The town of Windermere has taken another step toward finalizing its budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
Windermere Town Council members approved unanimously a tentative budget and millage rate for Fiscal Year 2019-20 during a meeting Wednesday, Sept. 11.
Town Manager Robert Smith said the most signifiant difference between last fiscal year’s budget and the one approved last week is a portion of tax revenue going toward the $5.2 million cost for the town’s new police department and administration building. That money would come from ancillary taxes, such as the communication service tax and the half-cent sales tax, and would pay for temporary facilities and the loan the town is taking out for the cost of the project, he said.
“We’re looking at about $300,000 a year for debt service for the next 20 years to pay that off,” Smith said. “This is in lieu of doing a 30-year loan.”
The referendum for the new police department and administration building was approved in March, with construction set to start in June 2020, Smith said.
“(The current buildings) were not meant for public facilities — they were meant as a schoolhouse,” Smith said. “I think the issues that we’ve had are well-documented. They’re just not functional as far as space-wise, and they’re not functional as far as operation-wise — especially with the police department. We’ve been talking about this for about five years now.
“It’s the only police department probably in Central Florida or the state of Florida, No. 1: that’s a glorified doublewide, and No. 2: somebody could crawl underneath,” he said. “Whenever we have any types of drug busts, you can smell the drugs all throughout the entire building. It’s about time, and I’m glad the community voted to improve the facilities and invest in their town and invest in the services.”
Windermere Mayor Jim O’Brien said the new facilities will be an important part of the community for the next 50 years.
“We need to have a safe, secure location where we can have those officers do their job in town — it’s part of us working toward our accreditation for the police department,” O’Brien said.
Windermere’s tentative millage rate was set at 3.7425 mills — the same rate approved for the last fiscal year. That rate would bring in $2,591,469 in ad valorem tax revenue.
“We increased (the rate) last fiscal year, and the reason for that was we had a lot of things that we wanted to fund: a water master plan, a multi-modal path, we wanted to fix the sidewalks and put money toward Parks and Recreation,” Smith said. “(This year) we maintained our millage rate, but it’s seen as a tax increase because we didn’t change it to the rolled-back rate.”
O’Brien said maintaining the rate allows the town to continue working on capital projects.
“With the increase in the values of properties ... that allows us to have more general revenue and allows us to take care of those CIP projects much quicker,” O’Brien said. “We felt that staying right where we were was going to allow us to do everything we wanted to do within the budget.”
A final budget hearing is set for 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 23.