Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in The Apopka Voice as part of “The Budget Debates” series.
By Reggie Connell/Managing Editor of The Apopka Voice
The Budget Debates: Part Three – An open seat attracts four diverse candidates to replace Billie Dean. Will their vote tip the balance?
“I propose that the City Council develop a strategic plan to obtain a 25% fund in the next five years. We must protect the fiscal integrity of the city.”
Those were the words of six-term Commissioner Billie Dean at the October 18th City Council meeting that rekindled a debate about reserves in the City’s general fund. It’s not the first time Dean has been the catalyst of discussions on the Council, but with his retirement in 2018, his voice will not be a part of the next budget process.
So who will take his place? And do they share his opinions?
There are four candidates running for Seat #1 – Gene Knight, Suzanne Kidd, Theresa Mott, and Alexander Smith. Their views on the budget are almost as diverse as their backgrounds.
Knight is the founder of the popular local Facebook page “Apopka Then and Now”, and a longtime Apopka resident. Through the years, he has had his run-ins with the City and wants to make the City Council more accessible to the people of Apopka.
“I’ve had to fight to get things done like lighting, sidewalks, and trees taken down in certain areas,” he told The Apopka Voice at the beginning of his campaign in March. “You shouldn’t have to push the issues to get someone to take care of it. I want it to be that everyone matters and everyone’s voice matters. They (the City Council) are listening to us talk, but they’re not hearing us.”
He was present at the budget debate and says he favored Commissioner Doug Bankson’s approach.
“Commissioner Bankson ’s plan for the 25% reserve proposal is on the right track,” he said. “It’s something that the city needs, but it will take a few more workshops to work out the details. The reserve should be used for emergency purposes and not used for functions that the city can not afford or to meet in the budget.”
Kidd is a 16-year resident of Apopka and former 30-year public school teacher and has been an active participant in her homeowners’ association and Apopka civic affairs. She attends nearly every City Council meeting, Planning Commission meetings, budget workshops, and has served on numerous City committees, most recently chairing the City’s Visioning Steering Committee. She currently works with Habitat for Humanity to help provide more affordable housing to Apopka residents and teaches interior design to Habitat homeowners. She too was present at the budget debates but holds a contrasting opinion to Knight.
“The current discussion over what percent of expenditures should be held in reserves is a worthy exercise, but one that must be based on facts. Only through serious research and analysis of actual risks faced by the City, risks that reserves are intended to mitigate, can we arrive at a number that is right for Apopka. Without this step, it would be imprudent to simply propose some arbitrary percentage figure, hoping we hit the right mark. Such an analysis would be an important first step.”
Smith moved to Apopka in 1964 with his family and graduated from Apopka High School. He is a recently retired educator after being employed by Orange County Public Schools. After retirement, he became the Associate Pastor at New Life Missionary Baptist Church in Apopka. Like Knight, he would like to see more participation by the Apopka citizens in the process.
“It’s not about me,” he said. “Everyone has their agenda. I hear people in the audience at City Council meetings whispering to each other ‘what about what the people think?’ I want to be the people’s voice on City Council. My goal is to represent all of Apopka. As one person I cannot do it all myself. I would like to see more interest and better attendance at City Council meetings and community events.”
He also supports a 25% reserve but stops short of calling for budget cuts or millage rate increases.
Mott proposed a gradual increase in the general fund reserves.
“The City’s general fund reserves are not too high, nor too low,” said Mott. And yes, a two-month operating expense baseline is fine. In fact, The Government Finance Officers
Association’s (GFOA) standard for reserves is 16% and we are charting 18%. It’s Council’s responsibility to be great stewards of taxpayers’ finances. The 2018-19 budget workshops were in excess of 20 hours, which yielded an in-depth and transparent budgeting process. The 2018 budget is $124,672,709 for all funds, which represents an increase of $20,589,193 or 19.8% over the 2017 budget. I am extremely concerned about our financial sustainability, because of yearly budget increases. This leads me to aspire for 20% reserves over the next three years through budget cuts and re-appropriation of funds.”