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Apopka's 2024/25 budget workshops must break the cycle of treading water

Strategy, Planning, and Innovation should be a part of the process



According to the Modern Language Association, you should never begin a sentence with a number. The Associated Press Style Manual suggests spelling it out.

I'm a writer and a journalist, so I don't like going against the MLA or the AP, but drastic times call for drastic measures.

At the final 2023/24 budget meeting, the Apopka City Council voted 5-0 to set the millage rate at 4.1876. The vote preceded three days of budget workshops. The general fund budget was $82.1 million, and the proposed rate of 4.1876 was left unchanged.

In 2022/23, the general fund was $64.2 million, and the Council approved the proposed millage rate of 4.1876.

In 2021/22, the general fund was $58.5 million, and the Council approved the proposed millage rate of 4.1876.

Are you beginning to see a pattern here?

Apopka is treading water. Its 4.1876 millage rate seems as permanent as the John Land statue in front of City Hall. It only looks to the future for inevitable things like a public safety center or wastewater treatment facilities. Its system virtually guarantees this outcome. 

For too many cycles, there has been a static rhythm to budget workshops that goes something like this:

  • City staff and administration tentatively set a millage rate before the City Commissioners get to interact.
  • At the workshops, each department head presents a budget that appears to be pre-cut of anything additional and fits into the tentative millage rate.
  • After the department heads conclude their presentations, the entire budget is presented. It's balanced at the pre-set tentative millage rate and the general fund budget amount, also pre-set.
  • With no practical options other than to approve the budget/millage rate as is or possibly add a minor item or two, the commissioners vote to approve. 
  • No time is set aside for discussion about planning for the future.

It leaves little room for the commissioners to do anything other than accept the pre-packaged budget and millage rate, pay the bills, and wait for next year.

But that was then, and this is now. It's time for Apopka to set goals, dream big, and look into the future.

That doesn't mean going on a spending spree and burdening their taxpayers with unnecessary expenditures for their community. However, envisioning Apopka's future needs and putting plans in motion should be a part of the workshop process.

Let's start with the concept that a budget should start at zero at the workshops.

On day one, every department head begins by presenting a comprehensive budget for everything needed to run their department properly, not just for the coming year but also for the future. 

Instead of being a ceremonial rubber stamp, the commissioners can determine what is needed, what is wanted, what is for the future, and what gets cut. There should be no more red-lining budget items before the commissioners get a look.

After the department heads finish, a new feature would close the workshops. 

Many municipalities throughout the country utilize departments, committees, or individuals to head up discussions about their community's strategy, planning, and innovation. This department, committee, or person assists city leaders in defining its vision, setting goals, and developing strategies to meet those goals. It could also design, manage, and deliver ideas; identify resources for data analysis; engage with neighbors to hear their feedback; design and test solutions to improve experiences; and measure performance to improve efficiency.

This process would be designed to give Apopka a roadmap for five, ten, or even twenty-five years into the future.

Orange County and the City of Gainesville are already using this type of strategy.

Parts of it would be unattainable; parts would be for future budgets, while other parts could be utilized in the current budget.

At the end of the workshops, the general fund is added up, and THEN a millage rate can be set to balance it... not the other way around. If the rate is through the roof, the Council will have some cutting to do, but set aside the notion that the ultimate goal is the dreaded 4.1876 rate for a moment.

Apopka continues to have the lowest millage rate of any full-service city in Orange County. I'm not suggesting it raise taxes to the level of Orlando (6.65), which has a population of well over 300,000. I would also not compare it to Maitland (5.1484), which only has about 20,000 residents.

But suppose the City Council determines it needs to spend beyond this 4.1876 frozen-in-place rate. In that case, nothing should stop it from bringing its levels to comparable cities like Ocoee (4.95 millage/48,000 population), Winter Garden (4.5/47,000), or Winter Park (4.3302/30,000).

This process still allows the Council to decide on a low millage rate, but it also shows them every option available to move Apopka forward. The freedom to make a modest increase could make all the difference in this community.

It takes visioning, planning, and innovation to do big things like bringing a university or a library to your community...or building a robust economy filled with fine dining and a city center worth bragging about beyond the ceremonial groundbreaking. 

Under the current budget plan, moving Apopka into the future it deserves will never happen. The Apopka City Council will continue to tread water until it decides not to. It's time to remove the life preservers and give the commissioners more options to build this great city beyond the current budget year.

