$4.44 Millage rate remains the same for 28 years
By Bryan Nelson
Orange County Commissioner, District 2
As the largest government in central Florida, Orange County spends a lot of money – almost $4 billion a year. That’s three times as much as the city of Orlando, and more than 30 times as much as the city of Apopka.
This is your money. That’s why, as my colleagues and I on the Orange County Board of County Commissioners work on a new budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year, we’re making sure to write a fiscally conservative spending plan that makes key investments in the areas that will most improve our quality of life. Over the past four years, our budget has increased less than 18%.
The most important news first: We will not raise your taxes. Orange County’s 2017-18 budget will keep the countywide millage rate flat at a less than $4.44 for every $1,000 in taxable value. (For perspective: Someone who owns a home with a taxable value of $150,000 would pay around $665, under the county’s tax rate.) We have not raised property taxes in over 28 years.
Partially because of our fiscally conservative policies, Orange County’s economy is in great shape. Tourism is booming, construction is humming along and more people and businesses are choosing to move here. All that economic activity means that property values and property-tax collections will rise, even as we hold the line on our tax rate. Altogether, Orange County expects to collect around $532 million in property taxes in 2017-18 – a $47 million (10%) increase over this past year’s collections.
Property taxes are the county’s most important source of revenue, but they are far from the only one. The county’s sales-tax collections are expected to reach $172 million in 2017-18, a $5 million increase. The tourist development tax, which is charged on hotel and motel rooms, should generate $240 million, also a $5 million increase. And the impact fees we charge on new development to pay for water and sewer service, police and fire, and transportation and parks are expected to produce $47.4 million — a $13.5 million increase. All of this is evidence that our economic approach in Orange County is working.
Now, a $4 billion budget sounds big. And it is. But it’s not quite as big as you might think, in one key respect. Most of the money that the county collects is tightly restricted in terms of how it can be spent. Gas taxes, for instance, can only be spent on transportation improvements and maintenance. We collect approximately $42 million from the gas tax, which has remained relatively flat for the last 14 years. And payments to Orange County Utilities stay within the utility department, which we run as if it were a standalone private business.
Only about one-quarter of Orange County’s budget — $900 million out of $3.956 billion – is in what we call the “general fund.” That’s the pot of money where the county has the most latitude in terms of deciding how and where to spend it. And that’s where you should look if you want to get a sense of Orange County’s biggest priorities.
And what are our priorities? Well, there is none bigger than public safety, which will get 45 percent of the general fund next year – that’s nearly $1 out of every $2 we’re spending! Public safety includes the sheriff’s office, fire rescue, ambulance service, the jail, the medical examiner and consumer fraud. Our budget will include money for more than 50 new deputies, three dozen new firefighters, upgrades to our public-safety radio network and a new K-9 facility for the sheriff’s office.
Another big priority for us is human services, where we care for the most vulnerable people in our county and which will get more than 10 percent of Orange County’s general-fund spending. This category includes social services and programs, such as Head Start, which focuses on early childhood education, and Great Oaks Village, our foster-care facility for children. Our human services budget even includes money to begin work on a new shelter for lost and abandoned pets and three more employees in mosquito control, where we continue to protect against Zika and other mosquito-borne diseases.
In upcoming issues, I’ll provide you with more details about how Orange County plans to spend your money, on everything from law enforcement to arts and culture. In the meantime, if you have any questions, please don’t ever hesitate to contact my office at firstname.lastname@example.org.