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Becker's candor on City Council opens a debate on millage rate, reserves, investment, and critical needs in Apopka's upcoming budget


Commissioner Kyle Becker only has four City Council meetings left before his term ends, but he is making the most of them.

At the February 21st meeting, he had what can only be described as "a rant-gone-right". It came near the end of public comments after Central Florida Soccer Club President Naji S. Khouri pushed the Council to add soccer fields at the Northwest Recreational Complex in its upcoming budget.

How to effectively lobby the Council

"First and foremost, I want to thank Coach Naji for advocating on behalf of the organization," Becker said. "It's a testament to your league. Clearly, the number of people that are here tonight is unexpected. But it's always good to see a packed house. This is a great opportunity for you to coach in real life, not outside or not on the field, coaching soccer. But what happens when you need something done for you and the process by which to do it? This is how it should be done."

It's something the CFSC has been doing effectively for at least a few months when they lobbied the Parks and Recreation Department to improve field conditions before the start of its soccer season. But that was not the only point Becker made.

Millage vs. Building a City

"By a show of hands, with people wearing red shirts or people advocating... how many of you are taxpayers in the city? Becker asked and then watched as several members of the audience raised their hands. "A whole bunch of you. Yet this board often squabbles over percentage points of a millage rate when it can mean having money to do the exact things you are asking us to do. In the last budget season, this board decided not to increase our millage rate slightly. We could have had half a million more dollars... but we didn't do it because we didn't know where to put it." 

A millage rate frozen in time


For those of you not keeping track, that has been Apopka's millage rate for three straight cycles. For some, that's a bragging right of consistency and low taxes. But for an emerging and growing city of almost 60,000, it represents several missed opportunities to fund Apopka properly.

Becker then put the entire millage issue into proper perspective.

$12 a year vs. a better City

"But please encourage this Council," Becker said. "Keep coming and saying, 'Hey, at the end of the day, is paying $12 a year more on your tax bill (worth it) if it means you're playing on better fields?' How much is that going to be in terms of doctor expenses when you're having to pay for a broken ankle? I mean, people... put things in perspective."

Reserves beyond reason

Becker also took on the idea that massive reserves beyond any practical use keep the city hamstrung from properly budgeting so many needs in Apopka.

"We've got millions of dollars sitting in the bank," he said. "We are well above what is supposed to be a well-funded general fund reserve. That money is doing nothing. It's reserved to do nothing but make us feel comfortable at night. Let's not worry; we've got close to 25%, maybe 30% of our expenditures tied up in reserve balances. That's just kind of earning some money... if Mr. (Radley) Williams (Parks and Recreation Director) wants to come back and say, 'Hey, here's what it's going to cost to expand fields into the undeveloped portion of the northwest side of that property' and have this Council react to it. You know, you have an advocate in me. I'm here till April 17th. I would be happy to do so."

Later, Becker clarified his "million-dollar" remark but also specified where the reserves stand and how they could be used better.

"When I say millions of dollars... let me let me clarify that. It's a right clarification, really, from a city perspective, they said we should have 16.67% of your general fund expenditures in the general fund reserve account. So it basically equates to two months' worth of our expenditures should something go boom in the night and the city be in a catastrophic situation... we'll be able to get things back online. There's been talk about a current policy that the Board passed to strive to have 25%. Okay, three months' worth of general fund reserve balance is based on general fund expenditure. Anything above and beyond that, it's just one finger in the air. Why do we have that much in terms of reserve if we're not actually spending it on the things that our residents are expecting from this board?"

Becker went on to question what could possibly cause Apopka to need such an extreme amount of reserves.

"You have to think about why we would have such a high reserve balance. Do we have unique infrastructure spends that if something were to catastrophically happen, that we need to get things back... like bridge infrastructure in which we don't really have a whole bunch of bridges in Apopka and things like that, and so then it becomes, we're not using the money as it was intended. And that's where I say we have millions of dollars above that 16.67% threshold. That's money that can be reallocated for the purposes that we're discussing."

A new way to craft a budget in FY 2024/25

 I would urge the city commission and the candidates who may emerge to the Council not to allow the standard operating procedure of the administration/staff writing a pre-balanced budget, complete with millage rates, reserves, and department heads who have already made cuts in their budgets. NEVER raising the millage rate, plus budget cuts, plus a massive reserve equals underfunded police/fire departments, limited economic development, understaffed departments, high turnover, no full-time city administrator, an underdeveloped downtown, and... well, you get the picture.

