Contrast past city commission response to the Great Recession of 2007 to 2012 (reduce taxes by lowering the millage rate and decrease spending) with the current commissioners response to the COVID-19 pandemic (increase taxes by increasing the millage rate and increase spending). Click here for the history of the millage rate and city general fund revenues.
During the Great Recession, the city commission kept the millage rate constant while falling appraised values lowered General Fund property tax revenue and other revenues also declined. During the same time period the city commission cut expenses while adding over $6.0 million to reserves, bringing reserves up from a dangerously low level. Headcount was reduced from 568 to 520 and salaries were frozen. Yet city services were kept at high levels in the face of these challenges thanks to the commitment of city staff. The city commission responded to financial challenges by living within its means, just as you and I have to do, and we all got through this difficult period by shared sacrifice.
Reserves of over $16 million are now in place (versus less than $2 million in 2007) to address financial shocks from uncontrollable events such as pandemics and hurricanes. Further evidence of responsible leadership of prior commissions.
The current commissioners are not representing us. They are pursuing their personal interests with complete disregard for our circumstances. With many Winter Park residents having lost their jobs or having significantly reduced income, or at risk for such adverse circumstances, and while many businesses have already closed, the four commissioners voted to increase your taxes and spend more of your money on their pet projects.
They need to reverse direction on their tax increase and reduce spending. Write the commission to insist they act responsibly at the final millage rate vote on September 23rd. I strongly recommend the following tax and budget policies:
- Lower the millage rate so as to realize the same $24.5 million in total property taxes we realized this year, 2020 (which was a $2.0 million increase from 2019). The suggested millage rate (3.8108, down from 4.5623) will slightly lower Winter Park property taxes for owners of homestead property while reducing the increase in property taxes for owners of non-homestead property that resulted from the Orange County Appraiser increasing taxable valuations.
- Instruct the city manager to reduce General Fund spending to match revenues without reducing unrestricted General Fund reserves. Such a spending reduction for 2021 will mean we spend a bit less than anticipated 2020 spending but about $3.0 million MORE than 2019 spending (about $58 million vs. $55 million).
- Commissioners should acknowledge leadership responsibility in these difficult times by volunteering to forgo their 2020-2021 salaries, saving the city $65,000 plus payroll taxes.
The above tax and budget policies will not meaningfully impact city services and will responsibly represent the interests of our citizens.