The Oviedo City Council considered several impactful budget recommendations from city staff at its July 7 meeting:
- A tentative tax rate increase from $5.28 per $1,000 in property tax value to $5.48.
- The reallocation of $2.5 million in federal COVID-19 relief funding the Council had earmarked for a community center.
- Nixing Festival of Frights, Snow Mountain and Mardi Gras and changing several other city-funded events, including the St. Patrick’s Day Festival, 12 Days of Christmas, Independence Celebration and Fireworks, and Bark and Brews
- Eliminating men’s softball and adult flag football from its recreation programs and adding Blitzball (described as high-level wiffleball).
Read all about these potential changes and more below.
The Council reached consensus on a tentative tax rate increase – from $5.28 per $1,000 in property tax value to $5.48 – as well as several budget cuts and alterations to balance a proposed spending plan of $35 million for the 2022-2023 fiscal year during a work session on July 7.
This came after a June 20 meeting where more than two dozen residents spoke out against a fire fee, which the city had proposed and the Council ultimately voted against. During public comment, several residents said they’d rather pay a general tax increase than a separate fire fee, which would have cost property owners within the city $212 per 2,125 square feet of building.
Property tax revenues from this fiscal year rose by 7%, surpassing staff’s expectation of 4%, generating an additional $2.2 million for a total of $17.9 million. But staff said this, plus citywide department budget cuts, still left a $645,682 gap, which is why the tax rate hike is being proposed.
Councilman Jeff Boddiford and Deputy Mayor Bob Pollack argued against the increase, saying they thought the city could find the money elsewhere. The proposed budget includes a 5% salary increase for all city employees. One of Pollack’s suggestions was to give 5% to the lowest earners and 2-3% to the city’s highest wage earners, such as directors, explaining that inflation affects low wage earners the most.
Councilwoman Natalie Teuchert expressed shock at resistance to the hike after the Council had been told by the city that more revenue was needed to fill staff vacancies and increase city salaries. The current minimum city salary is $13 per hour and Teuchert said the city has a 22% staff turnover. The proposed budget includes a $600,000 implementation of a $15 per hour minimum wage, which takes effect on Aug. 1. This is in addition to the 5% increase.
Teuchert said that she had initially thought the fire fee was too high but was “convinced by all of you guys, saying we needed to right the ship, we need to take care of our employees, we need to take care of our maintenance,” she said.
Teuchert also argued that the 5% should be across the board, which is the direction the Council agreed to go.
“These are our directors who we could not function without, all the way to the bottom. We’re not willing to go back to the people who said they would rather us do a millage increase?” she asked, referring to the residents who said they would rather a general tax increase.
In the end, the Council reached consensus on setting the tentative tax rate at $5.48 per $1,000 in property tax value. For a resident owning a home worth $200,000 of assessed value, the city’s property tax would be $1,096 (a $40 increase from last year).
“I’ll agree to the millage increase but I definitely want to see if we can try to get that down even more at the end of this,” Boddiford said.
The Council is expected to adopt the rate on July 18, which the city’s finance director, Jerry Boop, said sets the tax rate ceiling and can be decreased. A preliminary adoption hearing is scheduled for Sept.8 for the rate and budget and a final adoption hearing is scheduled for Sept. 19. The public is able to attend both. Those who can’t attend but want to weigh in can contact their elected officials ahead of time.
What was shaved off the budget?
City Manager Bryan Cobb said he asked city department directors to do a “deep dive” into their budgets looking for savings and potential revenue.
According to city documents, all departments recommended a reduction in travel and training. The Recreation and Parks Department will experience the deepest cuts. OCN highlighted the changes that are most impactful to the average resident below. Scroll down to the bottom of the article to check out budget documents and the recorded meeting.
Recreation and Parks cuts/changes
The Recreation and Parks Department’s proposed changes would mean an expenditure decrease of $293,000 and a related decrease in revenues from programs and services, amounting $64,000.
The department is considering a 15% increase in recreation fees and possibly more for programs such as summer camps. Recreation and Parks Interim Director Paul Beldon said higher fees for nonresidents are being considered as well.
Here are some other city staff-recommended changes:
“I want to say that for all these 40 events there are emotions tied to all of them. All of these events make Oviedo what it is,” Beldon said. “I think all of them are equally important so it’s hard for me to recommend certain events or eliminate or reduce them without looking at cost recovery and the labor hours that are going into these events. I’m trying to take the emotions out of this and look at this realistically.”
- Festival of Frights
- Mardi Gras
- Bark and Brews
- Moved to the fall to further spread out large events and tax city staff less
- 12 Days of Christmas and Winterfest
- consolidated into a three-day weekend event
- Snow mountain, which costs $12,000, replaced with lower-cost attractions
- Fourth of July
- City will fund firework show only
- Possible for city partners to provide other entertainment
- Could be moved to Center Lake Park
- St. Patrick’s Day Festival
- Extended from one day to two-day festival in hopes to gain more revenue
- Bark and Brews
City-funded athletic programs
The recreation division proposed the following:
- Reducing the number of seasons for each of its athletic programs, which would cut costs, allow for cross training of staff to better fill periodic vacancies and reduce wear and tear of city facilities.
- The elimination of men’s softball program and adult flag football program
- The addition of Blitzball, which staff described as high-level wiffle ball and said it’s very popular.
Reallocation of community center dollars
The city asked for a consensus from the Council to reallocate the $2.5 million in COVID-19 relief funds that the Council had previously consented to using for a community center in the city’s downtown area.
The city staff had been scouting locations for months but during the July 7 meeting, Recreation and Parks staff recommended using Riverside Park’s 2,442-square-foot multi-purpose room as a community center on weekday mornings and will start advertising additional senior programming there immediately.
“We have this opportunity now to be able to start to utilize that room the way we should be using it,” Cobb said.
Assistant City Manager Patrick Kelly said that staff is currently evaluating how to shift other programs that utilize that room so as not to disturb senior programming.
“I think we may need to make that commitment because we made a commitment on one side of the city and now we’re changing our mind and it’s not going to go over very well if we soft shuffle that transition,” Councilman Keith Britton said.
Staff reported that only about 6 to 15 seniors participate in the city’s book club and only four signed up for a recent tour of the St. Johns River. Teuchert said the city should offer more classes and workshops, which local seniors have been asking for.
“If we can do a dedicated senior program similar to a senior center like over in Winter Springs, I think we can meet this commitment.”
Here’s where the $2.5 million is now going:
Proposed budget documents
Recreation and Parks’ events report
July 7 Oviedo City Council work session meeting