Opinion/Analysis

By Reggie Connell/Managing Editor of The Apopka Voice

Apopka City Council meetings are sometimes a lot like a professional basketball game. Despite the plot twists and turns, the result usually comes down to the final few minutes. And in the case of the July 5th budget workshop/meeting which lasted over four hours, that was indeed the case.

After listening to a comprehensive overview of the proposed budget by City Administrator Edward Bass, and then by department heads, the City Council gave their first observations and suggestions on how to square this budget proposal that he says is still $800,000 from balancing.

Bass gave the Council four options at the closing of his proposal and outlined how they might be implemented:

  • Increase the millage rate

“When you talk about balancing the budget, and like I said we are still about $800,000 from doing that, we looked at how we get to a zero balance, Bass said. “Nobody likes to bring this to the table ever, but the millage rate is something you can work with. That is something you have in your powers and control.”

Bass also pointed out that if the Council proposed a millage rate change, the proposal should be an increase, because it is easier to lower a proposed rate change than to increase it at a later meeting.

  • Continue the red light camera program

“The red light camera program is only in this budget through December 31st (2018),” Bass said. “So there’s $800,000-$900,000 probably that we’ve taken out (for 2019) because we are removing those cameras. Keep in mind as Chief McKinley (Apopka Police Chief Michael McKinley) said we don’t have enough officers to enforce those intersections the way they are done now.”

  • Cut the budget additionally

“I think you see that we really worked hard to be a bare bones budget,” Bass said. “We want to make sure everyone was able to operate and maintain its level of service. Would we like to do more? Absolutely, but in order to balance the budget, this is where we are.”

  • Utilize the general fund reserves

“At the end of the day, we can always use reserves,” said Bass. We would recommend you not go there unless you have a large capital item earmarked for the future, but we don’t want to go there now because we are trying to get out and balance the budget without using reserves.”

Commissioner Doug Bankson went through the four options but arrived at the one he believed made the most sense.

“I think we’ve cut to the bone. All the departments have worked hard to cut away what can be put off until next year. So we can scratch that line. Use of reserves, again, only for an emergency at this point until we have a healthy level, so scratch that line. That leaves a millage rate increase or red light cameras. Obviously, the red light camera program is an emotional issue and I personally don’t like them. But looking at the bigger picture and because we did go through this last year and extended that program as opposed to a┬ámillage rate increase. Keep in mind that a quarter mill is going to put us at 4.0376% and that only gets us $775,000. It’s close to the amount we need, but not quite the amount. It’s also important to know that annexation is a big part of our growth, and the Orange County millage rate is 4.048%, so when we get closer to their number, and literally to hit this $800,000 number we’re going to have to be at the same number… so why would someone in the county want to annex into the city? We’re automatically losing revenue that could be coming into the city. So I think that’s a number we really need to keep in mind that we want to keep far away from so it’s an advantage to annex into the city of Apopka. So millage rate is something you never want to do politically, but if we’re in a dangerous situation where we have to recoup I understand, as long as we can go back down later… which leaves us with red light cameras. I know that was something during the campaign, but let me break this down…everyone I have talked to after I laid out the facts has agreed to keep them except one person. First of all, these aren’t tax dollars. If the red light cameras go away it will come out of the taxpayer’s pocket or we will have to cut services. These revenues are coming in from infractions, and 70% of them are from out of town drivers. Again, there are different studies out. Some say it doesn’t reduce incidents, others say it does, but from our numbers and from my observations, it is something that is making us safer. The bottom line is we’re here to accomplish the will of our citizens within the rule of law. And if our citizens overwhelmingly, when they know the facts, say they want the red light cameras gone, then we are obligated to uphold their will. I’m fine with that. But as we lay this out, as we get information out to the public and they really weigh-in, then rather than this being an emotional response, it’s an educated decision.”

Commissioner Alice Nolan, who earlier brought up the idea of phasing out the end of the red light camera program instead of pulling a large income stream from the budget, agreed with Bankson’s assessment.

