“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot…”

Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

  The Great Recession was a period of general economic decline observed in world markets during the late 2000’s and early 2010’s. The scale and timing of the recession varied from country to country. In terms of overall impact, the International Monetary Fund concluded that it was the worst global recession since the Great Depression in the 1930’s. The causes largely originated in the United States, particularly the real-estate market, though policies of other nations contributed as well. According to the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research (the official arbiter of U.S. recessions) the Great Recession, as experienced in the United States, began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009, thus extending over 19 months. The Great Recession was related to the financial crisis of 2007–08 and U.S. subprime mortgage crisis of 2007–09. It resulted in the scarcity of valuable assets in the market economy and the collapse of the financial sector (banks) in the world economy. The banks were then bailed out by the U.S. government.

It was not a time for municipalities to take on city-improving projects. Despite the recession technically ending in 2009 with the first positive report of Gross National Product (GNP), it was several years after that before the economy truly recovered.

Economists point to 2014 when the economy created 3.1 million jobs, followed by 2.7 million in 2015, 2.2 million in 2016, and 2.1 million in 2017. The GDP was also a positive indicator beginning in the second quarter of 2014 – which is 16 straight quarters of growth with annual increases in GDP of 2.6% in 2014, 2.9% in 2015, 1.5% in 2016, and 2.3% in 2017.

For some municipalities, this slow and steady recovery gave them the green light to catch up on some major projects they set aside during the recession, and in some cases gave them the comfort to take on additional improvements not considered necessary, but enhancing to their communities.

It was, in their estimation, a season to build, improve and invest in their communities.

So is this the season in Apopka to cut the budget, conserve, and expand the general fund reserves? Or is it a season to take advantage of a growing economy and build a city with more amenities to compete with nearby cities while it is experiencing an increasing revenue base, a booming population expansion, and economic growth?

The Apopka Voice took a look at three municipalities in Central Florida with similar populations, household medians, and budgets as Apopka’s that are taking a different approach. Should Apopka take note of their strategy?, Should these cities adopt Apopka’s approach? Or are these municipalities simply in a different season than Apopka?


Clermont’s Victory Pointe is described as a 10-acre site that will be the first major project completed from the Downtown-Waterfront Master Plan.

Clermont

  • Population 35,208
  • Median Household Income $56,037
  • Budget $143.5-million
  • General Fund Budget $38.9-million
  • General Fund Reserves $8.1-million 28.84%
  • Millage Rate 4.2061

The waiting is over in Clermont.

For decades, the largest and fastest-growing city in Lake County had been described as conservative in its investments. Their preference was to wait until they had enough money in their general fund to pay for the projects they took on.

But all of that changed in 2017 when they borrowed $30 million to spearhead several new projects.

Among those are:

  • Victory Pointe – In a press release published by Clermont Communications Director Doris Bloodworth, The innovative park will combine recreational elements, such as trails and a performance area, with an extensive stormwater facility. The stormwater facility will enhance drainage downtown and improve the quality of water entering Lake Minneola, a State of Florida-designated “Impaired Water.” City officials say the project a grand opening slated on Friday, July 27, 2018. It’s a $9.7 million project, with about $5 million expected to be covered by grants, including $1 million from the St. Johns River Water Management District.
  • A $1.9 million, boat ramp on Lake Hiawatha, which will replace the one downtown.
  • A $1.9 million Clermont Legacy Loop, which is an alternate trail around downtown that hooks back into the South Lake Trail.
  • Installing wireless internet for the waterfront area, which will cost $750,000.
  • Two more gateways at a combined cost of $550,000. One is near the Orange County line on State Road 50 to the east, and the other on the west end of S.R. 50 at 12th Street.
  • A $12 million public works building.
  • An $11 million six-square-block streetscape project on Montrose Street to the waterfront and from Lake Avenue in the east to West Avenue in the west.

And according to Bloodworth, the residents of Clermont were happy to spend the money.

“I can tell you that our community was hungry for the changes that have come in recent years,” she said. “I was at the council meeting — just as a citizen — when people actually applauded having taxes raised and packed the chambers to support the city purchasing a former megachurch that is now our arts and recreation center, including a performing arts center.”


The new Winter Park Library is a state-of-the-art 35,690-square-foot building and adjoining 13,456-square-foot events center.

Winter Park

  • Population 29,317
  • Median Household Income $62,699
  • Budget $165-million
  • General Fund Budget $38.9-million
  • General Fund reserves $9.7 million (19.37%)
  • Millage 4.0923

Winter Park is building a library, but not just any library. It already has one after all. This state-of-the-art complex is a 35,690-square-foot building and adjoining 13,456-square-foot events center. The two-story structure will be a rectangular design with four massive arching windows that provide views of the park. Architect David Adjaye is the designer of this colossal undertaking. He also designed the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., has designed buildings internationally and was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2017.

The cost of the library complex is $30 million unless they decide to add a rooftop venue, which will add an additional $2.6 million to the final price tag.

In 2016, Winter Park voters approved the referendum to issue $30 million in bonds for the library, civic center, and a one-level parking garage. The current Winter Park Public Library is a 33,000-square-foot building, which library officials say is inadequate for today’s needs.

Winter Garden

  • Population 41,988
  • Median Household Income $60,626
  • Budget $173.5-million
  • General Fund Budget $36.2 million
  • General Fund Reserves $9.8-million (27%)
  • Millage 4.250

Last month, the Winter Garden City Council agreed to purchase three residential properties on the shore of Lake Apopka for $1.6 million to create the largest recreation property on the lake’s southeast side. It was described as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity by Winter Garden City Manager Mike Bollhoffer.

