Winter Garden leaders decided to hold the city’s millage rate flat this year to help account for upcoming projects and increased pay for employees.
During the budget adoption hearing Thursday, Sept. 26, commissioners voted to keep the millage rate at 4.5 for a balanced Fiscal Year 2019-20 General Fund budget of $59.2 million.
The increase is largely accounted for in the Public Works department, under which the Streets division budget increased to $15.4 million because of the $13.6 million budgeted for the Dillard Street redesign. This also includes $1.3 million for the trail realignment projects.
“As you remember with last year’s budget, the millage at that point was 4.25,” City Manager Mike Bollhoefer said. “In anticipation of the state passing that new law to limit our ability on millages — they were going to reduce it — we increased our millage 0.25 points to cover for that expected loss. That didn’t pass, which surprised us all.”
Bollhoefer said although the commission originally intended to bring the millage rate back down if the law didn’t pass, staff recommended maintaining the 4.5 rate for Fiscal Year 2019-20 because of increased expenses as well as future infrastructure and Parks and Recreation improvements.
Although the current rate is maintained, ad valorem property tax revenue will increase by about $1,640,457 as a result of the 11.5% increase in Winter Garden’s property values.
New costs received this year, Bollhoefer said, included negotiating contracts and improving benefits with the police and fire departments. The 2019-20 budget also includes a 3% cost of living/merit increase for employees, as well as the cost of providing a police officer in each school as required by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.
Overall, the general fund personnel and operating expenditures will increase by 7% and includes $22.1 million in capital projects. This allocates resources to public safety, critical capital and infrastructure, according to city documents.