty for a long but indeterminate time, and that our local government is supposed to work for us, not against us.
The truth is the city’s ability to pay its bills (solvency) is totally secure. At the end of 2019 the city had over $16 million in unrestricted reserves and $200 million in assets net of liabilities. It is irresponsible to fear monger, claiming the solvency of our city may be at stake.
The truth is that hurricane recovery costs are not an issue. About 90% of hurricane recovery costs are reimbursed by FEMA and the State of Florida. As an example, our city’s un-reimbursed recovery costs for 2017 Hurricane Matthew were less than $37,000 dollars. In addition, investment in our restored street tree canopy and electric under-grounding have proven to reduce hurricane damage and related recovery costs, and we wisely built up our unrestricted reserves to record levels in excess of $16 million.
They justified their tax increase by comparing the Winter Park millage rate to that of other cities. The truth is millage comparisons are meaningless as rates contain no information.
What matters in comparing cities is the taxable value subject to millage and many factors that influence the mix of total revenues. For example, Winter Park (population 30,000) has twice the assessed taxable value of Maitland (population 22,000), so we would generate twice the property tax revenue at the same millage rate.
So, what is the truth about the tax increase?
The truth is that these four commissioners are spending your money on their pet projects while they fabricate justifications for raising your taxes. They have already voted to spend over $500,000 on such things as increasing legal expenses by $250,000 to pay for law suits they are responsible for, $115,000 in consulting expenses related the Orange Avenue Overlay that developers would pay for anyway if submitting plans, and $160,000 for a no-bid consulting contract for a park at Progress Point designed by their friends.
My next post will detail how Winter Park responded to the “Great Recession” between 2007 and 2012, and will lay out responsible policies for the city to manage through the pandemic. If you have not already, please see Winter Park Mayor Steve Leary’s thoughts on these issues.