OCOEE — Mayor S. Scott Vandergrift led the Ocoee Commission in its annual State of the City Report Jan. 28, in the commission chambers at City Hall.
“Our citizens are bound together by a desire to work hard, provide for their families and make a difference in our community,” Vandergrift said. “We are truly an international, integrated city within a community that stretches around the world. Because of the leadership and teamwork of my fellow city commissioners, our citizen volunteers and our staff, our city continues to be a desirable place to live, work and play. Our city manager and his team met the challenge in presenting a balanced budget that reduced costs while maintaining the excellent services we provide to our citizens.”
In 2014, Ocoee became the fastest-growing population among the seven counties of Central Florida, and Vandergrift said he could see signs of an improving Ocoee economy, with increased home values and commercial construction throughout Ocoee, as well as a gross taxable value stream of more than $1.8 billion, an increase of 8.68% from 2014. Ocoee has received a Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for 26 consecutive years, the highest form of recognition in this area, Vandergrift said. The genesis of 135 businesses in Ocoee put the number of businesses in the city at 1,742, at an addition of 25,500 square feet of retail space.
District 1 Commissioner John Grogan reported on Florida Central Railroad rail improvements throughout the county among infrastructure improvements and plans to grow business in Ocoee, Winter Garden and Apopka within the Tri-Cities partnership, as well as the Ocoee Police Department.
“Our police department has continued to protect and serve while innovating award-winning programs and services,” Grogan said. “Using grant money, the department’s traffic division hosted a Labor Day DUI checkpoint, a roving patrol and other agency DUI events. Because of these joint efforts, numerous offenders were arrested and removed from the streets before causing harm to themselves or other motorists.”
The police department entered an agreement with Winter Garden to begin the transition of computer-aided dispatch services and record-management systems to the Winter Garden Police Department, enhancing the level of such services while saving tax money, Grogan said.
District 2 Commissioner Rosemary Wilsen reported on Parks and Recreation and Utilities.
“We encourage residents to come out and enjoy our beautiful parks,” she said. “Our recreation program appeals to all ages, offering something fun for everyone. Some of the recreation programs have had significant growth, including our youth basketball league, adult softball and kickball leagues and the city’s summer camp program.”
Wilsen also mentioned continuously growing popularity for Ocoee Haunted House and several other recreation programs, such as Easter Egg Eggstravaganza.
“As to our utility department, you all know drinking water is one of our most valuable natural resources,” she said. “The city is dedicated to providing clean and safe drinking water to all our citizens at an affordable price. In 2014, the utilities department treated and provided 1.41 billion gallons of drinking water for our local customers.”
Backflow prevention programs and water infrastructure upgrades also continued to enhance water treatment, and hundreds of millions of gallons were used for irrigation throughout the city, Wilsen said. The city provided more than 250 free rain barrels to residents and students, and utilities staff educated local students on water conversation, she said. Hundreds of trees also were donated at the city’s Spring Fling event.
District 3 Commissioner Rusty Johnson shared information on memorials, the grant for improvements near State Road 429 and the fire department.
“Last year, our firefighters taught 350 citizens and city employees how to save lives using CPR,” Johnson said. “The Ocoee Fire Department is one of only a handful of fire departments in Central Florida that offers all of its CPR training to residents and non-residents. The fire department and police department joined forces to conduct the first Public Service Academy attended by Ocoee residents. The 12-week program gave residents a unique inside look at a day in the life of firefighters and police officers. Participants visited the gun range, county jail and the burn building at the local fire academy.”
Such participants learned a plethora of safety facts and received brief amateur training from the departments.
The fire department responded to 5,000 emergency calls in 2014, including 1,200 related to fires and 3,103 EMS calls, Johnson said.
District 4 Commissioner Joel Keller spoke about Public Works and Support Services, including several road ditch and piping projects, speed tables, pothole repair and new blue recycling bins.
“The city’s new blue recycling bins have been a big hit with the residents,” Keller said. “The city provided residents with bigger recycling carts that hold twice as much newspaper, aluminum and glass. With the new 96-gallon recycling carts, the city collected a whopping 300% more recyclable material. I’d like to thank our residents for doing the recycling. I’d also like to thank our local Eagle Scouts who helped … assemble thousands of blue recycling carts.”
Upgrades to sanitation routes, garbage trucks, service times, vehicle repairs and maintenance were also among Public Works contributions, Keller said.
Support Services completed the new Ocoee Lakeshore Center, the largest events center in West Orange County, and human relations programs included Martin Luther King Day Jr. festivities, the Black History Month Essay Contest and Fiesta de Colores, Keller said.
Support Services also upgraded the city’s cable channel, website, police IT functions and code enforcement, Keller said.
For 2015, projects include development along state roads 429 and 50, a senior care living facility, a Walmart liquor store and Orlando Health Central, Vandergrift said.
The city staff shared a video highlighting city-sponsored events in 2014: the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Parade, the Black History Month Essay Contest, Spring Fling, Memorial and Veterans days festivities, Movie in the Park, Fiesta de Colores, the Tree Lighting and Christmas Parade and, of course, Founders’ Day.
Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected].