The Orange County Budget: Part Three
By Bryan Nelson
Orange County commissioner, District 2
What do the Oakland Nature Preserve, Bike/Walk Central Florida and the town of Eatonville’s annual Martin Luther King parade have in common? All are financially supported by Orange County.
Indeed, as Central Florida’s largest government, Orange County is an important partner for organizations, initiatives and industries all across our region.
One of our most important partnerships is with the tourism industry, the biggest piston in our economic engine. For instance, Orange County’s 2017-18 budget includes more than $30 million for capital improvements to the Orange County Convention Center – renovations that will help keep it the leading destination in the country for group meetings.
Just how important an engine is the convention center? Well, this year, it’s hosting more than 180 events that together will generate an economic impact of $2.4 billion. And that’s expected to grow in the 2017-18 fiscal year to more than 200 events and a $2.6 billion economic impact.
We support the convention center through Orange County’s Tourist Development Tax, budgeted at $244.8 million and is charged on hotels, motels and other short-term rentals. And the more events the convention center hosts, the more tourist tax that is raised. That creates additional money for other community assets, from the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts to a host of smaller theaters, museums and artistic programs across the county. We also provide $5 million for sports-related marketing such as bowl games and All-Star events.
Similarly, we also invest tourism tax dollars in Visit Orlando, which markets our region to tourists and business travelers around the world. This is smart spending: State economists recently found that every $1 dollar spent on tourism promotion generates $2.50 in new tax revenue, creating more money for our local needs.
Another key partnership with we have is with Lynx, the region’s bus agency. While an improving economy and lower fuel prices are good news for most of us, they’re a bit of a double-edged sword for Lynx, which doesn’t have its own dedicated funding source. That’s because when more people have jobs and they’re spending less to fill up their gas tanks, fewer chose to ride public transit. Lynx is also providing more door-to-door services to passengers with disabilities and others who are considered “transportation disadvantaged,” driving up its costs. So Orange County is stepping up to help fill the gap by increasing our annual contribution to Lynx by 3.5 percent – to a total of $45 million.
We’re also supporting transit alternatives in other ways. The county’s current year budget included the final payment for the southern extension of SunRail. And the 2017-18 budget includes more than $15 million for pedestrian-safety improvements – including a study looking at potential pedestrian upgrades along Rock Springs Road between Sandpiper Street and Faye Street.
Here’s a smaller, but just as vital, partnership: the Legal Aid Society of Orange County, which provides legal services to low-income residents. Just this year, staff and pro bono attorneys working through the society have provided civil legal assistance to more than 14,000 new clients – primarily in family, consumer, housing and public benefits law, as well as through the Guardian ad Litem Program. To support this value service, Orange County will increase its support for Legal Aid by another $250,000 in fiscal 2017-18 – to a total of more than $1 million.
Our budget includes funding for a host of important projects around the county. One that may be of particular interest to us Apopkans: The Orange County Library System’s $44 million budget funding to expand the parking lot and convert the septic system to sewer at the North Orange branch right here in Apopka, at the corner of Semoran Blvd. and Thompson Road.
We’re also going to be starting work on a badly needed new shelter for Animal Services, which set a record with more than 8,300 adoptions last year. Our budget includes $4 million to design a new air-conditioned facility that will be built on Animal Services’ existing property, plus another $300,000 for spay/neuter clinics.
Of course, this is just a sampling of the projects and services we’re funding in our budget. If you should have any questions about these expenses, or any others, please don’t ever hesitate to contact my office at firstname.lastname@example.org.