Decision Apopka 2018
Editor’s Note: The Apopka Voice asked mayoral candidates Joe Kilsheimer and Bryan Nelson eight questions about their plans to govern Apopka. The questions were wide-ranging and took on issues like the role of a mayor, economic development, the budget, and the annexation of South Apopka. Their answers show the significant differences between the two candidates.
So without further explanation, here is Apopka Mayor Joe Kilsheimer and Orange County Commissioner Bryan Nelson in their own words:
Kilsheimer and Nelson are a contrast in governing philosophy and approach
By Reggie Connell/Managing Editor of The Apopka Voice
Question 1: Typically elected officials want to be the voice of the people. But what if the will of the people and the knowledge you have gained through research and understanding of an issue don’t line up? Which direction would you go?
Apopka Mayor Joe Kilsheimer:
Under the U.S. Constitution, the State of Florida Constitution and under the Charter of the City of Apopka, we have chosen to govern ourselves with a “representative form” of government. This means we elect individuals with whom we agree based on their track record, their philosophy and/or their expression of vision on the types of policies they intend to pursue. Elected officials are expected to conduct research, think through issues and come to decisions that represent the best course forward while balancing the pros and cons. It is inevitable that there will be disagreements among elected officials and voters. Indeed, it is my experience that it is almost impossible for two people to agree on everything all the time, making it even less likely for 50,000 people to agree with one person all the time. How do you resolve that conflict? I tell people that I get up every morning, set my moral compass on “true north,” and ask myself in every case: What is the RIGHT thing to do?
Orange County Commissioner Bryan Nelson:
First, we need to get out into the community to find out what issues are important to the constituents which should help guide our decisions. Let me give you an example of how we turned a contentious issue into a solution that everybody came out a winner. Sweetwater Club was failing with a run-down clubhouse and golf course. The owner needed help to keep the Club open with a funding stream of dues to support the club. Ashton Woods, the developer, stepped in and gave the club $600,000 toward building a new clubhouse and golf course and also agreed that the new homes would contribute each month toward the operating expenses of the club. The Club Owner agreed to keep the Club and golf course open for at least 6 years benefitting all. The homes are priced in the mid 300’s so the current residents won’t lose any value in their homes and probably will see an increase in property values once the club and golf course have been completed. This process took three community meetings to get consensus but by the third meeting, almost everyone was pleased with the project.
Nelson: As to budgets while serving in the Legislature during the great recession as a member of the Government Operations and Appropriations Committee we asked each department head to show us a budget with zero increase, a 5% decrease and a 10% decrease in their overall budget. We forced each department head to justify their spending but also prioritize each budget item. On a $4-billion budget, we looked at every line item some as low as $30,000 and made sure that each and every expense was justified. It was a very difficult two years where vacancies didn’t get filled but rather we asked our existing State employees to step up and fill the gaps as we waited for the economy to recover. Obviously, first responders are the most critical with public works coming in second with our infrastructure needs but every department is important to the success of our community. Our city employees are some of the finest but they need a leader who will lead by example not by mandate. My first item of business will be to cut my salary in half to show my commitment to getting us back on sound financial footing. We must budget for the city’s needs but scrutinize the wants.
Kilsheimer: For the foreseeable future, Apopka will have to focus on critical infrastructure needed to prepare the city for the growth that lies ahead. Over the past several years, the City has focused on: A) Public safety, with two new fire stations, new police officers, body cameras; B) Water infrastructure, with an upgraded wastewater plant and additional storage facilities for reclaimed water and C) Recreation assets such as Lake Avenue Park and the coming splash pad at Kit Land Nelson Park. In coming years, the City of Apopka needs: A) a fully equipped and staffed Fire Station No. 6 to replace the temporary quarters at Florida Hospital Apopka; B) a Public Safety complex in the downtown business district to replace the aging and outdated police department headquarters; C) Additional recreation facilities on Apopka’s south side and in Kit Land Nelson Park.
Question 3: Are the general fund reserves too high, too low, or about right using two months of operating expenses as the baseline? What would you propose as the right amount and how would you get there?
