By Marc Crail Mount Dora City Council, District 4 Representative
Mount Dora City Council held its last in a series of Budget Workshops this morning. It's difficult to condense all of the details into a few paragraphs but I'm going to try. If you have specific questions about the proposed budget, feel free to contact me. Just as always, please be aware that what follows comes from me not from City Council as a whole.
You've heard me say this before but it's important to know that creating a budget is a moving target. If a hurricane hits in the next few weeks or city hall burns to the ground tomorrow our "budget" will need to be changed drastically. We are still receiving new figures from the State of Florida. A new batch of numbers arrived late yesterday afternoon and more could follow in the upcoming days or weeks.
The next steps for adopting our FY 2021-22 budget will consist of a first public hearing at 5:30 p.m. on September 7th. when we will adopt a tentative millage rate and budget. Then at a second public hearing on September 21st. at 5:30 we will adopt the final millage and budget. These are public meetings at City Hall.
One important factor that is totally out of our control is inflation. The August 2021 CPI shows overall prices are rising by 5.4% year over year. Will that rate of inflation slow down or will it go even higher in the upcoming months? Who knows for sure, but we have to plan for higher energy costs, higher costs for construction, gasoline, etc.
I got my TRIM Notice in the mail yesterday. When you get yours, you will notice that in the line titled "City of Mount Dora", in the first blue column (Column 7) that our anticipated millage rate is listed as 6.2. That will almost certainly be reduced to 6.0 mills and potentially even lower. At 6.0 mills, the owner of an "average" Mount Dora house that is owner occupied will pay $25.10 more next year. Thats about $2.09 more per month on a house with an assessed valuation of $182,607. Your house value could be higher or lower.
Our property taxes (Ad Valorem) provide about 1/3 of our city's revenue. Roughly another 1/3 of our revenue comes from charges for services (utilities, etc.) and the final approximately 1/3 comes from transfers. About 65% of our budget is used to pay personnel costs (salaries and benefits). Another chunk of our revenues goes to pay for capital improvements that include major building & equipment items, renovations, new facilities, etc.
One major budget item for next year, that we have been discussing for months now is the reduction in force of 7 firefighters who have served our city well for the past 3 years. These staff reductions became necessary because the Federal SAFER Grant that covered the lion's share of their salaries comes to an end this December and because our need to construct a third fire station has been delayed for the foreseeable future. Losing these employees saddens me. Our Personnel Department is working diligently to help those 7 fire fighters to secure jobs in the area. I think they will all find new jobs nearby.
Kudos to our City staff for all of their hard work to get us to this point in the budget process. I'll keep you informed as the final steps occur in the next month.
My quote of the day comes from Oprah Winfrey. "God will not look you over for medals, or diplomas but for scars."
Thanks for your interest in your city government!
By Marc Crail Mount Dora City Council, District 4 Representative
It’s officially campaign season in Mount Dora and this year there will be only two races. All Mount Dora voters will be able to elect a Mayor, and those voters that reside within District 1 will also choose a new Mount Dora City Council representative since incumbent Pam Burtnett opted not to run for re-election. Two Mount Dora City Council seats, District 4 and District 5, had unopposed candidates.
Cathy Hoechst Currently the incumbent mayor and past president of Mount Dora Area Chamber of Commerce. Crissy Stile Currently a downtown business owner (Barrel of Books & Games) and past Mount Dora City Council Member
DISTRICT 1 CANDIDATES
John Cataldo Currently a downtown business owner (Adora Inn), and past member of Mount Dora Planning & Zoning Commission and Mount Dora Economic Advisory Committee. Carroll Jaskulski Currently a project manager for Florida Realty & Development Group (Cottages on 11th), and Chair of Mount Dora Planning & Zoning Commission.
UNOPPOSED CITY COUNCIL SEATS
District 4 Marc Crail, incumbent Mount Dora City Council Member.
District 5 (new district) Nate Walker, currently employed by a communications company (Comcast) and member of Northeast Community Redevelopment Advisory Committee (NECRA).
Due to its recent charter revisions, the City is in the transition process from 2 year terms to 4 year terms. Council members elected in 2021 will serve 3 year terms ending in 2024, as part of this process. Additionally, a fifth district was added (District 5) and one of the at-Large seats was eliminated. The other district seats were not up for re-election this year. Election Day is November 2.
“Let the voters decide.” That’s the mantra of the bevy of volunteers circulating a legal petition to place a new Mount Dora charter amendment on the ballot.
The referendum seeks to reinforce the height limit within the city’s historic district to 35 feet and 25 feet within 100 feet of the lakefront. Organizers of the initiative believe such a charter amendment is necessary to stop recurring efforts by special interest groups to bypass or change the existing building height ordinance. The petition does not oppose or prevent a parking garage.
