No friend of change? It’s not looking for friends

No friend of change? It’s not looking for friends

Death, taxes and change are 21st century certainties

Opinion
By Suzanne Kidd
Like an ocean wave rolling relentlessly ashore, sifting and reshaping the sand beneath it, growth and change is inevitably and unmistakably transforming our City. Like everything else in our world, there are pluses and minuses to this reality. Consider this article a snapshot in time of how far we’ve come as a city and how far we have yet to go.

To anyone like myself who has lived through the incredible upheavals of the late twentieth century, and now the frenetic pace of the internet age, that adage from founding father Benjamin Franklin, “…in this world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes”, sounds staggeringly quaint. A lifetime of observation has led me to the inevitable conclusion that we must now add a third certainty to this truism…CHANGE. We cannot escape it for it permeates every facet of twenty-first-century life. Change, in and of itself, is neither good nor bad, it just is. Our reaction to change, however, how we shape it, is what makes it a positive or negative reality.

And nowhere does that reality apply any more starkly than here in our hometown of Apopka. New roads, commercial development, and residential communities are inexorably altering not just the physical landscape but also how we perceive our City and our place in it.

Last week’s opening of the SR 429 interchange at Kelly Park Road paves the way for Kelly Park Crossings, Apopka’s future northwest quadrant of employment, commercial, and residential hub. It holds the potential to bring tremendous economic development and tax revenues that will benefit the entire City. Likewise, the new Marden Road interchange at SR 414 has opened up Apopka’s southwest quadrant to residential and commercial projects that will support both the new Florida Hospital District and the East Shore (of Lake Apopka) District with its rapidly emerging eco-economy and eco-tourism focus.

In just the last three years, with the visionary guidance of this Mayor and Council, Apopka’s business and employment outlook has vastly improved. Fourteen new expanded or relocated businesses have passed through the City’s approval process to build new facilities. Highly diversified, they include industrial, manufacturing, warehousing and distribution, recycling, retail, high tech, and family services. The jobs these businesses are creating, plus increased staffing for Florida Hospital’s new facility, have expanded Apopka’s workforce by close to 1000 employees. This is truly positive change by any measure.

Then, too, these last three years have seen amazing growth in the residential sector. Since 2014, ten new housing communities, located throughout Apopka, have been approved and are now either completed or currently building. Three more are close to breaking ground, and another three are in various stages of the approval process. While single family homes still dominate the Apopka market, high-density housing like apartments and townhomes are increasingly comprising developers’ offerings. Thousands of new residents already call Apopka home. At just under 50,000 today, Apopka faces years of continued rapid growth ahead. Predictably, explosive growth places tremendous strains on city services and, consequently, on city budgets.

Having attended every budget workshop, the City has held over the last three years has made me keenly aware of our City’s herculean struggle to keep up with burgeoning demand. I’ve watched Mayor Kilsheimer, City staff, and Commissioners debate, and ultimately have to settle on half-measures, to deal with serious legacy issues in the delivery of city services. After years of the prior administration “kicking the can down the road,” this administration had no choice but to take immediate, and yes, costly, actions to deal with three acute needs.

First, an aging wastewater treatment plant, no longer able to keep up with the sewage loads of a population that had doubled in 15 years, was mandated by the State EPA to be rebuilt to twice its former capacity, at the cost of more than $50 million dollars. Construction is now ongoing.

Second, our police force hadn’t hired any additional officers in years due to chronic budget shortfalls, forcing our officer-to-1000-citizen ratio to a regional low of 1.97, well short of the Central Florida standard of 2.5. Every new police hire costs the City over $125,000 for salary, benefits and capital costs including police vehicle and all supporting equipment. Thankfully, through a combination of painful budget choices and a special Federal grant, the city was able to hire an additional 10 officers this fiscal year. But, our Department still needs twice that many to equal the level of service of our surrounding cities.

Third, our stellar ISO-1 rated fire department hadn’t been funded for more firefighters in 15 years. This despite our doubled population and a coverage area has now grown to 33 square miles, twice the size of Ocoee and Winter Garden. Consequently, for two years running, Council has been forced to dig deep, ignore the urgent staffing and equipment needs of the other City departments to build, staff and equip two additional fire stations at a cost of millions of dollars. Fire Station 5, scheduled to break ground next week at the Northwest Recreation Complex, required the hiring of 18 more firefighters and the purchase of fully-equipped fire engine and EMS ambulances. On top of this, the imminent opening of the new seven-story Florida Hospital in December has compelled the City to accelerate its timetable for bringing Fire Station 6 on line. Despite Florida Hospital supplying temporary quarters, the City was obligated to fund staffing and equipment needs right now, whether money was in the planned budget or not. The single required fire truck alone, called a “quint”, containing aerial devices capable of reaching the upper floors of the hospital, cost just under $1 million dollars fully equipped!