Kilsheimer: The City of Apopka’s policy is to maintain an unrestricted general-fund budget reserve adequate to meet unforeseen events. That was the case when I took office and it remains the case today. The reserve policy is expressed in Apopka’s approved 2017-18 budget this way: “The City’s practice is to maintain a reserve equivalent to two month’s operating needs in the General Fund and three month’s operating needs in the Utility Fund.” (Page 18). It should be noted that the standard established by the Government Finance Officers Association is exactly the same: two month’s worth of spending. In practice, two month’s worth of spending equals about 16 percent of the City’s general fund budget. In reality, according to the 2017-18 budget, the City’s reserves stood at 20.2 percent at the beginning of the fiscal year on October 1, 2017.
Those numbers are important guideposts, but by themselves don’t tell the entire story in Apopka. Here is some context to consider:
- In the past two budget cycles, the City of Apopka has budgeted for the staffing and operation of two additional fire stations from its general-fund budget. We built and equipped Fire Station No. 5 off Jason Dwelley Parkway. And we opened Fire Station No. 6 in temporary quarters at the new Florida Hospital Apopka. These public safety improvements are vitally needed to cover our growing city.
- Many cities pay for the construction of facilities like new fire stations from an impact-fee fund. These are funds paid by builders and developers when they pull building permits. The purpose of an impact-fee fund is to make new construction bear the burden of providing expanded facilities. In Apopka, we established public-safety impact fee funds in 2016. It will take several years to build up the savings in these accounts to pay for the cost of additional facilities. In the meantime, we have to rely on the general fund, which is supported by all taxpayers.
- We have also budgeted for additional police officers and planning staff in the Community Development Department. These are all general fund obligations.
With regards to building up the general fund reserves, I recently proposed at a City Council meeting that the City undertake a strategic budget review, and build a budget based on performance measurements. We need to first understand and know that the City’s critical needs are being met. If so, we can and should take excess revenues and build up the City’s reserves.
Nelson: We must first stop the digging. We can’t spend reserves which have been depleted to the lowest levels in decades. It will take at least one year to stop the bleeding but in the fiscal year 2019-2020, I would like to budget for $1,000,000 to be added to reserves each and every year.
Nelson: We must give the residents South of 441 more affordable housing options like the Habitat Village on 13th where Orange County stepped up to the plate and gave $700,000 toward the 56 Habitat homes. We also need to identify homes that have been abandoned or condemned and tear them down and use the impact fee tax credits to build brand new homes going from the worst buildings to the best. We also need to upgrade Alonzo Williams Park giving our youth a safe and inviting place to play.
Kilsheimer: In my term as mayor, here are some of the projects we have championed to help residents of Apopka, particularly those who live south of U.S. Highway 441:
- Apopka Youth Works. This summer youth-employment program was launched in 2015 in partnership with CareerSource Central Florida. We began with 30 high-school juniors and seniors, mostly from the 32703 ZIP code. The City recently announced that in the summer of 2018, we will expand the program to offer summer jobs to 150 young people, again as a result of the City’s partnership with CareerSource Central Florida.
- Apopka Begins & Ends With ‘A’. This program, in partnership with Orange County Public Schools, is designed to identify the community resources that will help each Apopka public school improve student performance and achievement on standardized tests. One direct outcome of the City’s program is that Phyllis Wheatley and Zellwood elementary schools were awarded a 21st Century Grant. A total of about $700,000 will be spent at the two schools over the next three years to establish after-school tutoring and mentoring programs.
- Downtown Apopka Redevelopment. The coming redevelopment of downtown Apopka will create jobs that will be immediately accessible to residents of South Apopka. Downtown redevelopment has four main elements: City Center; Station Street; Sixth Street Promenade and re-development of the old Florida Hospital site.
In the future, the City needs to expand economic development efforts to further create jobs in Apopka.
Kilsheimer: The idea of annexing South Apopka is as much a moral issue as it is an economic issue. The morally right thing to do would be to annex the unincorporated areas of Apopka so that the City could be more responsible for the provision of municipal services. It is logical to assume that the City of Apopka is in a better position than Orange County to provide municipal services. The challenge is how to accomplish this without placing an undue burden on existing Apopka residents for addressing decades of economic neglect and stagnation. The plan would necessarily involve high-level negotiations with the leadership of Orange County and with the Florida Legislature to provide funding to cover the extra expenses that annexation would involve. It must be openly stated, however, that Apopka would need willing partners at Orange County and at the Legislative level to address the economic burden.
