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City Commissioners open to workshop discussion on annexing South Apopka


Make South Apopka your North Star

By Reggie Connell, Managing Editor

The Apopka City Council was facing a long agenda at its July 7th meeting. With two proclamations, four presentations, and 12 resolutions to deal with, in it looked like they would be dealing with a marathon session.

Then Rogers Beckett added one more unofficial item to the list - annexation of South Apopka.

Beckett, the President of the South Apopka Safe Neighborhoods Program, read an article in The Apopka Voice about annexing South Apopka, and during the public comments section of the meeting, asked where the City stood on the subject.

"For many years, the discussion has been will the City of Apopka ever annex South Apopka?" Beckett said. "I know from 2004 there's been an agreement to look into that situation. Where does the City stand on that? Are they looking to incorporate a lot of these enclave areas into the City? We're going into an election season, so we know this is going to come up again. I just want to know on the record what's the plan? I don't think you want to take it all on at one time, but I do think you should propose a plan to address those concerns."

Commissioner Kyle Becker was the first to respond to Beckett's questions.

"I think multiple people up here [on City Council] are willing to workshop that out, and I'm awaiting the date. You can look at annexation multiple ways - voluntary annexation... that's going to take a lot longer because you're relying on requests coming in. The forced annexation ordinance is the one we would have to explore if we do it on a grand scale. The level of service is something you hear all the time, but that's anecdotal at best. We'd have to look at Orange County if we're looking at a public safety perspective... Sheriff's response, the Orange County Fire response. You could probably look at a piece of paper and understand how many residents live in unincorporated Orange County and apply hookup fees and impact fees to determine how much they would have to pay-in to subscribe to those city services, so there's a number out there... what that number is I think is worthy of exploration because if we know that number, we can start having conversations about annexation by ordinance... how much are residents going to pay? How much is the City willing to invest? Are there state dollars in play we can use? I look at it in the same way that Orange County is doing the septic-to-sewer program. There's a certain amount the residents are paying that gets the benefit of that transition. There's a part that Orange County is doing, and then there are state dollars coming in. And it doesn't have to be just South Apopka. This could be an opportunity to square off some edges that are naturally occurring and take in some additional tax base along with the annexation. I think that's worthy of exploring - at least having the conversation, and I think we need to do that."

A third option for annexation is presented

After Becker's comments, Apopka Mayor Bryan Nelson asked City Attorney Michael Rodriguez to weigh in.

"In dealing with just the legal aspects of annexation...you have voluntary annexation, which is going to be lot-by-lot-by-lot," Rodriguez said. "There is the involuntary annexation, which is an ordinance, and then a vote is taken of the electorate. There is also a third option - annexation of enclaves by an inter-local service boundary agreement (ISBA) with the County."

According to the State of Florida website, The Florida Legislature provided the Interlocal Service Boundary Agreement Act (FS 171-Part II) as an alternative to FS 171-Part I for local governments regarding the annexation of territory into a municipality. The intent of the act is to encourage local governments to jointly determine how to provide services to residents in the most efficient and effective manner while balancing the needs of the community. As a result, the use of FS 171-Part II encourages intergovernmental coordination in planning, service delivery, and boundary adjustments. It promotes sensible municipal boundaries that reduce costs and avoids duplicating local services.

Rodriguez went on to explain specific issues that the City of Apopka would want to discuss with Orange County during a prospective negotiation.

"One thing we would have to do is look at what the City is going to assume as part of the annexation by interlocal agreement. I know that one of the factors is bringing the roads up to City standards. Because if you're going to just assume the roads as-is, then the City has to incur the cost of making improvements to the roads and infrastructure. These are all things that are to be contemplated... all of those elements are put on the table with the County. Now we haven't had any discussions with Orange County to plan such an agreement."

According to Rodriguez, there are no ISBA's in Orange County, but there are five in Volusia County and 10 in Lake County.

A workshop would overcome the chill of Sunshine Laws

Becker is certainly open to a much larger discussion on annexation that would reach beyond just the City Council.

"I read the articles in The Apopka Voice, and I think it was a call to action for all of us listed that service that area. In the second part, they mentioned Sunshine Laws would make it difficult for all of us to put our heads together, but we can notice this all day long and then all those people listed can come together and put our best foot forward in terms of definitive go-forward plans. I'm open to having that conversation."

Commissioner Alexander Smith is an advocate for annexation and has been for some time. He recently gave his support and said he would be willing to spend up to $10 million in general fund reserves to annex South Apopka. The discussion was music to his ears.

