The latest issue of the Winter Park Update is a PR masterpiece. We now spend almost $1 million each year to promote the city and the “achievements” of the city commission. I can’t compete with a million dollar PR budget but I can offer a more sober assessment of the “achievements.”
This commission has spent or committed over $25 million of new spending, just in the past year. Add to this another $10 million in new electric fees to fulfill their sense of aesthetics and the $12-15 million they project to build a new building for the US Postal Service. Sensible people would think they might demonstrate a bit more respect for the tax dollars they coerce from us.
I have no doubt our current commission members believe their spending is helpful. They are, however, out of touch with reality. Each of the “achievements” listed in the Winter Park Update receives a comment below.
- “Your taxes did NOT increase. In spite of COVID, our financial reserves are in excellent shape and our budget is balanced.” REALITY: Property tax revenues have increased nearly 32% from 2018 to 2022. This is a political “white lie.” Your property value increases when the tax rate does not, resulting in tax increases. Reserves are “excellent” because of prior leadership. The budget is balanced because it is required to be under state law.
- “The city committed over $1.485 million of federal funds (American Rescue Plan Act – ARPA) to supporting Winter Park non-profits during the decline in donor funds prompted by COVID.” REALITY: This city commission is exceedingly charitable with our money, providing local charities with money over and above that available from Federal COVID relief programs we already pay for.
- “The Commission continued to bring more diversity and inclusivity to our resident boards, thanks to the Charter amendment that was passed in March 2020 giving all Commissioners, not just the Mayor, the authority to make advisory board appointments.” REALITY: There is no evidence that such “diversity and inclusion” has improved our governance, but it does capture a contemporary narrative.
- “The revised Orange Avenue Overlay (OAO) was passed – a guideline for redevelopment that protects Winter Park’s charm and makes it easier for small businesses on Orange Avenue to upgrade their properties. Small businesses can now invest in their buildings with certainty regarding parking and stormwater needs.” REALITY: No property owners have yet come forward to “invest” in redevelopment. Nothing has been protected, only obstructed.
- “Because of this Commission, shoppers and diners visiting the Orange Avenue area will have safer, aesthetically pleasing, well-lit, long-term public parking adjacent to the park — and off of busy Orange Avenue.” REALITY: This city commission has spent years of our city planning resources and $6 million of our tax dollars to create imaginary benefits for commercial property owners on Orange Avenue.
- “The city prioritized our small businesses to ensure a successful holiday season with a tremendous holiday decoration package of lights and events on Park, Orange and New England avenues and Morse Boulevard. Anecdotally, we heard of sales increasing by up to 70% over last year.” REALITY: Suggesting that increasing spending on holiday decorations increases retail sales does not demonstrate critical thinking.
- “The city completed the renovation of several of our sports fields in Ward Park, with all Winter Park fields expected to be renovated by the end of 2022.” REALITY: For-profit sports teams and non-residents are now being treated to $1,600,000 in new and renovated playing fields at the expense of Winter Park taxpayers.
- “The city created the first new park in many years, starting with the installation of seven large Live Oak trees on Progress Point at Orange Avenue and Denning Drive (see photo). This is the first step in “Putting the Park in Winter Park” on this important residential and business corridor.” REALITY: This city commission has committed $6 million to build a park where nobody lives. It is not in a “residential corridor.”
- “The city created the first 5- and 25-year strategic investment plans to make sure we balance the short-term and long-term goals of the city. As part of that long-range planning, the city has funded traffic and connectivity designs — and connected those plans with grant writing efforts to secure funding.” REALITY: Believe it when you see it. Florida Department of Transportation controls the roads that determine traffic reality in Winter Park.
- “The city formed the “Smart Cities” task force to make sure we have better and more reliable internet services to our homes and businesses. During COVID, internet connections became as important as roads/highways for many of our residents.” REALITY: Jargon does not “make sure” of anything.
- “The city allocated $1.8 million of federal funds to the Winter Park Library to offset COVID challenges. The city successfully completed and opened the new Winter Park Library & Events Center in December 2021. The Events Center already has 79 events on the books for 2022 and 25 events booked for 2023.” REALITY: The city runs no successful businesses and should not be competing with for-profit and non-profit meeting venues at taxpayer expense.
- “The city completed a record year of preserving our heritage by registering 12 homes on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places.” REALITY: It is a good thing when property owners volunteer to respect historic significance. If only they would not demand exceptional building variances in return.
- “Having already shifted some of our electrical power generation to solar, the city agreed to move forward on many sustainability efforts including actively seeking ways to meet the city’s clean energy goals.” REALITY: Utility scale solar fields make both financial and environmental sense but are not expected to provide electricity under the city’s existing contracts until 2023.
- “And, last but not least, on January 26, the city agreed to move forward with a contract to purchase the Winter Pines Golf Course. When this transaction is complete, this will result in buying a successful business that will also grow city-owned green space by 93 acres. This is an investment in recreation and green space that will pay for itself from the business income, and will not increase your taxes. We look forward to the synergy between the nationally acclaimed WP9 Golf Course and our newly acquired Winter Pines 18-hole course.” REALITY: The city is going to borrow $8 million we will be on the hook for when the golf course operates at a loss after capital and maintenance requirements. When it loses money, it WILL impact our taxes. If we don’t buy it, it remains a golf course under private ownership. There is no synergy between the WP9 and Winter Park Pines. This is a risky and unnecessary purchase, and a boondoggle in the making.