But, seriously, what choice does a responsible city, setting itself up for success, have? Apopka’s first duty is to protect the health, safety, and welfare of its citizens, so when adequate police and fire services are at stake, and millions of dollars in staffing and equipment needs are required, Council must, and did, make the hard and painful budget and funding choices to make it happen.

Lest you think (or hope) these needs-vs-revenue issues were a “one-off” this year, not to be repeated over and over in the coming years, you would be seriously mistaken. Budget workshops revealed that the City’s backlog of postponed needs is wide and deep. Until City revenues increase dramatically, our already strained City staff, struggling mightily under the crushing workload growth is bringing, making due with outmoded and inefficient equipment, coupled with our inability to keep up with urgent capital improvements, will continue to hold Apopka back. Hold us back from successfully competing for economic development with our neighboring SR 429 cities, Ocoee and Winter Garden. The day is coming when we will have to have a serious, “adults only” conversation with our City residents and businesses about how we deal with these chronic revenue shortfalls. Be assured that our surrounding cities are moving full speed ahead in funding their visions. As a city, we either embrace the coming changes, and their attendant costs or risk becoming irrelevant. Nothing less than our economic viability and quality of life are at stake.

Remember, CHANGE, in and of itself is neutral. It’s our reaction to it, our embrace or rejection of it that will determine Apopka’s future course. Let’s hope we make the right choice!

Suzanne Kidd is a former 30-year public school educator and design professional.  During her sixteen years as an Apopka resident, she has been an active participant in her homeowners’ association and Apopka civic affairs, attending City Council and Planning Commission meetings and serving on several City committees, most recently chairing the City’s Visioning Steering Committee.  She is currently involved with Habitat for Humanity in bringing affordable housing to Apopka.
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29 Comments

  1. Mama Mia

    Wow Sue, is there nothing you won’t do to try to get our property tax millage rate increased at the City of Apopka???????? I read in the Apopka Chief Newspaper that you were the ONLY citizen up there in front of the city council trying your darnest to get the council members to RAISE the property taxes on us…..let’s see, one citizen up there BEGGING for a tax increase out of how many citizens of Apopka, Sue???? …..just under 50,000 Apopka citizens?????? Not to mention your shouting and yelling at one council member last year who was doing the right thing by trying to hold the line steady on our Apopka property taxes!!!!!! It is all on audio go to Apopka.net check it out………..

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  2. Mama Mia

    If you are a citizen of Apopka and pay property taxes here in this town please be very acutely aware that there are those sitting on our city council, 3 that I am certain, and for sure, who have absolutely no problem with RAISING our property tax millage rate which will affect our property tax bill! If you don’t agree with that, I urge you to come to the Apopka City Council meetings and voice your concerns. You can voice your concerns at any Apopka City Council meeting during the public comment period, and you will have 4 minutes to speak. Lauren Ritchie, a journalist who writes for the Orlando Sentinel, recently had an article in the Orlando Sentinel about how local government leaders, when it is this time of year and setting millage rates. use every tactic in the book to holler the ol’ poor mouth and dire need talk trying to convince the citizens of their DIRE budget needs, or maybe I should say VOTERS instead of citizens…..Ms. Ritchie says, that we the citizens of our towns and counties have a DUTY to stand up to these tax- hungry elected officials, yes, she said it, not me, a DUTY to stand up against these property tax millage rate increases!!!!!!!!!!!!! Did you see the article Sue? I did, and I really wish I had of kept it and cut it out to take to the council and hand to them! Basically it is a old sing- song that the local officials use to get more money for them to play with…….sorry, as they don’t want to hear this……….

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  3. Mama Mia

    And don’t worry, Sue will be there before the city council trying to convince them to RAISE your property tax millage rates once again this year before the actual vote in September I believe……go to Apopka.net and you can find the date or read the Apopka Chief. Apopka Chief has reported that the property tax rate will stay the same, but be very careful there because that has been reported before and then they did raise the millage rate! They furnish the info to the Apopka Chief, after all………….

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    1. Peter Moore

      City’s cannot raise the millage rate after the tentative vote has taken place without a city-wide notice to all citizens. So you’d be personally notified.

