A variety of upcoming projects planned for Windermere has town officials trying all avenues to secure funding.
Town Manager Robert Smith reminded council members during the March 23 Town Council meeting that staff has submitted five appropriation requests to the state, Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Transportation. These requests, he said, are now in first reading in the House of Representatives.
The first three requests would help the town implement the three phases of its adopted water master plan. Currently, Orange County Utilities provides potable water to 41% of the town’s parcels, while the rest are on individual, private water wells. The master plan seeks to extend OCU’s system and provide water to the rest of the town.
Additionally, a large portion of the town isn’t equipped with fire hydrants, and some of the existing hydrants don’t have the available fire flow for larger homes. The master plan proposes replacing a few specific water mains with larger-diameter pipes, as well as adding fire hydrants to serve each parcel.
Florida State Rep. Geraldine Thompson is sponsoring the three bills for these requests. House Bill 2693 requests $3.206 million for the south water phase; HB 2691 requests $3.081 million for the central phase; and HB 2695 requests $3.994 million for the north phase.
Thompson also is sponsoring the other two requests. The first, HB 2581, would secure $600,000 for the town’s pedestrian bridge. This would allow the town to replace the existing bridge with a new, 15-foot-wide bridge with longer landings and easier, manageable slopes.
The second, HB 2579, would secure $760,000 to fund a multimodal trail from North Drive to Windermere Elementary School. This phase would improve multimodal safety, and it’s also the area that Windermere Elementary students use for direct access to the school.
Smith said staff also has been working with U.S. Rep. Val Demings’ office for these projects.
“Those are just two options for funding, and in addition to that funding, we’re trying to work with Healthy West Orange on having them fund the actual trail system and the bridge,” Smith said. “We left no stone unturned to try to figure out how to get these things paid. As you know, the American Rescue Plan was approved and adopted and signed into law, so the town is looking to receive money from that rescue plan. The number that is predicted to be given to the town of Windermere is about $1.49 million. That’s a substantial amount of money for the town.”
However, staff is unclear on how that money can be spent and whether it can be used to supplement revenues lost due to COVID-19, Smith said. The town has lost revenues from sources such as the half-cent sales tax and gas tax, but it has seen an increase in franchise fees and utility taxes.
“Those increases offset the decreases, so we’re pretty much going to be at what we anticipated for our anticipated revenues,” he said. “We’re still not sure if we’re going to be able to tap into that money to use it for lost revenues — even if you are allowed to use it for lost revenues.”
Smith said once the treasury department defines how funds will be administered and the requirements, the town should get a first payment of $750,000. A year later, it would receive the other $750,000 payment. Those funds all would have to be spent by 2024.
“What you can’t do is use that money to supplement your general revenues so you can go ahead and lower your taxes — I know that was a big debate topic up in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “It’s money that the town will spend in a wise manner, and we’ll have a workshop on how to spend that money once we actually have a good feel of how we can spend that money.”
“It’s a really great opportunity to work on some infrastructure,” Mayor Jim O’Brien said. “I know there are some pretty interesting and exciting opportunities for things we’d be able to do.”