Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a five-part series about Apopka Mayor-Elect Bryan Nelson entitled “The First 100 Days”. The series will outline the expected path Nelson will take in his first 100 days in office. What are his priorities? How will he lead Apopka? What will the budget look like under a Nelson administration? How will he handle the City staff and who will his department heads be?
Part Four: Definitive budget cuts and interactive budget workshops?
As was stated in part three of this series, Apopka Mayor-Elect Bryan Nelson ran his campaign stressing budget reform and fiscal responsibility. But with the current unknown state of the budget, unexpected expenses, and certain campaign promises made by Nelson, this could pose a long-term formidable challenge.
How will Nelson recoup the lost revenue (estimated to be between $700,000-$900,000 annually) when the red light cameras are turned off? How will he increase general fund reserves (his proposal was to add $1-million per year)? What about the unexpected expenses of water meters ($14-million according to Nelson), and a replacement fire truck ($1-million according to Nelson)? How can budgets both upcoming and in the future balance with these imminent liabilities or additions?
Nelson isn’t sure what his approach will be until he sees where the current budget stands.
I don’t know exactly what will happen until we see the financials,” Nelson said. “We haven’t seen any since September 2017.”
But although Nelson does not have a clear picture of where he stands leading up to the next budget, there are a few things he knows will be coming off for the fiscal year 2018-19.
“‘Begins and Ends with an A’ is cut. The symphony is cut.”
Nelson is referring to a Kilsheimer initiative called “Apopka Begins and Ends with an A” and a City sponsored event called “Symphony Under the Stars”.
“Apopka Begins and Ends with an A” was a program designed to help local schools improve their state-based grades through a technique of facilitating the activities of Community Action Teams (CATs). The CAT teams discuss issues at their specific schools and seek solutions to those issues. The City partnered with The City of Life Foundation to put the program into action. In January of 2017, the City Council approved a $35,000 payment to City of Life to administer the program. Duke Energy also contributed $9,500.
In May of 2017, The City of Apopka hosted an event called Symphony Under the Stars, featuring a concert performed by the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra. Nelson plans to cut that event, but also wants to reform the way the City conducts and attracts events to Apopka.
“If we come up with sponsors for these events and it could cost us zero or it was only $2500-$5000 that’s one thing, but we’re not budgeting a $75,000 loss. That’s crazy.”
He also has ideas on how to better utilize events coming to the Amphitheater at the Northwest Recreation Facility.
“I don’t mind giving an event the venue, but we’re not paying them for a loss. I also think we are looking at events backward. The more people the event attracts, the more we charge them. That should be opposite. To me, the more audience you have… the more inclusive your event is… the less you should pay. If you have an event that attracts 10,000 people, that’s more valuable to me than an event that only draws 1,000.”
“One of the things I’d like to do is have a monthly expenditures chart so we know each month what we’ve spent. Also, publish anything I’ve spent each month too. We did this at the County Commission and I was always the lowest. The people will be proud of my spending habits.”
He also wants to cut spending from the Mayor’s Office.
“I want to bring down the mayor’s $20,000 discretionary spending budget. I want to bring that way down. It shouldn’t be that way. It will be different. There are reasons you need it, for immediate emergency needs, but mostly it should come through the Council. The way it is now is just a slush fund we have to get rid of.”
Budget workshops to be more interactive
For the past four years, the Apopka City Council has met in July three or four times for a total of 20-25 hours to work on the fiscal budget for that year. In a workshop format, the Council goes over the budget line-by-line until they reach the end. The City Council, Finance Director, and City Administrator works with each department head, listens to presentations by them, reviews their proposed budgets, and then makes decisions on what stays and what goes in the budget. The workshops are public events, but do not allow any public comments, or interaction with the process as it is happening.
But that may change under Nelson.
“If they (the residents in attendance) have a question or a suggestion about the budget, I definitely want their input. What I’d like to do is give those interested in interacting a postcard or an index card and have them put their question or suggestion there… input through written questions by the public. We will try to answer the question right there or will get the answer for you.”
And whether it be residents, department heads, the Finance Director, the City Administrator, the City Commission, or the mayor, Nelson has a motto for them as it applies to added expenditures to the budget.
“The challenge going forward is if someone wants something that costs money, tell me what you are willing to give up… because right now we are in deficit. We have to save money, and so what are you going to cut to get the project or program you want?
For Friday: In part five of “The First 100 Days”, we conclude the series with Nelson’s views on the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), when he will turn off the red light cameras, and how big a shakeup will there be among department heads.