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Lean budget rankles some residents

Winter Springs may be holding the line with their tax rate, but that sparked some ire from the public at the City Commission meeting Monday before an official vote could be made.

The tax rate, which was voted unanimously to be set at 2.4100 mills, is the same as last year, but is 4.21 percent above the “rolled back” rate that would have kept residents’ tax bills the same as last year. Due to increased property values in the past year, keeping the same millage rate number as last year is expected to bring in an additional $369,257 compared to last year’s budget. For each $1,000 of assessed value on a home, $2.41 will be taxed by the city. For a home worth $300,000 of assessed value (which can be much less than the current market value), the city’s tax would be $723 per year.

But not raising the tax rate drew some scorn, with comparisons between Winter Springs and other cities. Some residents, including a former city commissioner, said the city isn’t doing enough.

After pointing out that the City of Oviedo has only a few thousand more residents than Winter Springs, resident Art Gallo said Winter Springs’ city staff is significantly smaller. “Oviedo’s staff is about 300 folks,” he said. “Winter Springs’ staff is in the neighborhood of 190 …for sure a water conservation coordinator is one of the first people I would look to bring on.”

“I think they have too much work and not enough people,” he added.

Former Commissioner Robert Miller said he wouldn’t mind more taxes to bring up the city’s level of services.

“I pay the City of Winter Springs about $20 a month for all the services they provide,” he said. “When I look at the taxes I have to pay elsewhere it’s phenomenal. I pay $47 to the school board, $23 to fire, and $41 to the county…I’m concerned that we really do need to begin staffing up the city. There’s a lot of things I’ve noticed that need to be attended (to)… In my own opinion, I think the condition of our city has declined quite a bit in certain areas.”

Miller added that he suspected commissioners were wary of the political fallout of raising the tax rate.

Regarding the city’s ongoing water issues, resident Gina Shafer added, “I did listen in those meetings that you all had about the water, how everybody kept saying ‘oh we’ve kept the millage rate so low’. Well, maybe that wasn’t the answer.”

Mayor Kevin McCann was quick to defend the city. “The state goes through and does a report card for everybody in the state, and we have consistently been ranked at the very highest in the state for everything from schools to crime to fiscal responsibility to the size of our government to the best use of dollars and all those things. We continue to be ranked and recognized statewide for how well we do things.”

The millage and the budget both passed unanimously, with Commissioner Kevin Cannon absent. The budget was set at $54,507,270 in expenses, including a general fund of $18,736,477.

“We’re in very good shape,” City Manager Shawn Boyle said of the budget. “We’re exactly where we need to be.”

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