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  4. Mama Mia

    Don’t take for granted or assume anything about these tax millage rates supposedly staying the same……because there are those on the council, and even not on the council, gunning for BIG increases! BE AWARE! I will say Sue wrote a beautiful well- worded article, my compliments Sue, but we DO NOT NEED a property tax increase! I don’t believe it will happen this year because it is election year, and they know that with the mayor and two council seats up for grabs they are very aware of making the voters angry…..LOL, but don’t let down the guard!!!!

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  5. Mama Mia

    Just compare the Bryan Nelson article appearing about the same time as Sue’s article here on the Apopka Voice…..for 28 years Orange Co. has kept the millage rate steady….if it were a heart rate being monitored it would be a flat-liner, how great is that?!!! Give them a rope, a leadway, to increase now, and there will be no stopping them, until they hang us, and I seriously believe that! I am not comparing Bryan Nelson and Mayor Kilsheimer, that is not my comparison at all, I am comparing Orange Co. steady millage rate, to Apopka’s which is not steady and in threat of being changed. The county millage is slightly higher than Apopka, 4.44 millage to Apopka’s 3.7876 but they have a lot more areas they cover than Apopka such as the jail, animal services, animal shelters, medical examiner…..and on and on…….this is what I am getting at, as I am not comparing who should be mayor at all. I am not going there!

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  6. Mama Mia

    I keep hearing about Apopka’s old police cars worn out, old equipment, old everything……when I go to our neighboring cities, I look around. I look at their police cars, their garbage trucks, their fire engines, and you name it as far as their assets, as far as vehicles……there is some extreme poor mouthing going on, and you all are not fooling me. I see some old old fire engines in other towns, old garbage trucks, older police cars…..and I am not speaking about this town of Apopka. Ours are nice! Don’t be deceived! For example I was riding behind one of our new garbage trucks just the other day heading south on Park Avenue. Don’t blindly believe everything you hear, look with your own eyes! Our fire engines are beautiful!

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  7. Mama Mia

    You can view the city’s budget as it is all online and can be brought up easily by going to Apopka.net. It is 700 plus pages, as well as how much the budget actually is. You can find everything you want to look at there, at Apopka.net. as well as the audios of the council meetings, budget workshops, special meetings, and planning meetings. There is no need for you to take time off from your daily routine to go in person, but if you want to share your views you really should attend the Apopka City Council meetings to voice your concerns that affect you, about ANYTHING that concerns you! The last time I checked they weren’t giving out gold stars for attendance to city meetings, budget workshops, planning meetings, vision meetings, etc…..LOL

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  8. Mama Mia

    Okay here are the dates for the official first public hearing for the property tax millage rate and budget on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017, at 5:01 p.m. and the final public hearing will be Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017, also at 5:01 p.m. These dates and times are listed in today’s Apopka Chief Newspaper. Please note they could change these dates and times, it is possible, so verify before you go……you will need to fill out a speaker card before the city council meeting starts with your name, address, if you are a city resident, and what you will be speaking about, and if you are for or against the property millage tax rate and when speaking up there before the council, whatever other comments you have regarding their setting the millage tax rate for property taxes, and what you personally think about how they are spending YOUR TAX MONEY. If you need direction on filling out a speaker card, just ask anyone there and you will be directed to the cards, and to turn them in to the city clerk before the council meeting starts. You will be allowed to speak for 4 minutes at the podium, and you state your name, address, and whether you are a citizen of the City of Apopka or not. I hope to see you there……….also if by chance you happen to be at work during the 5 p.m. time slot, and are working during the Sept. meetings, you can always go to the next Apopka City Council Meeting in the council chambers, the next one being Aug. 16th at 7:00 p.m. and voice your concerns at that council meeting during the public comment period….it doesn’t matter, tell them then what you think! About the budget, the millage rate, or ANYTHING ELSE that is important to you in this city!

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  9. David Rankin

    The same tired, old argument of “the prior administration kicking the can down the road”. Heck, if the prior administration had done such a poor job of running the city, how come it’s become a such desirable place to live and work. Further, I believe that it was the prior administration that accumulated strategic reserves that Mayor Kilsheimer likes to squander away on pet projects of no discernible value and a myriad of legal fees that are a monument to his incompetence.

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    1. Jim Graber

      This is really about atavistic wishes to return to the days when agriculture was king. We’re not that place anymore. The rural is giving way to the suburban and urban. The new sophisticates among us want a modern,hip place to do business,live and play. and are willing to pay more taxes to get it. One of the sad legacies of the Land administrations was the clinging to the past at the expense of what is to come. Now,that transition will be more abrupt and especially painful for those who love what was,and hoped it would never change.