“I know there’s a strong group that doesn’t like them, but if we get the education out on red light cameras, I think it would help. I know since I took my seat I have gotten an overwhelming amount of emails and phone calls of people stating how much they like them, which is a lot different than what I had heard on the campaign trail. I don’t know why it flipped so much, and it’s weird how that happened, but I did challenge people when I was on the campaign trail to prove me wrong, and as much as I could find good, I found bad. And so I personally think that we should consider keeping them and build up our revenues and make the decision to get rid of them later. That is a big item in our revenue base that we would be taking out, and that is hard to do. I think going through during an election season and asking isn’t the best way. When things are calm is when we should ask. There are a lot of things this city wants. The kids want a skate park, others want more festivals and things like that. If they knew 70% of the revenues came from people outside the city, they might just want to keep them around. I’ll go with what the citizens want. I just see this as our best option at the moment.”

Mayor Bryan Nelson, who was also an opponent of red light cameras during the election, offered an alternative for squaring the budget.

“Apopka is making the transition from a bedroom community to a vibrant city where you want to live, work and play. We’ve had so much residential for so many years, but we’re starting to make the transition to more commercial, but right now we’re still residentially-heavy. So one of the things I’m going to look at is the cost of services per house because it doesn’t matter the size of the house, the services are basically the same, so at some point, we are giving more services than the ad valorem taxes rate we are charging. We will have to look at that as we go forward. With all that said, my recommendation is, and only because as Edward (Bass) said we can go down easier than we can go up… My suggestion is that we put in a quarter point ad valorem tax increase. At least we set it in motion so that we can come back with our ducks in a row, look at what we’re going to do with the red light cameras, or ad valorem tax increase and continue to look at the budget, but if everybody can agree we can put it into motion.”

Commissioner Kyle Becker not only agreed with Nelson’s suggestion, he doubled-down on the strategy.

“Because the idea is we can come back later and go down on the millage rate, we should do a half mill, because the quarter mill doesn’t even get us to a balance. If that’s the philosophy, this allows us the opportunity to potentially put economic development back into play and we can start coming up with the sizzle-thing within our city outside of just great services. It also allows us the opportunity to start putting money back into the reserve balance which gets us back to a level playing field.”

Bankson, who had proposed the red light camera program as the best way to balance the budget, was also comfortable with the proposed millage rate increase because of the security it could potentially provide.

“As long as I know that we’re going to put the safety back in place, that we are going to put policies in place that will keep us safe and sound moving forward, I’ll be much more comfortable to give us that room to keep us moving forward.”

And before the meeting was adjourned, Nelson did see light at the end of the budgetary tunnel.

“The good news is by 2020 we’ve got the debt service coming down by a million dollars. We’ve got a two year kind of struggle ahead, but then the sunshine should come out.”

19 COMMENTS

  1. What would the city budget generate if the 3 percent merit raises were froze all the way across the board for everyone, for this upcoming fiscal year, plus ax the salary study they want to do? How much would be saved by axing the salary study? Since according to the new city administrator, in the Apopka Chief Newspaper today, he indicates that he believes the city has hired too many employees, too quickly, in the last two years, mostly public safety employees, 28 of them, that was financed by depleting the city reserves, and he indicates that shouldn’t have been done…. maybe this would be an answer, as the city employees are paid a very good salary currently. All of them, compared to other cities. This would be a much better solution than laying off employees, like many of the other cities do. No one wants to see that happen. There are many cities who have had to freeze salaries to save jobs. Social Security people don’t get 3 percent raises every year. I thought myself, like Mr. Bass, that there were too many new employees being hired not very long ago. I am glad they are onboard, but every time I looked at the city website, or the news, there were groups getting their photos made and being welcomed on board.

