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West Orange Times & Observer Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018 1 month ago

Ocoee hosts workshop for proposed tentative budget

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City leaders discussed the feasibility of lowering the millage rate and budgeting for a youth initiative during the Aug. 8 budget workshop. 
by: Gabby Baquero News Editor

OCOEE – During a budget workshop held Tuesday, Aug. 8, Ocoee commissioners were presented with the estimated revenues and expenses for the city’s proposed 2018-19 budget.

According to information presented by city Finance Director Rebecca Roberts, the budget was calculated based on a 5.6546 millage rate — the same as in the 2017-18 budget — and an estimated 2.1% increase in taxable value in the city of Ocoee. 

Roberts expects the city to receive about $82.4 million in revenue this upcoming fiscal year, up from last year’s $73.5 million. The total estimated expenses for the upcoming budget currently are calculated at about $75.1 million, which is a slight increase from last year’s $72.3 million.

During budget discussions, Ocoee Mayor Rusty Johnson said he would like to see the millage rate reduced to at least 5.5 and asked city staff and commissioners for their feedback. 

According to budget documents, the rolled-back rate this year — the rate at which the city would still generate the same amount of revenue as the previous budget year — is 5.3819. 

With a millage rate of 5.65, the city expects to generate about $13.6 million in ad-valorem revenue.

Ocoee District 2 Commissioner Rosemary Wilsen expressed hesitance with the idea, stating she would like to see it lowered but felt it might affect the quality of services provided to residents and be a source of regret in the event of unforeseen expenses.

Johnson emphasized the city still would be able to provide the same quality of life for its residents with a lower millage rate.

“We can still do what we need to do for our citizens for less,” he said.

When it came time to propose projects they would like to see funded in the budget, Ocoee District 4 Commissioner George Oliver pitched the idea of a youth initiative.

“I’d like to propose that we add a $20,000 line item to the budget for youth initiatives for next year,” Oliver said. “Part of it would be for a youth summer job fair, and with the same $20,000, I would propose we hire youth to work within the city. It’s the same proposal I proposed three months ago, but when I proposed it, we didn’t have the money for it. So now that we’re in our first budget workshop, I’m asking that we add that to our budget.”

Oliver also proposed launching a junior city council that would shadow City Commission members and learn how they perform their duties. He hoped to use the money to have the city hire 10 to 12 high-school-age youth next summer at an hourly rate of $10 to work for the city’s different departments. 

A 45-minute discussion followed Oliver’s proposal, and although his fellow commissioners liked the idea of the job fair and youth council, they advised it might be more difficult to hire youth because of issues of insurance liability and background checks, the latter of which cannot be done with minors. 

Some commissioners also believed it would be best to focus on one or two initiatives and have volunteer youth work for the city to gauge interest.

“You got some good ideas, but I think you need to break them down and be more specific,” said Ocoee District 1 Commissioner John Grogan.

Oliver expressed he felt he was getting “a lot of pushback” and did not think the commission was being receptive to his proposal. 

“It’s not like I’m inventing the wheel here,” he said. “This has been done before many times in many other cities and been proven successful.”

City leaders agreed by consensus not to hold the optional second budget workshop originally scheduled for Aug. 13. 

The tentative budget hearing, which is open to the public, will be held at 6 p.m., Sept. 12, in the commission chambers; the final budget hearing will be Sept. 26.

Gabby is the news editor for the West Orange Times and Windermere Observer newspapers. Have a story tip? Contact her at (352) 448-5856 or at [email protected]....

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