      Reply
  10. Mama Mia

    Peter Moore, I hope you are right about that. I know that it is very difficult to change the tax millage rate once it is tentatively set, but I don’t know if it is impossible or not. I know there are time restrictions to deal with, publication notifications, and public hearings, but hey, do I trust them……?????

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  11. Mallory Walters

    I would like to remind Suzanne Kidd that the current growth is due to nothing but the economic recovery. And the amount of build able acres inside of the city that was a result of the PREVIOUS administration annexing that land into the city limits. Yes, we need more fire stations NOW. But only because current landowners are seeing the economic opportunity in selling to developers. Developers are seeing the opportunity to build only because of a market recovery as well as vacant land. Spending money on a fire station before there is a need is is not fiscally responsible. All of the growth that Apopka is seeing is NOT because of prior or current administration’s. It has everything to do with economic opportunity. Our previous needs to be given credit for SOMETHING! You cannot take credit for everything that has happened. Let’s face it….. Have you seen any new commercial development other than owners rehabbing current properties and getting new restaurant tenants. Tijuana Flats has eyed this Are for a long time but with no vacant commercial space available, they could not open in Apopka. Other than Highland Manor, the city has not had to subsidize these businesses to develop or open. So stop the whining about the previous administration. Our taxpayer money needs to go to infrastructure and not some Tah Mahalo built to say ‘look what I did’…. And I am sure that some will only see this article as a pat on the back for Joe. Could not have gotten a better free political advertising than this.

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  12. Fannie

    Here is the BIG question…What attracted thousands of citizens to Apopka? I have actually heard that it was the small town atmosphere…low mileage rates…affordable homes, etc. Our previous administration’s vision was responsible for those things.

    Most of the improvements we see, have been in the works for many years(these things could not be accomplished in 3 short years).

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  13. Mama Mia

    Yeah, the talks about the previous administration did this, and didn’t do that, and the” on and on talk”…..it does get very old, I agree! If Fire Station 5, and now 6 were needed, then why did the Apopka City Council allow a wealthy developer to get over 6 million dollars from city funds paid back toward his ramp that he was going to build anyway? That would have went a long, long way toward the fire station goals of building them, hiring, and equipment! Why does the city continue giving away money to non-profits? Why do the city council members continue globe-trotting around the country at TAX PAYER EXPENSE? These vacations are not doing anything for our residents. And why are they selling us short when they sell our assets of prime real estate for very little per acre? Doesn’t make sense, then some of them are ready, willing and eager to raise our property taxes. Don’t forget the special tax districts that they have already created by drawing a border around them to get more taxable values on those areas……..and raised the water, sewer, reuse water rates too, plus all kinds of extra fees on utilities, cut ons, cut offs, and fees we never even had before! I’ll call it going for the jugular vein…..give the old hunting dog a taste of blood and he will never back down!

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  14. Mama Mia

    I honestly can’t say that I am impressed with those round-abouts out there on Marden Road either, frankly they are ridiculous…..what a waste of concrete and money, and was that city money too that was used for them? I think so, but don’t know for sure…….just wait until the thugs run their stolen cars around those round-abouts out there on Marden…..OMG

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  15. Mama Mia

    As far as the splash pad bid dispute, I feel very badly for Mr. Ryan Fitzgerald. Something just not right there, after listening to both contractors speaking, council members, and Mr. Irby…….I don’t understand it, but the first go round the bids were asked for, there ended up NO bids. Second attempt to get bids…. Then for Mr. Fitzgerald to have placed the lower bid, placed in on time, and then for the other company to get awarded the work, when that bid was placed late, and at a much higher bid cost ( $ 146,000 or so more at least) it sure seems odd to me! Commissioner Bankson cannot be blamed because his family member works for the other company that bid late, and who also happens to be his next door neighbor, as he did abstain from voting……. People really should not be questioning Mr.Fitzgerald, as to his work or professionalism, HOW RIDICULOUS! It is a shame the way things are being ran here in this city, as this should of never happened! My opinion!