  2. I don’t think most citizens would get bent out of shape if the millage rate was raised a tiny bit to help such as a quarter mill, or a half mill, but when I sat at the city council meetings and listened to some of the council members, like last year, at budget time, start quoting these really high millage rates from other cities here in Central Florida, I can see they are gunning for BIG increases, and it is a tradition in our city to keep the property taxes at a reasonable rate. Why can’t we, with all this growth bringing in more revenues with good management? Mayor Nelson needs to get rid of the red light cameras as soon as he can, which I believe is Dec. He campaigned on this promise, and if he backtracks on that promise….uh uh uh, SMH. He also said he was not going to even consider raising taxes. So there you have it.

  3. It looked like to me, this city was headed for bankruptcy, if it had continued on the course it was heading. I hope things will work out for the best. There needs to be transparency on all the issues of city finances, and no misleading the public, on anything. No one, it seemed could give the exact numbers as to how much the city had in it’s various funds, and reserves. So many conflicting figures!…..and I think there has been too much buying costly expense vehicles, sometimes where they really aren’t needed. I hope this trend is halted, as it has been Christmas in July, for too long for the department heads at the city, getting their wants, instead of their needs. Well, I am going to stop now, because I know I am a very hated person! I can assure the council members that it is not good policy to flip- flop on an issue, that you made a big part of your campaign with promises in order to get elected!

  4. In my house and business we cut expenses inorder to make our budget work. Brian you told me personally face to face and shook my hand on removing red light cameras

  5. I think Mayor Nelson needs to explain his “squaring off the budget” by his proposal to examine the per house costs for services rendered. Just what services is the mayor talking about? We pay the same rate as any other city resident for our water, sewer, garbage, and re-use water, if available. If a city ambulance is called here to our home, we pay the same as any other city resident, except for the actual mileage from our home to the hospital, but the mileage cost is set the same. And as far as police patrols, they are all around the city everywhere anyway. But it costs far more gas going way out to the outskirts of the city, the outer limits of the city, for a police call, than right here in the downtown area….Are we going to get a credit for being closer to the police department, than say someone on the outer limits of the city? And as far as the city’s ad valorem millage rate, it is the same rate, whether you have a very expensive home, or a lower valued home, it is the value that you pay for. So a more valuable home would pay more property taxes, and a lower valued home less property taxes. So why do you want the people with the lower valued homes to ante up more money for “services provided”….what is this, some kind of sick “poor folks tax” in reality? The lower valued homes will not get the benefit of the tax break, if voter approved in Nov. either. Same old, same old, the rich get richer, the poor get poorer….what about the non-ad valorem taxes we pay for storm water, and we don’t have any storm water street drains around here on our street. Are we going to get a credit due back to us for that? Sorry, but everybody in Apopka doesn’t live in the Taj Mahal or Mar A Lago- like homes. We don’t even have re-use water available to us, and when we have to use more water for watering, it drives the sewer usage fees up more on our water bill. That doesn’t happen to the residents in the newer homes that are connected to re-use water. Are we going to get credit on our water bill for that, for those of us in the city, who don’t have re-use water available? God, I wish Mayor Land was still living, and still mayor here in this city. He wouldn’t have been conjuring up how to stick it to the lower- valued homeowners. Mayor K was out of control, and now I am beginning to seriously wonder about Bryan with this idea of his. And what about the tax rolls of the people here in Apopka who don’t pay ANY ad valorem taxes at all? The wholly ones….and some of them are not low valued homes either, but big expensive homes….Are they going to have to pay the piper too? I think this is nothing but opening a can of worms.

  6. Where was the money before the red light camera program. Did he not campaign to get rid of the cameras and not raise taxes. Another politician with false promises.

  7. The Red Light Cameras must go as was promised by Mayor Nelson before he got elected. Many of us voted for him because of that.

  8. Where is the audio that is suppose to be posted on last Thursday’s budget workshop? I waited to see the film reel icon posted on the agenda that indicates it is posted. Well, I tried 3 different browsers, and all it states on there, is the video is not available. Well, the video is never available anyway, as they don’t do the live stream video like in other cities, although they have talked about it. What they do have normally is the audio recordings to listen to. So where is the recorded audio that is suppose to be there, since the icon is posted? Do they not want the citizens to listen to the budget discussions at Apopka.net?

