WINDERMERE – Windermere town leaders have a list of projects they want to fund this year, but because of budget constraints and an unforeseen loss of expected revenue, the town likely will need to prioritize.
The town held a budget workshop July 10 to adopt several motions related to the town’s budget, such as approval of a proposed millage rate of 3.25, solid waste assessment and fire assessment fees and the stormwater fund assessment roll.
But harder decisions lay ahead regarding the list of projects to fund with its expected revenue of $5,082,535 — about $2 million of which is generated from ad valorem taxes.
Windermere Town Manager Robert Smith said the projects on the town’s wish list that likely will need to be delayed pertain to park improvements and the recently proposed project to livestream Town Council meetings.
“They’re in favor of getting the council meetings out there, but it’s just a matter of what are their priorities right now,” Smith said, referring to the livestreaming project. “So the question was: Do we want to spend $18,000 on this right now, or do we want to start looking at funding tangible projects that the town can use?”
Last year, the town received a $50,000 grant from the Florida Recreation Development Assistance program to replace the Windermere Recreation Center’s fishing pier. This year, it had expected to receive $100,000 to fund park improvements to Central Park and Fernwood Park. However, the state Legislature failed to approve the budget for the program this year, so the town will not be getting that money.
To adjust to the loss of the FRDAP grant, the town’s projected expenditures were amended to $5,082,535, Smith said.
“The balance of the budget that we had was about $25,000 as far as revenue over expenditures,” he said. “That’s going to be held into contingency reserve until April, when (the council) decides what they want to do if there’s money still available. We basically look at what we need to maintain the level of service and the quality of life that the residents need, and then the wants come in second. So the needs were funded first and the wants come in after six months so that we’re not in a situation where we have to make cuts to the things we need.”
The projects that will be funded this year amount to about $260,000, Smith added. The projects include a $20,000 project to install LED lighting downtown, $40,000 to build a new downtown parking lot, $40,000 for redesigned town signs, and $160,000 for a project to construct a pedestrian- and bike-friendly sidewalk from Main Street to Lake Street.
But any other projects may need to wait, particularly because the town’s charter places strict limits on how much it can borrow. The livestreaming project and park improvement projects will be considered again in April 2018.
“Because of the financial constraint that we have with the charter that limits us to 12.5%, we’ll have to save up enough money in order to start knocking out these other projects,” Smith said. “Luckily enough, we were able to get some grants from the South Florida Water Management District in order for us to do a project on First and Forest (streets), and we also leveraged some impact fees from Estancia and Rosser Reserve, but from here on out, we’re going to have to save money in order to fund a lot of these projects — unless that 12.5% cap is taken away.”
The budget hearings will be held at 6 p.m. Sept. 6 and 25 at Town hall.
Contact Gabby Baquero at [email protected]