- July 14, 2021
Despite loss of revenues statewide because of the coronavirus pandemic, Winter Garden leaders will not be raising the city’s millage rate this year.
The City Commission voted unanimously during its July 23 meeting to establish the proposed millage rate for Fiscal Year 2020-21 at 4.50 mills. It is the same rate that has been in place since FY 2018-19. Previously, the city’s millage rate had remained static for eight years at 4.25.
The Truth in Millage legislation timetable requires city staff to advise the property appraiser of its proposed millage rate by Aug. 4 this year.
TRIM also states the millage rate established by vote of the commission cannot be increased after Aug. 4, unless each property owner is notified by mail. The rate can, however, be lowered at either the first or second public budget hearing without any required notification.
City Manager Mike Bollhoefer told commissioners that despite facing a decrease in sales tax and state-shared revenues, the city is in a good place financially and staff does not believe a millage-rate increase is necessary.
“This year, we’re facing a possible $3 million to $3.5 million drop-off in the sales tax and the revenue shared funds from the state all because of COVID-19,” Bollhoefer said. “We’re still recommending this year that we go with the 4.50 millage rate. Reason No. 1 is this (situation) with COVID (hopefully) is a one-year issue, and it’ll resolve itself next year. Two, we’ve already had all of our department heads who are doing our budgets this year, we’re making certain cuts and finding ways … so we can stay within budget considering losing those funds, and we have — finally — sufficient fund balance. We try to keep our targeted fund balance, and it’s approximately there at 30% of yearly revenues.”
One of the primary purposes of always having a fund balance is to have money set aside to cover emergencies and unforeseen circumstances such as COVID-19, Bollhoefer said.
“One of the main reasons you want to have money aside is so when you have these things come up, it doesn't stop you from moving forward,” he said. “We’re fortunate enough that we’re in good financial shape. Between the budget … and the fund balance, we don’t believe it’s necessary and we’re not recommending to increase the millage rate.”
According to city documents, the current gross taxable value for the coming year is projected at $4,100,661,214. That represents a 9.71% increase — or $362,973,738 — in taxable value over FY 2019-20.
“I can tell you we feel very confident, and we don’t think it’s going to be necessary (to raise the millage rate),” Bollhoefer told commissioners. “Now, for some reason, if things drag on for another year, I think we’re in a whole different ball game. But we feel comfortable, and we’re good at the 4.50 millage rate with the budget cuts we’re doing and with the fund balance we have.”
“It’s amazing how we’re not having to increase the rate to cover something like this,” Commissioner Lisa Bennett said. “It shows a lot of good planning.”
The first public budget hearing is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 3, with the second taking place at the same time Thursday, Sept. 17.
Commissioners also approved unanimously reducing a code-enforcement lien for a property at 509 S. Lakeview Ave.
Community Development Director Steve Pash told commissioners the property was damaged in 2017 during Hurricane Irma when a tree fell on the house, rendering it uninhabitable.
“Unfortunately, there was never any work done on that home to correct any of the damages, because the owner passed away early in 2018,” Pash said. “Staff moved forward with a condemnation of the home, and we demolished the structure at a cost of $5,000. We also had the tree removed — we did not remove the stump, we just took all the branches away — which was $500. It was purchased from the bank through an auction, and now the current owner has a contract to sell it.”
According to city documents, the owner acquired the lot in March and recently wrote a letter to the city requesting a reduction in the total amount of the lien. Pash told commissioners the owner is asking to settle for the money the city has put into the property. The lien has been reduced to $6,725.70 — $5,500 plus $1,225.70 in delinquent utility bills — if paid by Aug. 14.