  9. Where is the posted audio for the budget workshop of last Thursday’s meeting? The film reel icon is now posted, and I have tried 3 different browsers, and there is nothing there to listen to. Do they not want us to hear the discussions of the long budget workshop at Apopka.net? I posted this, and submitted it, but I don’t know where that posting went….maybe lost in cyber space?

  10. My suggestion for balancing the city budget is this: Do what Mayor Nelson promised, before he was elected, on his campaign trail, and get rid of the red- light cameras in Dec. which is the earliest that he could end the contract, since it is under contract with the ATS company. That would still give the city about $300,000 until Dec. as the city administrator said he wasn’t figuring the red light camera revenue in after Dec in the budget. He wasn’t planning on depending on the camera revenue after that, for the budget. Next, go ahead and pass a quarter- mill, but no more, as the mayor said he wasn’t going to raise taxes before the election. That is a very small increase. Also, get rid of the proposed salary study. If the salary study indicates that the employees should make more…..does the city have the money to pay more out to them? No, they do not! If the salary study indicates the employees are making too much, is the city going to cut their salaries?….no, they shouldn’t! In that case, they could freeze the 3 percent merit pay across the board, to all the city employees, and have a lot more for the budget, but that would irk the employees. So why spend unnecessary money on a salary study? It just eats up needed money, and probably isn’t cheap, as all these studies are costly. It hasn’t been that long ago, since they had one conducted. I believe a study like that was conducted when Mayor K came in and had one done. The quarter- mill increase would raise $775,000, although I truly don’t like raising taxes on the citizens, but I understand the city budget is in a mess, and it looks that way to me, with the reserves so low. So only if is it is truly necessary and no other way to make it right. Which would still keep the millage rate below Orange County’s millage to encourage annexation, which would generate more revenue. The shortfall of balancing the budget is $733,000. So what is the problem? Also ax several of the new vehicles from the budget. And ax all travel out of state, for the council, and for these fun fire and police contests, that aren’t training necessary, or unless a city council member is traveling to receive some big grant money, but I don’t foresee that happening. And anyway, if they did get grant money, they would probably just send it back, so it seems!!! But just because someone offers a grant, the city has to match money, and the money that is required, is usually a lot, sometimes so much required, that I wonder why they even do some projects with grants. I don’t think the city council should set the millage rate at a half-mill initially, with the intentions of lowering it later, to a quarter- mill, because I don’t believe that would happen!!!! I don’t think they would come back around and lower it. There will be more money coming in as property values go up, annexations happen, and growth brings commercial building. Don’t worry be happy! And we don’t need a skate park, period!

  11. I think the impact fees should be raised some too. They off-set money that our city citizens would have to pay through increased property taxes. The only problem is though, like in the past, is that the company that did the study in the past, to study the impact fees, they also did the water, sewer, re-use water rate study, at the same time…maybe it was garbage too, not sure. The city council, that was in elected office there then, then went crazy and raised the water rates on us for 5 consecutive years in a row, and it compounds big time, and they actually sat up there, and lowered some of the impact fees, that had already been in place on some homes for YEARS!!!….#!$S!%^*!!!! $800 plus dollars impact fee per home, that they let vanish with their votes, but went up on our citizens on water rates with their same uncaring votes!!! And guess what? None of those city council members, that voted that way, that I told you about in the above, are no longer sitting on city council currently!!! Amen…..

  12. Bring the budget in balance to the amount that was needed to ‘run this city’ back to 2014….since then SPENDING went up….without ANY regard to this cities taxpayers and UTILITY users…NO REGARD at all….that is why there are NEW faces in many places….and the CUTS need to be done ..not raise taxes….CUT SPENDING….imo

  13. Any time that traffic fines are considered part of the normal budget revenues, that creates what amounts to ticket quotas to maintain the revenue levels. But ticket quotas and enforcement for revenue are 100% wrong – 100% of the time. Residents must DEMAND that the cameras be taken down as promised by the mayor.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  14. Mama Mia, I too wish Mayor land was here. He stated many times, “I won’t balance the budget on the backs of the employees.” That is in the current bare bones budget. Reduce available pay increases. You will find your way to unions, and very upset employees. Also, you are uneducated as to the amount of money the “well paid” city employees make. I suggest YOU compare this second largest municipality in Orange County, to other cities. Lastly, as far as the red light cameras go, we’re talking about fining people who DONT STOP AT RED LIGHTS. Are we seriously debating this? People who dont stop at red lights get fined, not people who do. Its an elective tax. Just stop at red lights. We are angry that our city fines those who run red lights, and people take exception to this?

