It's going to be a busy couple of weeks for the Apopka City Council. On April 26th, four of its members will be sworn in. Then, on May 4th, the newly-minted Council will hold its first meeting with the newest member Nick Nesta sitting in Seat #4.
And while it may not be on his agenda of priorities, Apopka Mayor Bryan Nelson thinks the time for a workshop on annexing South Apopka would be in late May or early June before the FY2022-23 Apopka City Budget workshops begin.
"If we're gonna do it, we'll probably have to do it before we get heavy into budgets," Nelson said. "So it will probably be May or June. Probably either the second meeting in May or June."
In an interview with The Apopka Voice, Nelson said he would follow the will of the Council, although he is skeptical of annexation.
"I'm not leading the charge on that," he said. "But obviously, if I get enough interest and they [the Council] want me to move forward with at least a presentation of the good, the bad, and the ugly; then we'll absolutely do it."
--Apopka Mayor Bryan Nelson
Nelson had his staff estimate the cost to annex South Apopka, but he believes those residents may want more than the estimate covers.
"The back of the napkin number, and we spent more than back of the napkin time on it, but we came up with $3 million a year. That's just taking over the police and fire and the other services we provide. But they [South Apopka residents] aren't looking for break-even services. They want better services. So what's the number? What is it going to cost? It's just a question of where and then how you pay for it."
He's also not convinced that Apopka residents will want to pay the tax increase.
"I'm happy to take it up, but at the end of the day, if $3 million gets you to even, what kind of services do they think we will provide above that? Nelson asked. "And then you know, $3 million, that's a 20% tax increase. So everybody in North Apopka gets a 20% tax increase and everybody in South Apopka gets a 20% tax increase. So the guy living in Rock Springs Ridge... does he wants to pay 20% more taxes to support annexing South Apopka?"
He's also not convinced South Apopka wants to be annexed.
"The other part that nobody is talking about is... does Orange County South Apopka want us? Because with that comes a much more stringent code enforcement. And there's a bunch of them that would tell you that they like having structures in the back of their house or in their backyard. And when we [City of Apopka] come in, we're going to be probably a little more aggressive in how we deal with those things. And so, we don't want to spend a whole lot of money or time or effort going through that if the people that quote "want to be annexed" don't."
--Commissioner Alexander H. Smith
Nelson thinks that most of the South Apopka annexation discussion originates from areas outside of South Apopka.
"Everybody we're hearing from that wants South Apopka to be annexed are people from North Apopka," he said. "I haven't heard anybody come to me from South Apopka Orange County and say, 'Hey, we want to be annexed'. So for us to expend a minimum of three million bucks for a group that doesn't really care either way... does that make a lot of sense?"
As mayor of Apopka, Nelson believes that it's important to weigh everything with fiscal scales, no matter how emotional the subject can be.
"Everybody wants to paint me as making this a financial decision," Nelson said. "I mean, it really is a financial decision. We can talk about the socio-economic part of the equation, but it's still... at the end of the day, economics play into it, and how much it's going to cost does play into everything we do around here. We've been successful because we pinched pennies."
But members of the City Council are on record as opposing this fiscal-only transactional approach; none more than Commissioner Alexander H. Smith.
"When The Apopka Voice asked me if it cost 10 million dollars to annex South Apopka, would I annex? I answered yes... and I still stand by that because I don't think you can put a price on human life," Smith said at a February 15th meeting about annexing South Apopka. "It's the right thing to do. The City of Apopka has benefited greatly from the residents that live in South Apopka. Some of them are suffering financially, spiritually, and healthwise as a result of the contribution that they have made to Apopka. It's the right thing to do."
Commissioner Diane Velazquez thinks it's time that South Apopka takes its rightful place as residents of Apopka. She stated that South Apopka annexation should be a priority for the next City Council.
"I think one of the priorities is the annexation and a workshop regarding the status of South Apopka," said Velazquez during the City Commission Forum. "That is one of the issues that we keep hearing over and over again. We should finally address South Apopka as one, because with the new districting right now, all of Apopka will be in one district, so it's time for our City to really sit down and address the south side of Apopka that is not part of our City."
Incoming City Commissioner Nick Nesta made the South Apopka annexation discussion part of his campaign platform. He too wants to see this as a priority on the City Council.
"First and foremost, we need to develop a plan and have full support on the council level, an all-hands-on-deck approach to go out and do outreach," Nesta said. "We have a lot of momentum from the campaign. Everyone's campaign touched on this in some capacity. I don't want to lose that momentum. Let's have these conversations and then get it on the ballot."
But despite being open to a workshop or presentation, Nelson believes that the cooperation between Apopka and Orange County in relation to South Apopka has never been better.
"I think that our commitment to work together between Orange County and Apopka is a lot better today than it was five years ago," he said. "Our police and the sheriff's department work well together. The fire departments are working probably better than ever together. We're trying to figure ways we can partner you know on roads. We're trying to work together on paving and roads that are City/County. So I think from that point of view, we were working as good as we have ever had."
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