Winter Garden Mayor John Rees pointed out the sense of urgency that went into the timing of the deal.

“The (property) owner was putting the land up for sale so the city had the option of buying the land now or probably losing the opportunity forever,” said Rees. “As this land connected two parks on the lake it really was an easy decision to reach.”

The purchase, approved unanimously by city commissioners, is part of a bigger plan to add or improve the recreational facilities in the city. The other part of the proposed project is to create new destinations within walking and biking distance of homes in the community and to provide continued support for initiatives presently underway.

If they are to create this recreational facility, the City Council will need to ask voters next year to approve a bond issue that would generate about $20 million for the city to buy land for soccer fields, upgrade its Little League complex and pay for other recreation projects.

And according to Rees, the residents seem excited to make that happen.

 

Apopka

  • Population approximately 50,000.
  • Median Household Income $60,273.
  • 2017-18 fiscal budget $125-million
  • General Fund Budget $48-million
  • General Fund Reserves $8.6 million (20.3%).
  • Millage Rate 3.7876

Despite the city’s population surge, an increasing revenue base, promising economic development, and a positive national economy, Apopka Mayor Bryan Nelson does not see this as a season to splurge. His 2018 mayoral campaign stressed fiscal discipline, budget management, and a growth in general fund reserves, and with a resounding victory with over 63% of the votes, he believes he has the mandate to cut the budget and bring order back to spending which in his opinion was previously out of control.

“It is pretty simple. We can’t bond any “non-essential” items without raising taxes,” he said. “The other cities cited can. The splash pad will ultimately have a reoccurring expense of $50,000-100,000, which we begin to pay for this year and every year thereafter. Our budget is still out of balance by over $700,000, which must be rectified before October 1st.”

He also pointed out two major expenditures that Apopka is still paying for.

“We have a $60 million wastewater system going online this fall that we have bonded for but those payments are ultimately paid for by the wastewater customers of the city. We are also still paying on a 20-year bond for the Northwest Recreational Complex.”

Apopka City Commissioner Doug Bankson was also in favor of fiscal discipline in this current budget cycle but does believe Apopka’s time to invest in its progress will come soon once a platform of stability is built.

 “I have always been for building a successful future by making Apopka an attractive place to work, live, and play, and to build on a sustainable model. Rather than seeing advancement projects as non-essentials, these can be worthwhile investments once a proper foundation is laid. When it comes to larger projects I have always supported putting them before the public for a referendum, and am not opposed to bonding such larger projects if that is the will of the people.”
He also points out that Apopka has challenges at this time that Clermont, Winter Park, and Winter Garden do not.
 “It is also important to make sure we first look at our unique situation and do what is best for Apopka before simply doing what others have done. We actually were in a position of owning several properties that could have been used now for growth and expansion without having to bond out to purchase them. Unfortunately, we sold off the properties to balance the budget and now we must rebuild or borrow. When you have to sell assets to pay for other projects you are going backward while looking forward, and eventually, you will not have any more to sustain the pattern. This is where we find ourselves and must right the ship before taking on more water.”
Despite believing the 2018-19 fiscal budget should be a season to rebuild, Bankson does see future progress for Apopka on the horizon.
 “The good news is that we have an amphitheater that many of these other municipalities can only dream about, and with the downtown center moving forward we will see the further development of the 6th street promenade. We have room to grow and once stable can invest further in the North Shore project and Kelly Park Crossing. We will be able to take advantage of the 429 completion in just a couple short years and will be in the catbird seat for future development. With a little patience and fortitude, we will be able if desired to fund longer-term projects in a sustainable matter that will set us up for future growth and long-term success.”
 The 2018-19 Apopka Fiscal Budget process begins tomorrow with a 1:30 meeting at City Hall. Also on the budget calendar are City Council workshops scheduled to take place between July 10th-22nd, a proposed budget presented to the City Council and the tentative millage rate set before August 1st, the first reading and public hearing on September 12th, the second reading, second public hearing, and the adoption of the budget on September 26th, and the final budget published and presented on October 1st.

1 COMMENT

  1. ” a time to plant and a time to uproot”……I wish somewhere in that big thick budget book of our city, they would allow for the small- time money to uproot the cattails across the frontage of Dream Lake Park. I have sat there in the past, at the budget workshops, when they allowed money for annual flowers to dress up the park, but still no cattail removal. And I never did see any annual flower plantings there at Dream Lake Park after that. The boy scouts have built us this beautiful awesome bridge, and have repainted the picnic tables, and redid the pavers, but what has the city done to improve Dream Lake Park? All the other parks have been improved, or are in the process of getting new things…. The cattails are unsightly! They block the beautiful view of the lakeshore. Families can’t cast around and fish, for the cattails. We have stopped by there, and walked around, and I have watched men stop in with their fishing rods, to fish, and look around, and give up and leave. All it would take would be the city’s heavy equipment with the long arms, and snatch those weeds out of there, in hardly anytime, put them in a pile, as they are snatched out, and the claw trucks could load them up, and haul them away. How much would that cost? Very little! Again, I say there needs to be alligator and snake warning signs posted along the lakefront also. Yes, we Apopkans know that there are gators present, but we have tourists that visit our city, and it would be good policy to remind everyone of the dangers of the gators, and snakes to keep small children and pets away from the water’s edge. Mayor John Land, when he was in good health, always kept the lakeshore of Dream Lake Park clean and free from the grown up cattails all the way across. I haven’t had the time yet to look at the budget, but I hope there is something to improve Dream Lake Park frontage listed.

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