CITY HALL

WITH PANDEMIC RAGING, WINTER PARK COMMISSION CONSIDERS TAX HIKE

By JON WARNER

    The city commission in Winter Park recently came under fire as some members considered supporting raising taxes on residents struggling to get by during the COVID-19 economic downturn. Taxes were last increased in Winter Park roughly 13 years ago, and now the commission may seek to raise the millage rate by 11.5%. What exactly the funds will be utilized for remains unknown.

     In early August, the commission voted 4 to 1 in a step to implement the new tax rate which will be debated further September 8 and 22, 2020. In the mean time, Winter Park resident Bill Sullivan organized an opposition movement in an attempt to curtail the commission's efforts to raise taxes. "Most people don't live in these fancy houses and can't afford to pay these taxes," said Sullivan. Out of his concern, Sullivan contacted Commissioners Sheila Deciccio and Todd Weaver to discuss and clarify their reasoning, though the only response given to Sullivan came in the form of speculation, personal jabs and accusatory statements, according to Sullivan. 

    Commissioner Marty Sullivan (no relation) claimed the need for the surplus revenue was because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the city currently enjoys a reserve fund of $17 million consigned specifically for emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the existence of this large sum of reserve funds, many now speculate that the commission's focus on massive environmental overhauls and other pet projects could be the real motivation behind the increase.

     As opponents of the tax increase point out, the people impacted the most by the tax will be those of lower or middle-class economic status. Some of those concerned about the tax increase have suggested that this type of short-sightedness on the part of Commissioner Marty Sullivan stems from his own bubble of wealth and affluence.

    Residing in one of the original manors of Winter Park, Sullivan has repeatedly given off the cuff comments about a range of topics. At a recent commission meeting, Sullivan insinuated that Winter Park needed to cut back on restaurants, though overlooking the fact that each represents 50 to 100 jobs: "...there are 200 restaurants in winter park, and that's too many restaurants." 

    Despite the wishes of commission members, the crescendo of public outrage at their attempt to raise taxes backfired as now evidenced by the widespread yard signage presently dotting the city. Critics of the city commission accuse members of being aligned with by Phil Anderson who is seeking a run for Winter Park Mayor against former commissioner Sarah Sprinkel. Sprinkel also expressed her concerns and surprise at the commission's decision: "The commission raised the taxes, they claim they didn't, but in order for this not to go into place, they will have to roll back the millage rate and rescind it. They're playing with words. They started the process, which if they don't change it, will result in the tax increase."

       Some opponents of the tax feel public pressure will force the commissioners to succumb to the wishes of the public, but the nothing will be set in stone until the commission meets again later this month.

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Article Update: On September 8, 2020, the Winter Park commission decided to suspend the tax increase following a hard fought campaign by residents against the decision.

                                                         

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