Apopka City Hall

Analysis

By Reggie Connell/Managing Editor of The Apopka Voice

The Budget Debates: Part Three – An open seat attracts four diverse candidates to replace Billie Dean. Will their vote tip the balance?

“I propose that the City Council develop a strategic plan to obtain a 25% fund in the next five years. We must protect the fiscal integrity of the city.”

Those were the words of six-term Commissioner Billie Dean at the October 18th City Council meeting that rekindled a debate about reserves in the City’s general fund. It’s not the first time Dean has been the catalyst of discussions on the Council, but with his retirement in 2018, his voice will not be a part of the next budget process.

So who will take his place? And do they share his opinions?

There are four candidates running for Seat #1 – Gene Knight, Suzanne Kidd, Theresa Mott, and Alexander Smith. Their views on the budget are almost as diverse as their backgrounds.

Gene Knight

Knight is the founder of the popular local Facebook page “Apopka Then and Now”, and a longtime Apopka resident. Through the years, he has had his run-ins with the City and wants to make the City Council more accessible to the people of Apopka.

“I’ve had to fight to get things done like lighting, sidewalks, and trees taken down in certain areas,” he told The Apopka Voice at the beginning of his campaign in March. “You shouldn’t have to push the issues to get someone to take care of it. I want it to be that everyone matters and everyone’s voice matters. They (the City Council) are listening to us talk, but they’re not hearing us.”

He was present at the budget debate, and says he favored Commissioner Doug Bankson’s approach.

“Commissioner Bankson’s  plan for the 25% reserve proposal is on the right track,” he said. “It’s something that the city needs, but it will take a few more workshops to work out the details. The reserve should be used for emergency purposes and not used for functions that the city can not afford or to meet in the budget.”

 Kidd is a 16-year resident of Apopka and former 30-year public school teacher, and has been an active participant in her homeowners’ association and Apopka civic affairs. She attends nearly every City Council meeting, Planning Commission meetings,  budget workshops, and has served on numerous City committees, most recently chairing the City’s Visioning Steering Committee. She currently works with Habitat for Humanity to help provide more affordable housing to Apopka residents and teaches interior design to Habitat homeowners. She too was present at the budget debates, but holds a contrasting opinion to Knight.

Suzanne Kidd
 “The purpose of reserves is to cover the City’s expenses in the event of some unforeseen catastrophic event,” she wrote to The Apopka Voice. “The Government Finance Officers Association in their “Best Practices”, recommends that cities set aside at least 16% of their General Operating Fund budget to cover at least two months’ expenses. Currently, Apopka has 20% in reserves, clearly above the standard. Through prudent spending by staff, and not spending all monies budgeted, the City adds unspent money back into reserves at the end of each fiscal year. Following this year’s audit, we will again be adding to the reserves balance.”
 Kidd, like Commissioners Kyle Becker and Diane Velazquez, believes more details need to be presented before agreeing to a higher reserve.

  “The current discussion over what percent of expenditures should be held in reserves is a worthy exercise, but one that must be based on facts. Only through serious research and analysis of actual risks faced by the City, risks that reserves are intended to mitigate, can we arrive at a number that is right for Apopka. Without this step, it would be imprudent to simply propose some arbitrary percentage figure, hoping we hit the right mark. Such an analysis would be an important first step.”

Alexander Smith

 

Smith moved to Apopka in 1964 with his family and graduated from Apopka High School. He is a recently retired educator after being employed by Orange County Public Schools. After retirement, he became the Associate Pastor at New Life Missionary Baptist Church in Apopka. Like Knight, he would like to see more participation by the Apopka citizens in the process.

“It’s not about me,” he said. “Everyone has their agenda. I hear people in the audience at City Council meetings whispering to each other ‘what about what the people think?’ I want to be the people’s voice on City Council. My goal is to represent all of Apopka. As one person I cannot do it all myself. I would like to see more interest and better attendance at City Council meetings and community events.”

He also supports a 25% reserve, but stops short of calling for budget cuts or millage rate increases.

 “I would support a 25% reserve to occur over the next 5 years,” he said. “It is the right thing to do. With the outlook of growth and development planned for the city of Apopka this can be achieved without cutting services or raising taxes. Staff should be directed to develop a plan to accomplish the reserve and present to the Mayor and City Council for approval.”
Note: City Commission Seat #1 candidate Theresa Mott was contacted by The Apopka Voice, but chose not to comment at this time.
 “I don’t have all the information to make a comment at this point,” she said. “I was not at the meeting.
In Part Four of The Budget Debates, The Apopka Voice focuses on the two candidates running for Mayor of Apopka – Joe Kilsheimer and Bryan Nelson. Their agendas will drive the budget debates, and their opinions are polar opposites.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Gene, let me use this space to wish you a very Happy 50th Birthday today! 50 is an important birthday milestone, a half-a- century! Wow! Have a great birthday party tonight!

  2. Lord please, please, please, won’t someone at the city give Sue a certificate of attendance for all those meetings she attended….. Please, I beg you all…….

  3. As Mayor Joe continues to deplete the reserves, Suzanne Kidd will be there to vote for anything Mayor Joe has on his wish list to spend the reserves on.

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