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No tax hike here

Isaac Babcock

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Winter Park will keep its millage rate steady, but cut other parts of its budget to make up for shortfalls for the 2011 budget year.

That announcement came at a City Commission meeting July 26 in which the city tentatively set an operating millage rate of 4.0923. That rate is the same as for the current 2010 budget, and is expected to be adopted when the budget is finalized.

Mayor Ken Bradley praised the city management and Commission for keeping such a tight budget, despite pressures that made for some difficult cuts.

"Our city is in a much better financial shape than other areas," Bradley said. "We didn't debate to close down our library tonight like Maitland was."

Maitland's City Council had received a letter from Councilman Phil Bonus suggesting that the city should slowly withdraw funding from its library and eventually close it. That idea was immediately rebuffed by Mayor Doug Kinson and other councilors at the City Council meeting, also on July 26.

Winter Park's decision to keep the millage rate steady came during a meeting in which Commissioner Tom McMacken chided the Commission for focusing on other issues — the dog park and proposed trail — during a tough budget discussion.

"I'm really concerned because I think we as a group should be focused on the budget," McMacken said.

During that meeting, Bradley said that the Commission had been micro-managing aspects of the city when it needed to finalize the budget.

"We're starting to act like directors of departments and not a board of governors, which is what we are," Bradley said.

The mayor also warned the Commission that in order to pass the budget quickly they'd need to do research outside of the Commission Chambers rather than probing into details during the meeting.

"Instead of us spending inordinate amounts of time … to look at the budget and the details … I've studied the budget in tremendous detail, so I understand our issues," Bradley said.

One of the biggest issues the city was facing was a pension budget gap for city employees, particularly police and fire department employees.

"I know there are a lot of budget things that are facing us," Commissioner Phil Anderson said. "There are a lot of people who've brought the pension problem up."

That looming pension issue is one that has hit the city for $2.7 million in contributions this budget, but in the future is projected to skyrocket, according to an actuary hired by the city.

"Over the next 10 years it would be $55 million if the forecasts are right, and it could be more if the forecasts are too low," Commissioner Beth Dillaha said. "It shows a significant spike in our city's contributions. It's already spiking, but there's a big spike in two to three years."

The city is prepared to pay for its contributions this budget cycle, but there could be a big problem looming in the future, Dillaha said.

"It's not going to be an overnight fix," she said. "Every year that those contributions grow it comes from a smaller pot of money."