Instead of a turnkey process that makes the budget workshops ceremonial, why not demand input into the early stages of the process and bring each department head to the Council with their first draft of budgets revealing every expenditure they believe is necessary to run their department effectively - plus any wishlist items they may want to discuss.

This gives the Council the opportunity to hear every idea the department heads have and to determine what they need to run an effective department. Maybe there will even be a moonshot proposal among the ideas.

Finally, do not set a millage rate until after the total budget is counted.

If the millage rate is higher than the Council is comfortable with, go back and decide what has to be cut. Decide which is more important - a millage rate or potential critical expenditures to run an emerging and growing city.

Let this be the year the City Council works together to take the budget in the direction it needs to go. I know it sounds cool to say you never raised taxes, but in the meantime, how far is Apopka falling behind other emerging cities in Orange and Lake Counties in the process?

It's rare when an elected official or candidate talks about why it's important to weigh investment with tax rates and reserves, but I, for one, applaud any of them who do. Thanks for the candor, Commissioner Becker. You will be missed on the City Council.

Apopka City Council, Apopka, Apopka Budget, Central Florida Soccer Club, Apopka Commissioner Kyle Becker, Apopka Mayor Bryan Nelson, Opinion, Analysis


4 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • JimNisbet

    Why raise taxes when we have such a surplus? If we manage what we have, and we have millions in surplus, what is the justification? And in case you didn't notice, we live in Florida. We get hurricanes. We also do have some major infrastructure on the horizon, so a good surplus is a good thing. But since we have so much surplus, per you and Becker, how can you justify raising taxes in any way? I wish you would stop trying to get the local politicians to raise our taxes so you can try and turn Apopka into Winter Garden. Enough already.

    Monday, February 26 Report this

  • Newcomer

    I wish the city council members would speak boldly during their time in office not just at the end of their tenure. I am all for having a financial cushion but agree with using tried and true recommendations for the surplus fund. I love downtown Winter Garden because it is clean, welcoming, and family friendly. I would be delighted for downtown Apopka to be that for our residents. Our parks (Kit Nelson and the soccer fields) should be places that you are excited to go and proud to bring friends to visit. This is not currently true. The budget process will have to change - including room for visions of a brighter, cleaner, safer Apopka. Perhaps include some landscaping in the medians, edging the grass in public areas, taking down dead trees in city owned property. Make the city look like you would want your home to look - loved. No one is for raising taxes, unless we have a common plan that cannot be accomplished with our current funds.

    Monday, February 26 Report this

  • FloridaLife79

    I am personally in favor of a push for some more modern creature comforts within Apopka. It’s silly to think that, in order to be entertained (granted each individual’s definition can be different), we have to travel 20+ minutes out to take a stroll in Winter Garden, Winter Park or Mt. Dora to do so. We have the means to be thematically driven as a naturally preserved themed locale while embracing the city’s rich history. The extra money in budget should be considered to address that.

    Waiting for investors to make land purchases and “saving the day” regarding developing our city’s aesthetic is giving too much creative control to them. Sadly, not enough to the people of this city. We need to be more aggressive in wanting people (both locals and non-Apopka residents) to visit Apopka on a weekend rather than everyone head into their cars, get on SR429 and spend money in those other locales. Which are constantly growing.

    That spending money would be great revenue long-term for the city and would only further help us grow. Whether people like to hear it or not, Apopka is growing exponentially. We need to stop being in denial about this. Allow the growth and population increase to fund our city’s goals. We shouldn’t be sitting on our hands over this. If no action is taken and we do nothing about this particular agenda we are going to just be another “bedroom community” while all other towns around us flourish between their ability to promote both business and leisure opportunities and have a strong identity.

    We undoubtedly have these capabilities. We just need to put them to better use.

    Monday, February 26 Report this

  • MDuran

    Taxes would not have to be raised if the reserves were managed better. At least for now. With a city growing as Apopka, sooner than later, your taxes would have to be raised. Becker hit on a real good point to figure out if that is needed now or later. He suggested that department heads come to the workshops with their needs and wants. Did you know during the last cycle, that needed staff was in the fire department budget, only to be red lined (taken out) solely by the mayor ? Some wants and needs don’t even make it to the workshop.

    Monday, February 26 Report this