A breakdown of the Winter Springs audit

After concluding that Winter Springs spent “a small portion” of funds against Florida law, an audit report of the city’s finances prepared by Seminole County auditors broke down their concerns, in the county’s opinion, and what should change in the future.

After concluding that Winter Springs spent “a small portion” of funds against Florida law, an audit report of the city’s finances prepared by Seminole County auditors broke down their concerns, in the county’s opinion, and what should change in the future. 

“We followed the letter of the law,” said Winter Springs Mayor Kevin McCann in response to the audit findings.  

The report included an admission from the county that all Seminole County cities suffered road and bridge failures after Hurricane Ian, after having used such failures specifically in Winter Springs to justify the audit. 

The county announced in February that it would audit Winter Springs in order to verify whether the city had spent $19 million in special tax funding properly. The funding, coming from the county’s penny sales tax, which went into effect in January of 2015, was intended for infrastructure projects, according to state ballot language. But what constitutes “infrastructure” became the source of most of the contention between the city and the county after the county pored over the city’s finances. 

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The largest monetary dispute between Seminole County auditors and Winter Springs’ city government appears to be $2.2 million in funds from the $19 million that was spent on patrol vehicles, such as police cars, ($950,000), white fleet vehicles, such as city maintenance vehicles ($250,000), police equipment ($85,000) and heavy equipment, such as excavators, tractors and generators ($880,000). 

The expenditure of that money was green-lit at a July 13, 2020 City Commission meeting as an item within the consent agenda, which is a collection of typically administrative items voted on at once during a Commission meeting with minimal discussion.

Anyone from the Commission, the city or the public can request to have an item removed from the consent agenda to create an opportunity for discussion. 

The county’s auditors, led by Inspector General Bill Carroll, questioned why the Commission at the time made the change to more than $2 million worth of items on a consent agenda, accusing the city of passing the item “without advance notice” and a separate meeting to discuss the changes. That suggestion came in light of the language used in the penny sales tax ballot item, which promised improvements to infrastructure rather than vehicle replacements. 

“Seminole County has a track-record with the One-Cent Sales Tax that reflects its on-going commitment to follow through with promised improvements,” the ballot item’s Frequently Asked Questions guide read, going on to point out that “170 miles of new and reconstructed roadways, 75 miles of sidewalks, 30 intersection improvement (sic) … roadway drainage projects, and county-wide fiber optic installations” had been made. 

In that same July 13, 2020 agenda money was listed as used for water and sewer infrastructure that the county said it would be investigating in future audits to determine if it was and is being used properly: “We will include as part of our audit plan, the process for updating the Water and Sewer Utility Fund and reconcile any outstanding issues with the cost center.” 

In the audit report, auditors said that the Commission had “no discussion” about the items in the consent agenda. But the Commission did. Commissioner Kevin Cannon asked then-City Manager Shawn Boyle whether the city would be able to pay for the items in question despite possible reductions of tax revenue during the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Boyle said they would. The Commission at the time voted unanimously to pass that change, among other items on the consent agenda. 

Hursh, writing on behalf of the city, disagreed with the auditors’ questioning why the city did not have a formal public discussion of the change to add maintenance items and vehicle replacements into a budget that was expected to be used for infrastructure projects. But those vehicle replacements are infrastructure replacements, he wrote. He pointed to state statute section 212.55 2(d) which, among other things, defines vehicles and equipment having a life expectancy of 5 or more years as infrastructure. 

“Although we agree that the city is in compliance with the requirement of having a public meeting and the city is in compliance with Florida Statutes, the City Commission, in our opinion, did not follow the intent of the referendum,” Carroll responded in the audit report.  

The county auditors’ most direct implication of the city not meeting state statutes highlighted what the county called operational expenses that happened between Jan. 27 and Sept. 30 of 2021, totaling nearly $40,000, mostly comprising $32,228.36 for transmission repair. Hursh disputed the county’s claim that those expenses didn’t meet state statutes. 

In the initial days of the audit Mayor Kevin McCann called the audit “politically motivated” and said that it would find the city “did nothing wrong.”

Meanwhile city staff went to work researching budget numbers and sending paperwork to county auditors, which McCann called “a lot of work, which we’re glad to do, but it’s time consuming.” 

On May 8, after an initial draft of the audit was released by County Clerk Grant Maloy, which he argued was legally prudent but which city officials argued possibly broke state law, Winter Springs Deputy Mayor Rob Elliott said, “I’m very concerned about the amount of money our staff is expending on answering all these questions, pulling all these documents, printing this, printing that. I think it’s going to be a pretty substantial amount of money.” 

He agreed with the mayor that the audit’s premature release before the city was allowed to respond to initial findings appeared to be politically motivated. 

“These laws are set in place for, in my opinion, one reason, and that’s so you don’t use an audit for political purposes,” Elliott said May 8. “That’s exactly what was done here.”

County Commissioner Jay Zembower has since recommended that all cities in the county be audited.  

Read the full audit here.

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