Oakland mayor gives State of the Town address

Residents filled the meeting hall to hear Mayor Kathy Stark share the town’s vision and strategy.

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Each year, Oakland Mayor Kathy Stark updates her constituents with a State of the Town address. This year’s municipal update was Thursday, Oct. 24, in front of a full audience of residents who were eager to hear a synopsis of activity and progress in the town and learn of the vision and strategy planned for the town’s future.

Oakland has long been a supporter of the environment and nature. Its origins were as a railroad town, and it served as a shipping point for vegetables and citrus. Today, the community between two lakes is a Tree City USA, is home to scenic byways and is a supporter of the Oakland Nature Preserve and the Friends of Lake Apopka.

“While Oakland has grown and is growing, it is important to us to maintain our identity and preserve our history while serving our residents,” Stark said.

Stark explained the form of government and how the commission and town charter operate.

The mayor shared recent accomplishments, including the funding and construction of the Health West Orange Arts & Heritage Center at Oakland and a new town website. She said Oakland continues to have one of the lowest numbers of criminal incidents in this area.

“Oakland Nature Preserve — I believe this is one of the finest legacies we will leave to generations to come,” Stark said. “We continue to provide programming that links science education between the charter school and the nature preserve. … ONP’s summer camp program is thriving, and its educational programs to other schools and groups (are) increasing. … Recently, approximately 25 acres have been added to the preserve on the Hull Island side.”

Another source of pride is the town-owned K-5 Oakland Avenue Charter School, which has about 530 students. The town maintains an attendance cap to avoid overcrowding issues. Oakland residents are given preference in the acceptance lottery.

“Even with the projected growth we should have enough capacity to ensure Oakland families who want their children to attend the charter school will have the opportunity,” Stark said. “We pride ourselves in operating a school that is progressive and offers parents an alternative to public or private schools.”

New to OACS is a school resource officer and hardened school security.

The school’s PTO works to plan quality fundraisers that allow OACS to make improvements, and the organization gives thousands of dollars to teacher appreciation initiatives and classroom supply support gifts.

In addition, the PTO has contributed $201,914.23 back to OACS in the last nine years.

Money, roads, water and infrastructure are often-discussed agenda items. Stark explained the town’s annual budget process. She updated residents on the town’s infrastructure and water system and shared future plans for both. A total of $2.35 million in state funding has allowed the town to construct a main lift station and force main. More than 200 new wastewater customers are now on the new system. Another grant will provide $600,000 for wastewater to 46 homes in Oakland.

In an effort to create more north-south connector roads, the town secured the right-of-way for Catherine Ross Road (formerly Motamassek Road) and secured transfer of the Remington Road right-of-way from Orange County and Florida’s Turnpike. Starr Street is scheduled to be paved, and a traffic roundabout will be under construction starting mid-2020.

All new projects are subject to the standards set for the town’s mobility plan and design district.

Stark thanked the people and organizations that have worked with the town’s best interests in mind: Orange County and District 1 Commissioner Betsy VanderLey, Orange County School Board, West Orange Healthcare District, Winter Garden Heritage Foundation, Friends of Lake Apopka, The Bond Foundation, MetroPlan, Tri County League of Cities, the West Orange Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Rep. Val Demings, state Sen. Randolph Bracy and state Rep. Geraldine Thompson.

“We owe all of the above a great deal of thanks for the support we have received over the years,” she said.

Stark said the town strives to continue investing in services that will improve Oakland.

“I know that some of the change that has begun to come to Oakland is hard for all of us that are so proud and protective of this town,” Stark said. “I will also tell you that there is no one working harder to do the right things for this town than all the residents that serve on boards, including the commission and our staff. The time and the talents we have here are just amazing to me.

“I encourage all of you to take the time to become educated on the facts of what is happening, attend meetings, volunteer your time and participate effectively to help ensure that we consider all our options and respect each other as we move forward towards the future,” she said.

And then Stark shared what she said was the best news: Property values rose 24% last year.

“I have love and pride for this small town I have called home for more than 30 years,” Stark said.

She acknowledged all the volunteers who have made Oakland what it is by offering their time and talents: the commission, the Appearance Review Board, the Planning and Zoning board, the town manager’s advisory group, the Naming Committee, the Arts and Heritage Center Advisory Committee, the Light Up Oakland/Santa Day Committee and the charter school’s PTO and School Advisory Committee.

Stark also recognized staff at the school, Oakland Police Department, Public Works Department, Oakland Nature Preserve and Town Hall as “a hardworking, dedicated professional group of people.”

“Our vision for the town is to serve the citizens of Oakland with a government that provides a high level of service while keeping our identity as Oakland — a place where we maintain and preserve natural beauty and history while being friendly and respectful of each other; careful and pragmatic growth that fits into the fabric of our town and a prudent fiscal approach,” Stark said. “We want to mix modern, 21st-century techniques with old-fashioned neighborly communication and involvement.”



Amy Quesinberry

Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.

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