WINDERMERE — Ahead of its Sept. 21 final budget hearing, the Windermere Town Council unanimously approved non-ad valorem assessment rolls for fire rescue services and solid waste collection at its Aug. 11 meeting.
But one council member — as well as many residents in attendance — dissented on the increase in the roll for storm water management, which passed the council 4-1.
“I have no problem with every citizen in the town of Windermere participating in maintaining storm water,” Councilman Bob McKinley said before casting his dissenting vote. “I don’t think it’s right for them to have to shoulder the initial responsibility of maintaining storm water.”
Town Manager Robert Smith said that a lack of grants left the town about $134,000 per year for storm water projects, leaving Windermere at a great need to fund necessary projects, many along Main Street.
“That’s not enough,” Smith said. “We did a presentation several months ago to the town council to increase that, to not only fund more projects, but to take care of the perpetual maintenance of those new systems. The increase was $5 per month for every equivalent residential unit … which is 2,999 square feet.”
Mayor Gary Bruhn said a history of doing little to manage the waters of the town’s chain of lakes for 21 years led to a sudden need of Windermere to compensate in the present.
“We can’t wait another generation to fix the problems we’ve got with our storm water,” he said before citing a national standard that mandates municipal storm water quality standards. He reiterated his thoughts from prior meetings that anyone who uses the nearby roads or lakes benefits from storm water management.
Some Windermere residents believed the sudden increase was too much at once while other fees and taxes also increased, especially from The Willows.
“I realize that the big jump this year is paying for the sins of our fathers,” Roger Ambuter, a resident of The Willows, said. “My issue is that in The Willows, we were taking care of our own storm water system. We spent well over $13,000 last year … I’m not voting for a complete alleviation, because as homeowners in Windermere, we should pay our fair share to help out the other areas that have more problems than we do, but … we do have concerns.”
Ambuter mentioned issues with the neighboring Reserve at Belmere — not part of Windermere — not taking adequate care of its storm water and sought a mitigation for The Willows from the money it already had contributed toward storm water management.
Bruhn said increasing the rate gradually rather than keeping it flat since 2010 might have been better. Councilman Jim O’Brien said the council’s approval set rates to rise more gradually in the future, rather than sharply at once.
Bruhn also said the rate would be second-lowest in the county to Apopka, which has a lower rate because it controls its utilities.
Councilman John Armstrong said this was an issue of preserving Windermere’s lakes and avoiding an environmental catastrophe like that of Lake Apopka.
Kimley Horn & Associates conducted a study on Windermere’s roads, paths, sidewalks, crosswalks and bridges for presentation to the council.
The study showed added pedestrian mid-block crossings were unwarranted, although Councilwoman Molly Rose said moving the crosswalk between Ninth and 10th streets along Main Street had been the key reason she had sought the study.
Recommendations from the study were to fill sidewalk gaps, make new connections and a few asphalt bicycle paths and provide new golf cart connections. Primary connection areas are Windermere Country Club, downtown and Isleworth and The Grove.
IN OTHER NEWS
-The council voted to name a Windermere Police Department building after slain Officer Robbie German, with specifics to be determined. In November, Windermere officials will rededicate roadway where German died for a seven-year term Bruhn said could be extended.
-The council set pavilion reservation rates at $300 for non-residents and $100 for residents, with O’Brien dissenting.
-The town’s general engineering contract for the 2015-16 fiscal year went to John Fitzgibbon at about $1,650 per month.
-First readings occurred for ordinances removing occupancy certificate provisions for property to be assessed for fire protection and revising certain boathouse and boat dock requirements for Windermere and Orange County to enforce. The council delayed action on a variance request to allow movement of a dock at 13 Chase Road, citing a desire for more specific plans.
-The council passed resolutions to amend the Windermere five-year capital improvements schedule and to apply for a Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program grant in 2016-17.
-An ordinance allowing Isleworth residents to use the Lake Bessie boat ramp for limited non-recreational purposes, such as repairs, gained council approval.
-Bruhn proclaimed Sept. 8 as “The Gift of Life Day,” presenting recognition to Rosie Moore for her work with preemies.
Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected].