How much will it cost to annex South Apopka?
It's a question that seems to be on a lot of minds in Apopka and its City Council. But is the question premature?
In a recent interview with Spectrum News 13, Mayor Bryan Nelson said it would cost $2 million per year, even after the newly minted residents from South Apopka have paid their property taxes.
Nelson includes 15 new police officers, 18 firefighters, a new fire station, and a number of infrastructure improvements to arrive at that estimate.
“Two million is a big hit," he said. "And if the only way you can pay for that defect is with property taxes, it would accrue to about two million dollars in property taxes. So that’s substantial. Why doesn’t the county step in? They are a five-billion or six-billion-dollar entity. Why don’t they take care of the needs or wants that South Apopka has?”
Commissioner Alexander Smith, however, arrives at a different estimate. “South Apopka has been isolated from the city and not involved in city government," Smith, a longtime advocate for annexation. "And so, for them to play a role in city government, as to who the mayor or city commissioners are, they need to be city residents,”
Smith estimates it would cost Apopka residents around $14 a year in increased millage rates to annex South Apopka.
At the March 15th City Council meeting, Commissioner Diane Velazquez referenced an email she and the other commissioners received about the South Apopka Annexation meeting.
"Mark your calendars for March 28th for a community meeting to discuss the South Apopka Annexation," she said, and also had questions about the interview. "I did see the Spectrum interview that was conducted with our Mayor and with Commissioner Alexander. In that interview, Commissioner Alexander said that it would cost all the homeowners or the residents of the City of Apopka another $14. So I ask that we do a post-cost study. Where did we get the two-million [dollar amount]?
"In the workshops, we talked about two million as the cost... of the operating costs minus the property taxes," Nelson said.
"And the $14?" Velazquez asked Smith.
"What I did was... I took the millage rate for the city and from the county, and I did it that way."
Velazquez also confirmed that Orange County District #2 Commissioner Christine Moore was invited by the City to the March 28th event.
But Commissioner Kyle Becker, after attending the first two workshops, wanted a more interactive meeting to understand better what the South Apopka residents are looking for.
"What's the structure of this workshop?" Becker asked Nelson.
"People said they couldn't get there because it was from four to six," Nelson responded, referencing the second meeting held at the John Bridges Center on January 25th from 4-6 pm.
"These workshops ... are just a whole bunch of presentations, and there's a whole bunch of like, (and I don't want to represent people), but it's misinformation that then causes a reaction to us for a reason. Again, I think it's not necessarily going department by department to say this is what would be required. This is what it would cost. It's more about the mechanics of this whole thing."
Becker went on to suggest a short questionnaire for attendees to fill out to get a grasp of what the consensus may want from annexation.
"And so for them to understand that it's almost the front end of the meeting, elicit why you're here," Becker said. "And again, I know that Commissioner Moore watches. I'm speculating as an example... but why is Orange County not satisfying the needs I need as a resident? We haven't gotten the kind of voice of the resident. That goes back to the very original conversation we had, whether it's a survey, whether it's moderated response, something that gets the right output from the people that are they're concerned about it because right now, the two workshops that we've had is just been very... 'I'm going to say something to you and then get a heated response.' I haven't seen the agenda. But it is my hope that this workshop has already presented their platform and what they feel it is going to cost. So we don't really need to hear that again. I think now we need to hear from the residents as to what is expected of us."
"So, how do you want to do it differently?" Nelson asked Becker.
"Even if it's just informal, like the sign-in sheet should be just a quick heat checkup. Okay, you're here. Are you a county resident? Did you see this idea of annexation into the city? What prompted you to come here today? And have about three or four questions from a county perspective. Do you know who your representative is? Have you tried to engage with your elected official and have been met with resistance? Why was that? Are you happy or dissatisfied with your county services? What are those? Like three or four little tidbits of insights that we can glean... to say, 'Okay, are we on the right track?' Do we need to reframe the messaging that happens within these workshops?"
"Perhaps it's best we structure it as a town hall meeting," said City Attorney Michael Rodriguez. "And then have it as interactive where the folks can line up, set up to make it seem like as well as like the presidential candidate town hall meetings for folks line up, and we set those topics, pre-arranged the topics, here's what's going to be discussed. Be prepared if you want to have asked that question. We'll do it that way so that we can change instead of having a third exact carbon copy meeting. I mean, I can work with the administration to have it structured that way if you are satisfied with that."
The meeting is scheduled for March 28th at the John Bridges Center in South Apopka from 6-8 pm. Although it was not published on the City website as of the publication of this article, the commissioners were emailed about the event on March 15th, prior to the meeting.
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