“We hoped the City Council would put this issue on the ballot to let Mount Dora voters decide,” said Crissy Stile, a downtown business owner who is spearheading the referendum effort. “Unfortunately, the most expeditious, representative and cost-effective option wasn’t chosen by the council, so now residents are working together to put it on the ballot,” said Stile. The former city council member recently declared her candidacy for mayor after the council declined to put the charter amendment before voters.
The new petition will require approximately 1700 signatures of registered voters that live within Mount Dora’s city limits and who were registered to vote in the City by last November. Interested residents can sign the petition at Barrel of Books & Games located at 128 W. 4th Avenue in downtown Mount Dora on Wednesday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. In addition, volunteers will be visiting neighborhoods within Mount Dora's city limits to gather signatures.
Below are some frequently asked questions about the petition and the answers:
F.A.Q.s 1. Does this petition and proposed charter amendment allow for a downtown parking garage? Yes. Mount Dora City Council already passed an ordinance allowing a parking garage with a maximum height of 55’. This charter amendment would not repeal any existing ordinances.
2. What is a ”City Charter?” A city's charter is the most important governing and legal document of a city. It defines a city government's organization, powers, functions and essential procedures. Federally, it is comparable to the Constitution of the U.S. The only way to change a charter once it's been adopted is by a voter referendum.
3. How would a charter amendment protect Mount Dora's Historic District more than existing ordinances which limit building heights? Ordinances can easily be changed by a vote of the City Council. Council members and/or Planning & Zoning Commission members affected by undue influence or conflicts of interest can pursue changing the ordinance. By contrast, if the charter amendment passes it could only be changed by residents that are registered voters.
4. Mount Dora has a Historic Preservation Board. Aren't their guidelines and protections enough? City Council can always vote to overturn the vote of the Historic Preservation Board (HPB), In two significant cases earlier this year, HPB rejected two submittals to increase building heights in excess of 35 feet, yet Mount Dora City Council overruled those rejections and voted to let the projects proceed.
5. The issue of increasing building heights was recently tabled. Does that mean the issue is moot? A tabled issue can be brought back for a vote at any time. Controversial issues can be tabled and then brought back after an election or at any time.
6. If this charter amendment passes, could it be overturned in the future? Yes. If the majority of voters chose to overturn it.
7. Do other historic downtowns in Florida have height restrictions for new buildings? Yes. Through various mechanisms, the historic downtowns of Fernandina Beach, Naples, Winter Garden, Dunedin, Winter Park and others have height restrictions.
8. Do charter amendments require a special election? No. If a vote by a city council places a charter amendment on the ballot with ample time, the referendum can be included on the regular election's ballot. Likewise, if ample time is given to collect and process petition signatures, the referendum can be included on the regular election's ballot.
By Marc Crail District 4 City Council Representative
This morning (8/3/21) City Council held a Budget Workshop between 9:00-12:00. The single agenda item was the Fire department's budget for FY2021-22. A Work Session or Workshop is a public meeting and it was held at the W.T. Bland Library's meeting room. Work Sessions give council members a chance to hear information, ask questions and discuss things. Today members of the public were invited to provide their opinions as well. What follows come from me not from city council as a whole.
Normally I report to you retrospectively about what has happened at a Council meeting. I might say that we voted to approve this or that and the vote was 5-2. I can tell you who voted yes or no because it's already happened. No votes were taken today so I'll concentrate on letting you know that we reviewed the historical timelines of our plans to build new fire stations and staffing. We discussed our future plans to build 2 new fire stations and a public works facility.
We talked about the fact that Mount Dora's fire department became fully accredited in March of 2020. There are only 88 accredited fire departments in the United States and just 286 in the world. Our fire department is among the very best in the world.
Our fire department has set 4 Key Expectations:
Response times benchmarked against national standards
Well trained & proficient firefighters
Community outreach & public educations
The major questions at hand involve how much staffing is needed to do the job and how to balance our high service expectations with our City's budget constraints. We talked about The Fire Assessment Fee that has been set at $219 per year for the past few years and our ad valorem taxes that support our fire department. This year we spend $936.63 per household on fire services. That totals $6,796,701.00 for our city of 15,200 residents. We discussed the federal SAFER Grant that allowed us to hire 12 new firefighters three years ago and is sunsetting this December.
We looked at and discussed 3 different proposed staffing models. Each has pros and cons. We've asked our Finance Director to bring us back information on a model for consideration at a future meeting. In the end we are struggling with providing excellent fire services to Mount Dora while at the same time keeping taxes reasonable.
Like every aspect of our City Budget we will need to weigh our options and collectively come up with an option that will likely involve compromises.
Our regular City Council Meeting has been moved to Wednesday 8/4/21 at City Hall. You'll here from me again tomorrow evening.
My quote today is from Marcus Aurelius. "The opinion of 10,000 men is of no value if none of them know anything about the subject."
By Marc Crail District 4 City Council Representative