I am a firm believer in home rule, a simple concept that recognizes that the government closest to the people governs best.
Although there are only 3,000 people who live in Windermere and pay taxes to Windermere, the reality is that the other 30,000 people with a Windermere address not only shape our community, they share the same concerns and issues of everyone in West Orange County. From traffic problems, concerns for safety and a commitment to making West Orange County better, we all need to work together if we are to continue to make this the best place to live and raise our children. And how do we do that?
I am often asked, “Why should Windermere care about this … or that? That doesn’t affect us.” But the bottom line is it is sometimes difficult to know what will affect us. And the more we stay engaged and involved in everything we can, the more we have a say in what affects us. If you are not sitting at the table, they will not deal you a hand.
We have had a great relationship with the city of Ocoee for many years. They have provided us with our fire service for years and have always supported us. This is what intergovernmental cooperation is all about. Why should Windermere have a fire service when we can team with Ocoee and eliminate duplication and redundancy? They have a station on our border, and we offset their costs. They provide us with fire service that is at a higher ISO insurance rating level than Orange County. That’s a win for Ocoee taxpayers and Windermere taxpayers.
We also have a great relationship with all of the other cities in Orange County. We are teaming with Winter Garden and Ocoee to have our own police-dispatch service that will provide us with the latest technology and cost savings of about $16,000 a year. We have worked with Belle Isle to help it establish its own police department.
As chairman of the Orange County Council of Mayors, Windermere stays active with our fellow cities sharing information and best practices. Through the OCCOM, which comprises every Orange County mayor including Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, we have partnered with our fellow cities and Orange County on issues that affect us all, such as medical marijuana ordinances, ebola education, rapid response to active shooters, redistricting and school safety. Most people don’t realize mayors and police chiefs are always meeting and working together to provide public safety and sharing lessons learned and best practices.
Windermere has stayed active with many government entities and organizations. One important one is MetroPlan Orlando, the traffic planning organization for Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties. This organization creates the transportation improvement projects and 25-year plans and prioritizes the roadway, trail and bike path projects. It determines what will be built and where and when.
Windermere has a seat on the Municipal Advisory Committee that comprises mayors or their designate. In June, I will chair this committee and serve on the MetroPlan board. It is important for us to stay engaged — it was through this organization that Windermere received the funding for the Sixth Avenue repaving almost seven years ago. And it is through this organization that I am trying to have Old Winter Garden Road extended past Maguire, which could provide an alternative for traffic around our town. And once again, in the spirit of intergovernmental cooperation, we are partnering with Orange County Commissioner Scott Boyd, Ocoee Mayor Rusty Johnson and the city of Ocoee to try to make this happen.
Windermere also has a seat on the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council. This council addresses five regional topics, including affordable housing, economic development, emergency preparedness, natural resources of regional significance and regional transportation.
We also have a seat on the West Orange South Lake Economic Development Task Force, which comprises business leaders, land owners and elected officials from West Orange County and South Lake County. Initiated by Boyd almost four years ago to work with Lake County neighbors, this is a great forum where we can communicate with Lake County officials and work cooperatively adhering to our state’s Sunshine Laws.
In addition to working with all of our Central Florida legislators while they are home, I typically try to visit them in Tallahassee at least twice during session. Every year, there are dozens of bills that come around that would impose unfunded mandates upon our town or pre-empt us from being able to control issues that affect us.
This session, there were more than 20 pre-emption bills being considered. They vary from forcing all Florida municipalities to have their elections on the same day to taking away cities’ rights to control fracking within their boundaries.
This is where relationships with all Central Florida legislators are imperative. As a mayor, I have the ability to call them and explain the ramifications and unintended consequences of their decisions. And that is true, and that is what I do. But you can, too! Take the time to learn who your state legislators are and let them know your opinion.
I am a firm believer in home rule, a simple concept that recognizes that the government closest to the people governs best. And I believe Windermere knows what is best for Windermere — not Tallahassee and not Washington. And by us staying engaged and supporting our fellow municipalities, we are stronger together.