"You know my stance. I think South Apopka has been overlooked for years... and they deserve to be a part of the City of Apopka. And so I'm still putting forth efforts to make sure that takes place - and not just South Apopka, but parts of Apopka behind Pizza Hut. There are areas that need to be part of the city. I firmly believe that the government closest to you will get you the best service and provide it to you cheaper, and therefore I'm in support of making this happen."

Commissioner Doug Bankson pointed out how little this important issue has been discussed in the past due to Sunshine Law restrictions.

"There has been a frustration from the chill factor of the Sunshine not being able to discuss it freely, and so to have something like this discussion... you know this is the most that has ever happened just in this conversation... so I'm excited about that."

He also pointed out the lack of a specific leader, commission, or association in place to deal with on the subject of annexation.

"One of the frustrations for me was there was no particular entity to deal with - so who do we talk to? Different groups would be for and others against - very adamantly on both sides - so I don't have a real appetite for forcing things on our citizens. However, at the same time, the ISBA might be an answer worth approaching. But if there's an agreement, the County has to bring it up to a level that will help us on the fiscal side of how are we going to make this happen? Because we have to do it in an affordable way... but I'm definitely open to these conversations and would love to see us find some resolve for these issues."

A partnership with Orange County

Commissioner Diane Velazquez was also open to a workshop but made it clear this is an issue that has been discussed in the community for decades, and that improvements have been made in South Apopka, both on the County side and by the City of Apopka as well.

"I did read the [ApopkaVoice] article. What I find interesting is that this has been sort of a legacy issue. It just hasn't been out there in the last four or five years. It's been ongoing. I understand that annexing the south side of Apopka - the County side really does take a partnership. I believe in the last 5-10 years, we've cultivated a relationship with the County. I've sat on the Planning and Zoning Board for two years for Orange County and there were a lot of things I learned about the south side of Apopka that when I sit here as city commissioner I realize we could've had this relationship. We could have done more for the south side of Apopka. And now that we do have a commissioner that does sit on the Orange County Board, let's have a partnership. Let's see what we can do until we get to that level of 'is annexation the best course to bring the City together?' What's always been important to the south side of Apopka is the level of services, and I feel we are trying to meet that standard. But we have to have a relationship with the County, and it's just not from departments. We have a commissioner sitting there. Let's have a conversation with her. With a workshop, we can bring everyone to the table, including the public. I am for workshops because it allows not just the elected officials from the City, but the elected officials from the County. And we can bring our state reps in because they play a part. Having a conversation is a start... and a real conversation."

Velazquez would like to see action on this issue rather than campaign rhetoric, and a workshop would start that process forward.

"Every time there's an election we say the same thing, but it doesn't move the needle forward - so I'd love to have this conversation. But at the same time, let's also bring to the table what we have done. Because we haven't ignored South Apopka. We have not ignored them. I think we have raised the level of service for South Apopka... just drive around and you can see that. I see roads paved. I see lights. I see businesses coming in. The hospital came in. There's new housing. We brought Habitat in - 50 new homes... so we are doing something."

She also thinks the discussion needs to not only be a call to action but a call to unity for Apopka.

"I think what The Apopka Voice was saying was 'when are we going to be one Apopka?' That's the conversation. But at the same time, let's come to the table. Let's say what we have done that's positive, and how do we get to the next level? But for me, what's important is that a large part of Apopka sits in the county. We have a commissioner. Bring her in. They have the money. Don't we depend on them to give us money for certain projects? So let's bring them in for a conversation."

Beckett was hopeful after hearing from the City Council.

"The workshop would be great for the discussion," he told The Apopka Voice. "The City needs to know what it's getting into."

According to its website, The South Apopka Safe Neighborhood Program "strives to bring together community-based organizations, private industry, public agencies, the City of Apopka, and Orange County to support South Apopka residents as they fulfill their roles as agents for positive change in their own community."

Becket supports annexation, as long as it's been properly mapped out beforehand.

"From a police, fire, and city administration standpoint, I am in favor of annexation. Even making garbage pickups from one to two times per week is huge. But there needs to be a plan in place. Without a plan, it's just a change of jurisdiction."

Editor’s Note: The Apopka Voice is publishing a series of articles under the heading “Make South Apopka your North Star”. The series will include steps we believe leaders should consider for the advancement of this historic Apopka community. Look for the third installment on Monday, July 19th entitled “What would it take to Annex South Apopka?”.

Annexation, Apopka City Council, City of Apopka, Orange County Government, south apopka, Workshop


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