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  16. Mama Mia

    Also so many people in this town that live here, or that used to live here in this town, and had sentimental connections or memories with the Highland Manor home, which is the former Dr. McBride’s home, don’t even realize that the Highland Manor home is not owned by the city anymore, and that the city center development company owns it, and will control its fate. I still see people posting about what to use the home for, and what the city could still do with it. It has been said that it will remain as a restaurant and special event venue. Let’s hope so, because the city DOES NOT own the home now, it was sold in a sneaky fashion. They sold the land, and said that they would come back at a later date and determine what to do with the home, whether to move it, or tear it down, as the company who bought the property said they definitely didn’t want the home……..later the developer later said they did want the home, and agreed to incorporate it into the city center plans……????????? meanwhile people were suggesting everything under the sun as to what to do with the home, and the city even had said at one point that the house could be moved out on the lobe where the old oak tree sits out in the pond there?????? then it was indicated the home was going to be moved to Station St. or Dream Lake Park????? Why do I bring this up now????? Go figure……LOL

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  17. James1958 Collins

    So much bull, this is not why we moved here 34 years ago, this city administration doesn’t care about the citizens that have lived here for years , all they want to do is build and tax, the old administration added land to this great City, and tax base keeping the taxes low bringing in new residents. Not spending money unless it was needed,

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  18. Mama Mia

    The eco- tourism around Lake Apopka that is being pushed by the City of Apopka is a nice thought however, but SJRWM used to have a sign posted at Clay Island where you could park and walk around Lake Apopka, that stated that the chemicals used around the lake for years could be a hazard to your health just being out there, and also posted was a warning about checking with the FWC hunting regulations before you walk out there as duck hunting goes on in the lake and around the edges of Lake Apopka during duck season. I brought this up at a city council meeting and SJRWM’s representative called me and had a resolution for my complaint…….REMOVE THE SIGN! I swear, I am telling the truth…. Also not to mention the big alligators roaming the banks of the Wildlife Loop that can eat your small kids and pets as you walk around out there, or bike out there! I would not feel safe walking around out there, or in a canoe, or small paddle type boat or paddle board either, and the wind out there can come up out of nowhere, so suddenly, and there will be white caps out there……and you could be in serious trouble in a small boat!

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  19. Mama Mia

    I understand the Apopka City Council is going to ban the medical marijuana shops. I had already figured that they would extend the moratorium that runs out at the end of this month…..but they are going to take it a step further, and just ban them altogether. I know exactly what it is all about. I am certain. Apopka City Council is scared of Attorney General Jeff Beauregard Sessions and they know how freaky he is about any form of marijuana. Sessions didn’t have any problem at all with the KKK, until he found out that a lot of their members liked their weed, and then he had a problem with them, because he says anybody that does marijuana ain’t no good……yes, Apopka City Council is scared stiff! Afraid of Jeff Sessions, and that Sessions will send in the feds on this town if they pass the medical marijuana shops…..that’s all there is to it! Afraid they might be carted off to Gitmo in handcuffs!!!! Federal law trumps Apopka law, so say the feds…..fed law says weed ain’t legal……..LOL

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  20. Mama Mia

    I didn’t receive my Orlando Sentinel yesterday, I don’t know why, but it never was delivered, so I called and I got it this morning, along with the today’s Sentinel. I see Apopka is in the news again, in yesterday’s paper and today’s paper too. Sunday article about the fire stations being built with a photo of Apopka Fire Chief Carnesale and behind him is one of the beautiful fire engines I told you we have. Do you all see a raggedy old fire engine?…….I sure don’t! Page B3 Sunday, Aug. 6, 2017 Orlando Sentinel………

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  21. Mama Mia

    Today’s front cover of the Orlando Sentinel, page A1, Monday, Aug. 7, 2017, shows a photo of the sitting Mayor John H. Land statue and the article about the 2 statues that will soon be ready to be placed in Apopka. At the last council meeting Mayor Kilsheimer was talking about them and said that the statues represent the first public art project. I am not so sure I agree with him on that statement, because we already had the big fern pot sculpture made of metal, and cement on the lawn of the Apopka City Hall. We already had the art mural at the Apopka Elementary School hanging on the wall in different frames, a mural on the wall of the Dream Lake School I heard about, but have not seen, all the previous Apopka Art and Foliage Festivals that have purchased artwork from artists that participated in the festival, we have already had art displays at City Hall for a long time, and some of their works of art have been purchased with city public funds, I do believe, and we had a mural painted on the side of the old Goodyear Tire business a long time ago that was painted by a lady…….if that counts, even though it was on a private business, we even had Mayor John H. Land’s glass head on a pedestal that used to be to the right as you came into the Apopka City Hall glass door entrance……..so I guess I just don’t consider the statues the representation of the “first” public art project…..what do you all think about what the mayor said?????

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  22. Mama Mia

    This brings up my next question….where is former Mayor John H. Land’s glass head????? It used to sit on a pedestal right there to the right as you entered the city hall…..and disappeared shortly after Mayor K took office. Anybody know where is his glass head? Did the piece go back to the artist? Did it go back to the family of Mayor Land? Is it in a storage closet at city hall? OMG, where is his head????!!!!!!

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