Nelson: As to annexation by serving as your County Commissioner for both incorporated and unincorporated South Apopka we could do a better job in coordinating our efforts between Apopka and Orange County and I would be the logical choice to do that. Our Bridges Center is one of the jewels of District 2 and I am so proud of all the good work that is accomplished there. Orange County funds the operations but doesn’t discriminate against citizens who live in the City. Our August Backpack Drive at the Bridges Center has donated over 1,000 backpacks each year to worthy students and nowhere on the application does it ask if you live in the City or the County.
Question 6: What is your philosophy on utilizing CRA funds?
Nelson: CRA funds are to be used for eliminating blight and slum. Go back to my answer on #4 for utilizing CRA funds. The CRA board must also meet on a more regular basis and give the board members more information before going into the board meeting. You can’t ask them to spend $3 million dollars without giving board members the ability to ask questions and get answers before the actual meeting.
Kilsheimer: CRA funds, according to Florida law, should be expended on infrastructure projects designed to create a more attractive environment for private investment. The funding of a Community Redevelopment Agency comes from increases in property tax revenues – over time – that are collected and set aside in a special account. It stands to reason that the primary purpose of these funds is to be spent on measures that will further increase property tax values so that the expended funds can be replenished.
Kilsheimer: The proper role for government is to establish the climate for the City’s future. Under my administration, we have sought to establish a growth strategy. We have laid down “rules for the road” so that residents, property owners, and business owners know Apopka’s shared values, what Apopka residents want and where Apopka residents want our City to go.
We did that in our Grow Apopka 2025 Vision Plan, which the City Council adopted in April 2016. As part of the visioning exercise, we solicited the opinion of more than 2,500 Apopka residents. We learned the following things from visioning:
- Apopka residents like the small-town charm of our community, and they want City leaders to hold on to that quality.
- Apopka residents also see the growth coming toward our City, and they want our City infrastructure to be prepared for that.
- Apopka needs to create 11,000 new jobs by the year 2025 in order to be considered a sustainable community, according to research performed by Fishkind & Associates.
The growth strategy that emerged from visioning – one that will both protect Apopka’s small-town charm and prepare us for the future – is to focus growth around activity nodes. There are three immediate opportunities: Around the new Florida Hospital Apopka; in downtown Apopka and around the new Kelly Park Road interchange at the Wekiva Parkway.
This strategy seeks to bring density to these three activity nodes. And density is what attracts high-quality restaurants and retailers.
At the end of the next four years, my goal is to see Apopka becoming a destination for Class A office space, similar to what we see occurring in Lake Mary, Maitland, and Lake Nona. I also expect to see Apopka well along the road toward developing an eco-tourism industry, focusing on the assets of the Lake Apopka North Shore.
Nelson: We have a great opportunity to partner with the UCF Incubator and the Apopka Chamber to maximize the HUB and Enterprise Zones right here in Apopka. As the Wekiva Parkway nears completion we should look to grow Logistics companies along with advanced manufacturing and white collar jobs right along the Parkway. We must add Class A office space in Apopka to attract these types of jobs. We must protect Apopka’s small-town feel for it is the reason that people fell in love with Apopka and want to live, work and play here in Apopka.
Nelson: Without a doubt, the most important issue facing Apopka is the out of control spending and the depletion of the reserves. We must get our financial house in order to give our residents and potential business owners the confidence that we won’t need to raise taxes and fees to balance our budget. Residents want the City to complete the Town Center on time and on budget, develop the Heart of Apopka (New Florida Hospital area) and begin the Kelly Park Crossing development. We also have a golden opportunity to turn the area around the Old Florida Hospital into a Winter Garden Village(Fowler’s Grove) type destination. Apopka has so much potential with the right vision and execution we will be able to look back twenty years from now and say we Grew Apopka Together.
Kilsheimer: The most important issue facing Apopka is how to protect and preserve the small-town quality of Apopka – the reason most of us move to Apopka – and prepare the City for the growth that lies ahead. Under my administration, we have sought to accomplish that by establishing the growth strategy mentioned above. Focusing growth and density in activity areas – around Florida Hospital, downtown Apopka and the Kelly Park Road area – will help us deal with growth – and keep the small-town atmosphere of Apopka that we all know and love.