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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Friday, Sep. 22, 2017 2 years ago

Winter Park City Commission cuts body cameras from tentative budget, adds Aloma traffic signal improvments

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The Winter Park's 2017/18 Fiscal Year budget came a step closer to approval during the City Commission's meeting on Friday, Sept. 15.
by: Tim Freed Managing Editor

The Winter Park City Commission took its first step in approving its 2017/18 Fiscal Year budget during a meeting Friday, Sept. 15.

City commissioners approved the budget on first reading, which included several changes since City Manager Randy Knight first presented the tentative budget earlier this year.

One of those amendments was the removal of police body camera funding, which as a result adds about $22,000 back to the city’s general fund and over $100,000 to the forfeiture fund.

Mayor Steve Leary — in the minority — said the city should consider keeping the funding for the devices.

“I would like to see the funding in the budget this year for body cameras,” he said. “Body cameras can help protect officers, identify suspects and provide clarity/detail to tense situations after the fact. This is about protecting good officers and good people, from those attempting to do harm.”

Other changes included adding $150,000 toward traffic signalization improvements along Aloma Avenue and reducing the employee merit pay percentage by one-half of a percent, which saves the city about $60,000 across all funds.

Winter Park resident and Public Art Advisory Board member Jan Clanton praised the City Commission for setting aside $25,000 in funding for a subcommittee of the arts and culture, meant to enhance and elevate the awareness of arts in the city

“I think we would all agree that arts have always been part of this city since its founding, but it really came to the forefront last year during your visioning process,” she said. “There were so many ideas and so much enthusiasm. … Arts literally became the third vision theme that the city adopted.”

Millage rate could remain the same

Winter Park City Commissioners made a preliminary vote on Friday to keep the city’s operating millage rate at 4.0923 mills for the 10th consecutive year.

That was after City Commissioner Peter Weldon motioned to reduce the millage rate and offer residents $1 million in property tax relief.

“We have a very strong city with very strong financial circumstances,” Weldon said. “We’re looking at valuation increases from dear Mr. (Rick) Singh (Orange County property appraiser) that will raise property tax almost regardless of what millage rate is agreed to here tonight.”

“(The city) is so strong that I believe we can afford to lower the millage rate so as to recoup a million dollars for the benefit of our property owners.”

City Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel said she was in favor of lowering the millage rate as well, adding that it allows the city to “make a statement.”

The rest of the City Commission felt differently however, voting that proposal down 3-2.

“I appreciate your gesture and I think it’s fiscally responsible, but I got a feeling that the residents want the (electric) undergrounding more than they want to get $30 or $40 back in their pocket from their taxes,” City Commissioner Greg Seidel said. “I can’t support that now.”

A second proposal by Weldon was to lower the millage rate to 3.9942 mills, reflecting $500,000 in property tax relief.

Mayor Leary said the city should first have staff analyze how the $500,000 difference would affect the city.

The Winter Park City Commission voted to keep the current millage rate, but the rate still can be lowered at a second reading scheduled for the next meeting on Sept. 25.

Library/Event Center Task Force 

City commissioners also voted to establish a library/event center task force.

Mayor Leary initially proposed implementing the task force during the Aug. 28 meeting — putting an entity in place that would focus on communicating what’s happening with the project and advise the City Commission on both the library and the event center aspects.

“The new library/events center, as imagined, is more than a structure,” Leary said. “We need to create a unique user experience to maximize the community investment. There are many stakeholders, many questions, many decisions yet to be made. 

“The task force is an organizing body to take the thoughts and ideas of all of these interested parties (and) create a framework and the context for the project to be a successful experiential facility that not only looks amazing inside and out, but functions for the individual and the community as a whole,” he said.

Tim Freed was the managing editor for the West Orange Times & Observer and the Southwest Orange Observer. He previously spent six years covering the Winter Park/Maitland area and is a graduate of the University of Central Florida.

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