The town of Windermere discussed its tentative budget for Fiscal Year 2022-23 at a budget hearing Wednesday, Sept. 7.
Town Council members voted to set the tentative budget of $10,411,209 proposed during an Aug. 3 budget workshop. The tentative millage rate was voted to remain at 3.7425, the same since 2018-19 and the lowest in Orange County.
Although there is no increase in millage rate, Town Manager Robert Smith explained, this is different from an increase in taxes and the percent of the millage rate over the rolled-back rate will be 8.08%.
“For the millage, you have to show that anything above what we received in revenues last year, even if you keep the same millage rate, is still considered a tax increase,” Smith said. “The reason that you have to advertise it as a tax increase is because you’re over the rolled-back rate, which means that you’re collecting the exact same amount as you did last fiscal year.”
In the proposed budget presentation, Smith said the town’s purpose and intent is “preserving the level of service and quality of life that the town residents and our customers are accustomed (to) all while maintaining the town’s financial viability.”
Smith said Windermere fulfills this by conservative estimates of revenue, control spending and better planning.
Documents from the Orange County Property Appraiser list Windermere’s total taxable value at $876,281,334 — an increase of more than $81,026,598 from the previous fiscal year.
According to Smith, the increase can be attributed to the increase in value of homes but also the addition of homes in Estancia at Windermere and development the town has had.
The largest contributors to the estimated General Fund revenue of $10,053,207 include: $1,557,510 from the American Recovery Act, $785,631.73 from the Fire Rescue Fee Assessment, $760,000 from the Federal Appropriations SRC and $380,000 from Communication Services Tax.
The addition of a Stormwater Fund revenue of $358,002 brings total revenues to $10,411,209.
However, as last year, some of the town’s biggest planned projects will not rely on budget funds.
Smith said the approved funded projects, either through a grant or general operating funds or through American Recovery Act dollars, are the West Second Avenue Road stormwater and potable water improvements, Bessie Basin stormwater and potable water improvements, and Butler Basin stormwater and potable water improvements.
All three projects are covered under a Hazard Mitigation Grant Program of $3.3 million, which is funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and administered through the Department of Emergency Management.
The grant does not include the potable water system aspects, which the town plans to develop concurrently. Those will be covered through the America Rescue Act dollars.
“We are in the final review from the Florida Department of Emergency Management and then after that we advertise for comments, and when and if we receive comments we respond back, and then we work out an agreement with the Florida Department of Emergency Management on a contract for construction, and then we bid it out, which is another four- to five-month process,” Smith said.
Other mentionable projects include Phase 1 of the Windermere Ward Trail, which runs .6 miles from North Drive to Park Avenue and will be constructed next fiscal year, as well as the construction of the Rotary Pavilion.
The town’s federal appropriations request of $760,000 for funding of the project through the Safe Routes to School program championed by Congresswoman Val Demings was signed into law March 14 — and the money will go toward Phase 1 of the project, as well as the new planned pedestrian bridge.
In addition, Smith said the town also is waiting for funding from Healthy West Orange, which has dedicated about $5 million to interconnecting all of the trail systems within West Orange County.