    • CD, Save me the research, since I am, as you state, “uneducated” as to the amount of money the well- paid Apopka city employees make, compared to other cities….yes, save me the time looking it up. Tell me exactly, which Central Florida cities you are referring to, to compare Apopka employee salaries to the others cities you refer to? I will look it up, if I can find the info.

  15. CD, Something in your response to me above, indicates that you may just be a city employee??? LOL. Look, if you are for the red light cameras, fine, but Mayor Nelson CAMPAIGNED on removing them, and at the Highland Manor during his opening speech at the mayor’s debate, he immediately when given the opportunity to speak, he said something to the nature of ” that’s easy, because I will GET RID OF THE RED LIGHT CAMERAS” and he shouted it out to the audience! And was greatly applauded! So he should vote to remove them, per his campaign promise, as well as the other two new commissioners who promised the same, as Mayor Nelson did. They should vote no, also, on the red light camera contract extension.

  16. CD, Well as far as the City of Apopka, if you think that, they don’t make enough pay in their salaries, as compared to other cities or counties, afraid of too much turnover of employees leaving for greener pastures, just look at WFTV channel nine news today, and you will see that Seminole County firefighters keep leaving to go to higher paid jobs, south, so the article says, where ever south means, ????, and the news story indicated that Seminole County Commission had raised their taxes on their citizens to fund the fire department….so there, Apopka does not have a problem with employees leaving, no, Apopka has a problem with the administration hiring too many employees, at least, the last administration, in too short a time frame. I haven’t heard of anyone leaving their jobs in Apopka because of low pay.

  17. Mama Mia, I see why no one likes you. Thanks for supporting the employees that make your city run so nicely. Im not getting sucked into your wormhole and start a tit for tat conversation. Every story posted on here gets about 23 responses from you. You say I am a city employee, I say you are divorced or retired (my guess is both) and have nothing else to do then splatter your all-knowing wisdom on everyone. Too bad youre not the Mayor because everything would be fixed by day 3, huh? I appreciate the employees in our city, and their hard work. You ever drive down Vick Rd and see them mowing and edging in the 96 degree heat? Ever see firefighters after trying to revive a baby? Or the police directing traffic in the rain? Pay the lawnmowing guy less. Pay the safety people less. Watch what happens. They seem like nice folks there but when I was working, pay sure hurts morale. Mayor Land said, “I wont balance the budget on the backs of the employees.” I agree with him. Thats all. Im out, no more responses from me. Now… you’re welcome for giving you something to do. Im guessing minimum 3 replies from you. Any bets?

    • CD…No more responses from you? Well great then, I think I will go celebrate sometime today, and maybe might go by Sonny’s B-B-Q and order myself a Long Island Tea….ha ha. My, aren’t you a hostile person! I still think that you are a former government employee, possibly even a COA employee….lol possibly from one of the public safety divisions, police or fire, most likely. Spare me, the crying over the hard-working city employees, as I know all about them, and who does work extremely hard, out in the heat, and who sits on their cans in the AC all the time. Last time I looked Vick Road parkway was grown way up and needed mowing badly. I could care less who likes me, loves me, or dislikes me, or hates me….they don’t make or break me. I also noticed you never did tell me the cities that pay more salaries than Apopka does, here in Central Florida either, CD….but that is okay, because I know why you didn’t. Even if you had of come up with an answer, as to a city, or a county entity, many of them didn’t hand out raises for years, until they finally did. Just saying….the truth, will set you free!

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here