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Increase in rail funding approved

High speed rail may be in trouble if U.S. Rep. John Mica fails to ready a deal to keep Gov. Rick Scott from eliminating it.

High speed rail may be in trouble if U.S. Rep. John Mica fails to ready a deal to keep Gov. Rick Scott from eliminating it.

Isaac Babcock

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Winter Park is another step closer to finalizing a commuter rail funding agreement with Orange County, after the city reviewed a new agreement that may end up costing the city more money.

Mayor Ken Bradley said that though more needs to be done, the negotiation process has been a smooth one so far.

“I’m very excited about that fact,” Bradley said. “The negotiations have been in excellent spirit.”

City Attorney Larry Brown indicated that the county had been malleable in the negotiation process, but one commissioner wants to know why the city, which she said has more negotiating power, hasn’t stood firmer against the county’s demands.

The City Commission on Monday voted 3-2 to increase its financial commitment to the SunRail system from $350,000 to $500,000, which was in line with Orange County’s desired figure on the two entities’ interlocal funding agreement for SunRail.

The city still would be liable financially for accidents that occur on the tracks.

Both of those provisions in the amended agreement left Commissioner Beth Dillaha frustrated about the Commission’s concessions to the county.

“They’re saying, OK let’s allocate $500,000, which we don’t have, at a future date, for commuter rail, which Orange County should be funding,” Dillaha said.

She said she objected to Winter Park paying into the commuter rail system as an individual municipality after it already sent tax dollars to the county, which in turn pays for the system.

“I can’t even fathom wanting to do that,” Dillaha said. “The counties are supposed to pay for mass transit, not municipalities. We’re the only city that has to do this.”

The liability provision, which has proven a lynch pin for the SunRail system, left more than one commissioner wanting a better alternative in the agreement that would limit the city’s liability.

“It will set us up for a lawsuit in the future,” Dillaha said of the current liability to which the city is exposed.

Bradley agreed.

“The liability is something that needs to be addressed,” he said. “We all have a mutual interest that we need to reduce our liability.”

But how that will happen and how long it will take remains to be seen.

Dillaha said that she’d like to see the city take a stand.

“Orange County needs us more than we need them,” she said. “If we hold firm, I really think we can get what we want.”

Bradley said that as long as the city continues to cooperate in negotiations, they could end quickly, but not if another vote on the Commission gets swayed toward a firmer stance against compromising with the county.

“I’m troubled with two of our commissioners who want to stop SunRail,” Bradley said, though he remained optimistic about the negotiation process. “I think we’re very, very close to having an agreement that will be approved.”