Maitland votes for increase
After raising taxes for the first time in seven years last year, Maitland is on its way to bumping rates again. Across city lines, Winter Park City Commissioners also considered an uptick in the millage on Monday.
But Winter Park stayed the course July 27 as the Commission voted to set the tentative millage rate for the 2015 fiscal year at the current rate of 4.0923 mills, the same rate the city has maintained for the past eight years.
Winter Park’s existing rate of $4.09 per $1,000 of taxable property value is currently the second lowest millage rate in Orange County, only behind Apopka. Maitland voted on a .1 mil increase, to raise taxes from 4.15 to 4.25 mils. The raise would cost a Maitland homeowner with a home value of $350,000 and a $50,000 homestead exemption an estimated additional $30 for the year. Total, the .1-mil increase would grow the city’s budget by about $212,018.
On Monday, Winter Park Commissioner Greg Seidel said the city shouldn’t rule out increasing the millage rate and slightly raising property taxes due to the many projects Winter Park hopes to pursue in the future, including renovations to the Winter Park Country Club and new decorative street lightning.
“I just don’t want to limit ourselves moving forward being in a very surging economy right now,” Seidel said. “[We’ve had] a lot of capital projects that have been in limbo through a recessionary time… I’d like to make them happen.”
Seidel made a motion to increase the tentative rate by .50 mills, but the amendment was voted down by Mayor Steve Leary and the three remaining Commissioners.
Leary said that the city can still find other ways to pay for upcoming projects, especially in the wake of a $1.74-million increase in operating revenue due to increased property values.
“We’ve tightened our belt over the last few years,” Leary said. “Property values are rising, so we’ll see an increase in our general fund this year. We’ve built up a very healthy reserve – the reserve is there to take care of items that need to be taken care of.”
“While we have some major projects that need to be taken care of, I think we can be creative in how we do that instead of raising taxes.”
Maitland councilmembers went for a different method, voting 3-2 to increase the tentative millage rate for now, knowing that they can decrease – but not increase it any more – before they set the rate in stone in September.
Councilwoman Bev Reponen, who proposed the .1-mil raise, said that by adding the additional funding to the budget, it would give the city more breathing room to fund overdue improvement projects and unfreeze some of the 11 city positions that have been vacant and unfunded since the recession in 2009.
“I’m just thinking that we have toed the line since 2009, it’s time to start expanding,” Reponen said. “Things are going to be moving all around us and increasing everywhere we look. I think we’d be better to be prepared.”
Councilman Ivan Valdes, who opposed the increase along with Councilman John Lowndes, said he had a hard time rationalizing a tax increase when the city is already raising its revenue this year over last through increasing property values alone.
“We can’t make the argument that we have more money in our bank account than ever before, and we need to raise the millage rate,” he said.
But Mayor Dale McDonald said that proposing the tentative raise now gives the city flexibility and a chance to hear from residents about what they would like to see funded for the upcoming year at upcoming public hearings – the next of which set for Sept. 14.
“This isn’t about jerking people around,” McDonald said. “It’s about giving us choices.”