Editor’s note: This article was edited to reflect that City Manager Bryan Cobb’s comments were made during a June 21 City Council meeting.
Did you know that the City of Oviedo is a designated bird sanctuary and that it’s illegal to hunt, kill or generally mess with birds in the city? Did you know that Oviedo has specific rules for moving a house from one end of the city to the other? If you read the city’s charter, you would.
Oviedo’s Charter ― the document that lays out the rules, powers and functions of the city’s government — is reviewed every five years. City Council chooses a committee of 15 citizens to conduct the review and recommend revisions — or amendments — that voters must approve by 51 percent or more in order for them to pass. To find the city’s amendment information page, click here. For a list of the folks who made up the Charter Review Committee, click here.
Here are the four amendments that are on this year’s ballot and what they mean to you.
AMENDMENT/QUESTION 1 – TERM LENGTH
Shall Oviedo’s charter be amended to increase the term of office for City Councilmembers from two (2) to four (4) years beginning with the 2024 election and providing for three (3) year terms for City Councilmembers elected in the 2023 election in order to allow for a two year election cycle that will coincide with statewide elections?
Approving this amendment would keep City Council’s term limits to two years for the 2021 and 2022 elections. Then it would jump to three years in 2023 and increase to four years in 2024.
This progression staggers the elections so not all of City Council is up for election at once, and it will align Oviedo’s elections with the state election cycle, shifting some of the election costs to Seminole County for an average savings of about $23,000 per off-cycle election. The nearly 100 percent jump in off-cycle election costs from $20,500 in 2019 to the projected cost of $37,725 in 2021 is largely due to increases in costs, such as polling place rental fees and poll worker costs. The most noticeable jump is the cost of absentee ballots, which is estimated to rise from $7,000 to a projected $17,000 this year.
Syncing state/federal and city elections also means a higher voter turnout. The average voter turnout in an off-cycle election of about 5,000 climbs to 18,000 when aligned with state and federal elections.
“It takes a good two years to really get up to speed [on how the city works]. It makes a little more sense to do it every four years,” said Stephen Schenck, former City Council member and Charter Review Committee member.
Extending term limits has failed in two previous elections. Some residents say they favor two-year terms because they feel that it offers stronger accountability among the Council. Others prefer longer terms so that council members are not constantly campaigning.
The last time the amendment was on Oviedo’s ballot was in 2005. According to the Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Office, only 28 percent of voters said yes to this amendment but it only needs 51 percent to pass. Dominic Persampiere, former Oviedo mayor and CRC member, said he feels good about the measure’s chances this year.
“I think the time is right,” he said.
AMENDMENT/QUESTION 2 – DEBT FINANCING
Shall Oviedo’s charter be amended to increase the annual debt issuance limit from $5,000,000 to $10,000,000; Provide that such debt issuance limit does not apply to debt secured by enterprise funds or associated with leases; and to remove an antiquated provision related to the purchase of the assets of Alafaya Utilities, Inc.?
Approval of this amendment would increase the amount of money the city is allowed to borrow in a calendar year from $5 million to $10 million. Incurring debt above $10 million would require a city-wide vote.
It also changes what kind of debt is included in the cap. In the past, debt associated utilities, such as the 2010 purchase of Alafaya Utilities Inc. sewer and wastewater system, were included in the cap. This amendment eliminated the cap on utility debt because, as Oviedo Mayor Megan Sladek explains, they are funded by fees, not taxes.
During a June 21 City Council meeting concerning the amendments, City Manager Bryan Cobb said the debt cap hurt the city this past year when it met the $5 million cap by purchasing a fire truck and then could not refinance its debt to get a lower interest rate. The city has about $55 million in total debt.
“To have large-scale things, you need to be able to pay for them,” Schenck said. “To be able to get that bonding, you’re vetted beyond compare to make sure you can pay it.”
AMENDMENT/QUESTION 3 – ELECTION PROVISIONS
Shall Oviedo’s charter be amended to correct typographical errors; increase number of petition signatures needed to qualify for City Council from 25 to 150; clarify the due date for filing nominating petitions and adjust the time frames for holding all special elections?
This amendment would increase the number of signatures a candidate for City Council would have to collect in order to be nominated for Council from 25 to 150.
“[The CRC] felt 25 was too easy and also didn’t reflect the growth of the city,” City Manager Bryan Cobb said during the June meeting. “Candidates now have to put some sweat equity into it.”
The amendment also increases the amount of time the city and candidates have to prepare for a special election to fill a Council seat vacancy from 30-60 days to 60-90 days from the Council’s approval of a special election until the actual election.
Schenck said he was elected to Oviedo City Council by special election in 2007 and it was a very tight timeline between petitioning, qualifying and campaigning against two other people.
AMENDMENT/QUESTION 4 – CITY CLERK/PUBLIC DEPOSITORIES
Shall Oviedo’s charter be amended to remove the requirement for the posting of a bond by the city manager, allowing for the city manager to hire the city clerk, and by correcting a typographical error in Section 4.07?
There’s an option in the current Charter for the City Council to require the city manager to take out a personal bond to cover any possible malfeasances. This amendment removes this language since “historically City Councils haven’t required that,” Cobb said during the June meeting.
CRC member Joe Thoma said there are so many checks and balances in place when it comes to the city’s financial structure, it’s not needed. He added, “My question is, why would the City Council hire someone they didn’t trust?”
It would also remove language that says the city clerk must report to the City Council. Thoma said the language was created in the 1980s, before the city manager position existed.
“The city clerk, now, will not really have to serve two masters,” Cobb said during the June meeting.
Early voting is from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 30, and election day is from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 2. Get more information, including your polling location here.