This year, you can break the streak of consistency in your millage rates and take a look forward to Apopka's future.

I wish you all good luck in this arduous and vital task, but please don't make me break the grammatical rules in my lead sentence next year.

Opinion, Apopka City Budget FY 2024/25, Millage Rate, Apopka City Council, General Fund, What will the millage rate be in 2024/25?


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  • MamaMia

    Reggie, Think about this....Did you know that the City of Gainesville, Florida once used wooden underground pipes to supply their drinking water to the public? Hollowed out trees! It is true, but I'm not identifying where I learned about it. If you never heard of that fact, see if you can check it out for yourself! The pipes would rot, and insects would infest them. I believe that they were all replaced, and none exist in Gainesville today. I tried reading your Gainesville plans on the article here, but I don't have Wonder Woman's eye site. Too small, even with my reading glasses. About Apopka budgets...whether you all like it, or not, Mayor Bryan Nelson has broad veto power, to red line items, and can do so, before the paperwork even reaches the city council!

    Sunday, July 7 Report this

  • MamaMia

    1,2,3,4,5.... .Everybody in the car, so come on, to the liquor store around the corner... (Mambo No.5). Uh oh, I just broke the rules of the MLA and AP. and I don't like having to break the rules, but Reggie, drastic times call for drastic measures....LOL

    Monday, July 8 Report this

  • JimNisbet

    Once again, the guys who doesn't live in Apopka is hell bent on raising my taxes in an economy where inflation is the worst we have seen in many many years. You note the last 3 budget cycles and asked if we saw a trend here... As a matter of fact I did. No tax increases, while quality gains in the general fund. That is GREAT fiscal management during a crisis economy. It's nice to build, expand, whatever, as long as it doesn't go too far. I don't want Apopka to be another Winter Garden. I'm already proud of Apopka as it is, and as it continues to grow. Slowly. Responsibly. Have you looked at construction costs? In this economy if it can wait, than you wait. I'm very proud of the fact that Apopka has one of the lowest tax rates in Central Florida. It's the one really GREAT THING the City council is unanimous in doing, not raising taxes in a bad economy. Stop trying to raise my bills man...

    Monday, July 8 Report this

  • MamaMia

    Reply to Jim....Jim, isn't it crazy that people that don't even live here within our city limits are the biggest advocates for RAISING OUR TAXES! Right offhand, I can name five of them, one, a county resident, two in other Florida cities, and two out of state. I would name them, but I won't, as I feel we hear from them too much already, regarding raising our millage rate. I once viewed a graph of Orange County taxes, and it was straight across, with no ups or downs on the graph. The way it should be. I haven't seen Orange County's graph lately, so I am not sure if it is the same, but taxes are suppose to be steady. I am thankful the mayor keeps our taxes in check, because if it were up to some, sky would be the limit, and no one would want to move here, or build here, or run a business here.

    Monday, July 8 Report this

  • JimNisbet

    @MamaMia AGREED! Some people just like to spend other peoples money, and/or find problems where there aren't any. So we SIGNIFICANTLY increased the general fund for at least 3 consecutive years without raising taxes and this is a problem?? Please... I wish we has such problems at the Federal level...

    Monday, July 8 Report this

  • MamaMia

    I listened to the budget meeting, and IMO it seems that Nesta wants to raise our taxes, and next up, IMO he will try to raise the commissioner's salaries. If this scenio plays out, every citizen in Apopka city limits should remember that at the next city elections, and vote against any council member who wants to raise our taxes! The last I knew, the commissioners received about 1200 dollars a month, and now it is what? 3100 dollars per month? Is that correct? Think that is what I heard. When did that happen? I used to read their salaries in the Apopka Chief, but either they didn't print them, or I missed them. Also, their discretionary funds used to be 3000 dollars and now the commissioners receive 10,000 dollars to give to whoever they want. They think they deserve more salary, and more discretionary funds to give away, that I like to say they give to get (votes). Don't they really think they are so entitled to spend our taxpayer money? They need a reality check on what other towns pay their commissioners, which are mostly very very modest. I think Oakland's commissioners didn't even get any pay, whatsoever! That is extreme, but Apopka's commissioners need a reality check! They get too much now, and are now wanting offices? You people are not full time, so quit saying it, it is not true, y'all are LYING!

    Monday, July 8 Report this

  • MamaMia


    Monday, July 8 Report this