Sorry to put a damper on our holiday cheer but I think every resident needs to know that our city commission just approved major spending initiatives with no strategic planning and no budget process. Please contact the Mayor and Commissioners and tell them to reverse the $2,800,000 spending decision they approved this past week.
At the December 9th commission meeting, an Action Item titled “Discussion of financing of Ward Park and Mead Garden capital improvements” resulted in a vote of approval that committed $2,800,000 in new spending without any strategic planning, in depth analysis, or public budget process, and, they are trying to hide the consequences of this action. The commission is out of control.
Sheila DeCiccio moved approval of the entire project list and the motion was approved with votes from Marty Sullivan and Steve Leary. Carolyn Cooper and Todd Weaver voted “no,” but were ready to approve their own motion to approve nearly $1,000,000 of the proposed projects.
The approved projects include $1,600,000 to construct two artificial turf fields in Ward Park. There was no analysis or backup justifying the need for this spending. Winter Park has more playing fields than any other municipality in the region. We already subsidize non-Winter Park residents and teams. As much as or more than 50% of usage of our playing fields is for people who don’t live in Winter Park or pay taxes here. I have asked for detailed numbers on resident versus non-resident field usage and look forward to staff’s response to my request. Winter Park taxpayers are already subsidizing the regional demand for playing fields. How does it make sense to further subsidize what is a regional issue by $1,600,000?
The non-playing field projects are all worthy but can and should be funded in the normal course of long term strategic planning and the annual budget process.
Further, like school children trying to hide their bad behavior from the principal, our commission members are trying to hide the cost of this action from Winter Park residents. They voted to have our Water and Sewer fund “lend” the $2,800,000 to the General Fund, which the General Fund would pay back over 10 years. Our Water and Sewer fund maintains reserves for emergencies just as the General Fund does. This “payment method” is purely political, hiding the effective reduction in our hard earned emergency General Fund reserves by raiding Water and Sewer emergency reserves in the hope you will not notice. The truth is this additional spending reduces the city’s emergency reserves by $2,800,000, and if this rash spending decision is not reversed, our General Fund reserve will fall to 25% of expenses from the 30% goal achieved in 2020 after 10 years of disciplined planning and budgeting.
These commission actions demonstrate complete disregard for civil process, transparency, and for their fiduciary duty to the voters and taxpayers.
Wait! There’s more! Near the end of the December 9th meeting Sheila DeCiccio also moved forward discussion of an eminent domain taking of several properties on the north side of West Fairbanks Avenue, west of Denning Drive, in order to “do something about the traffic,” but without explaining what she would “do” or quantify the expected benefits of “doing something.”
DeCiccio’s motion drew the approval of Marty Sullivan and Todd Weaver. The taking of property by eminent domain is outside the historical governing values of Winter Park (do you want a precedent the commission can use to justify taking your property?), and given recent market values of adjacent properties, is likely to have a cost of as much as $10,000,000.
Please contact the Mayor and Commissioners and tell them to reverse the $2,800,000 spending decision they approved this past week and let them know you expect future spending initiatives to be constrained to the normal annual budget process, assuring transparency and thorough public process. You might also express your opinion about eminent domain takings in advance of future commission discussions on this subject.
Regards, Pete Weldon