Read our exclusive Q&A with Orange County Commission District 1 candidate Betsy VanderLey.
Family: Married; mother of three grown children, grandmother of four
Education: Boone High School graduate; Valencia College
Qualifications: I have been deeply involved in the West Orange Community for decades; incumbent
2. Why do you want to represent District 1 on the Board of County Commissioners?
District 1 is a very dynamic district. It contains Disney, Universal and SeaWorld and is one of the fastest-growing areas in the county. My background as a former contractor and working with architects and engineers uniquely qualifies me to serve in an area where we need to ensure that the growth is supported by infrastructure, and that we make wise decisions that ensure that we protect our environment while addressing the pressing need for affordable/achievable housing for the many new residents that move here weekly.
3. Why are you the best candidate?
District 1 has been my home for nearly 30 years (Central Florida for over 50). I have been actively involved in this community for decades and have a proven track record of helping this community address many of its needs. As a commissioner, I have held the line on taxes, supported balanced budgets and voted to increase public-safety budgets to keep pace with population growth. I have helped move road, infrastructure and school projects schedules up to address the growth. I have protected rural lands and added hundreds of acres of wetlands into conservation. I initiated the efforts to develop a master plan and begin design for the 220-acre Horizon West Regional Park and additionally earmarked $10 million in park-impact fees to begin construction. I have helped Orange County (Library System) secure property for a new library in the community. I have worked with Orange County Fire (Rescue Department) and the local hospital to quickly locate a new fire station on hospital property in response to the growing need. I have helped Gotha secure historic signage and pushed for a basin study to address a long-standing flooding issue. I have secured funding for the preliminary design for a loop trail around Lake Apopka and also advanced a master plan for trail connectivity from Horizon West to the West Orange Trail and the Lake Apopka Loop trails. I have worked very hard to increase citizen engagement by hosting hundreds of community meetings over the past four years (averaging one a week). I have a proven track record of effectiveness and responsiveness, as evidenced by the broad-based, bipartisan support I have received in this campaign.
4. What are three unique challenges faced by District 1, and how would you address them?
District 1 is truly the epicenter for global tourism. As such, when times are good, we are prosperous; however, we are currently facing a pandemic which has decimated that economy and left thousands without jobs and at risk. I have worked with Orange County staff and my fellow board members to allocate millions of dollars in grants — not loans — for relief to both individuals and businesses, as well as millions for job retraining. We are still a growing community as more people move to Florida, and particularly to District 1. We welcome these new neighbors wholeheartedly with the many skills, talents and creativity they bring, but also recognize the pressure on public services and infrastructure that our increasing population brings. I have been able to move up a new fire station by five years to address the need and worked with the Orange County sheriff to get more patrols in these fast-growing areas. Additionally, I have worked with Orange County Public Schools to advance the timetable on two new high schools in the district, and I have advanced much-needed traffic signals while roads are still under design to address dangerous intersections.
5. COVID-19 has largely affected Central Florida’s tourism sector, much of which is housed in or near West Orange. This has affected many District 1 residents and businesses. What is the county’s role in helping those affected?
The county received its allocation of CARES act funding in the amount of $243 million. I, along with my fellow board members, worked with staff to allocate those dollars in the form of grants to individuals and businesses to assist them in paying rents or mortgages; assisting with medical bills; offering educational opportunities through job retraining; assisting with personal protective equipment and the extra cleaning required for day cares to assist with stopping the spread of the virus; working with food banks to get food out into the community at no cost to the recipients; and providing business grants to assist businesses so they can make payroll and keep their doors open. Additionally, I have personally distributed tens of thousands of masks and hand sanitizer into the at-risk community.
6. West Orange County is one of the fastest-growing communities in the country. What has gone well? What can be done better?
West Orange has grown very quickly. Clearly, we are in a very desirable place to live! While that is a wonderful compliment to our quality of life, it also puts a strain on infrastructure like roads and schools. There is a natural disconnect between how quickly a house is built and occupied and how long it takes to widen roads and build schools. And, while Florida has been growing for some time, the latest numbers of new residents have been unprecedented. The good news is all of these new neighbors invest in our community — emotionally, starting new businesses and sharing their creativity — thus making it a better place to live. We welcome them. The challenge is the rapid pressure the increasing population puts on our infrastructure, and as noted above, I have worked to help address that pressure.
7. Traffic and roads continue to be challenging in District 1 — particularly through the town of Windermere. What needs to be done to improve this area of West Orange?
I’m glad you brought up Windermere. There are inherent challenges because the roads in Windermere are constrained by a beautiful chain of lakes coupled with this being a very desirable area in which to live. Oakland has seen much the same challenge, as well. I have worked with the local municipal governments of both to help address the problem. Orange County and Oakland are partnered on a new roundabout — currently under design and approval process — at the western end of town that will make traffic and the West Orange Trail function more smoothly and safely. I have also been working with Windermere to assess the impact and assist with the cost of a new roundabout at the Chase Road/Main Street intersection, which will assist with traffic throughput. I have collaborated similarly with Ocoee on projects that were stalled on the county side. I have kept pressure on county staff to accelerate numerous road widenings, traffic-control devices and other improvements to improve traffic. In the Dr. Phillips area alone, between Orange County and the Florida Department of Transportation, there is an ongoing investment in roadway improvements to the tune of $668 million.
8. What is your long-range plan for public safety (police, fire, etc.) in Horizon West?
As I mentioned earlier, I have worked with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office to add more deputies in Horizon West and have supported their budget requests for that effort. I also was able to add a new fire station in Horizon West five years ahead of schedule and have three more slated over the next five years.
9. How will you advocate for the municipalities in District 1 — Oakland, Ocoee, Windermere and Winter Garden — as a member of the County Commission?
I am grateful to have strong relationships with all four municipalities in my district, as evidenced by the endorsements I have received from every single mayor in the district. I hold quarterly mayors/managers lunches with those cities and towns to share information and discuss what they need from Orange County. I have advocated for them for the past four years for a great number of needs, such as assisting with the funding of the history center in Oakland so that they can offer restroom facilities to those who enjoy the West Orange Trail. I have been working in east Winter Garden to address a decades-old flooding problem. I have assisted Ocoee in moving forward stalled traffic projects at overburdened intersections, and I have directed staff to work with Windermere to address the traffic situation created by their constrained road network and the traffic traveling through the town to get to Horizon West. This is just a small sampling of how I have advocated for and worked with each of these municipalities, and they have my commitment to continue to do so.
10. How will you work to improve the County Commission’s communication and cooperation with Orange County Public Schools?
I am proudly endorsed by both school-board members who serve our district, as well as Chair Jacobs. I know there has been a history of lack of communication between the two entities, but that has not been the case for our district. I have worked with our school board to help move up two new high schools, as well as assisting with traffic problems surrounding existing schools. They know they can pick up the phone and tell me what they need assistance with and I will help them. Likewise, I know I can call them for assistance, as well.