SURVEY RESULTS SUMMARY
In a survey conducted by the Winter Springs Community Association, Winter Springs residents expressed strong concerns for the city’s proposed FY 2024 budget and the direction of the city. Recent investigations launched by Inspector General of Seminole County and Florida’s Auditor General and the recent resignation of the city manager loom large in residents minds as 525 respondents opposed the proposed $72.7 million budget by a 66-12% margin with 22% undecided. Approximately three-fourths of residents (74%) did not support the proposal to keep the millage the same, which is projected to raise the overall tax levy by 9.3%, instead stating they believed the City Commission should “roll-back” the millage rate.
One respondent even recommended a “board of Winter Springs residents should be allowed to review the budget and make recommendations.”
“These responses represent a strong repudiation of the priorities and direction of our current city leadership,” said Jesse Phillips, the President of the Winter Springs Community Association. “It is obvious the residents of Winter Springs do not trust the city to take even more of our hard earned tax-payer dollars.”
Tuscawilla Levy Increases
In addition to the proposed city-wide levy increase, the budget also suggests residents in Tuscawilla receive an additional tax increase through the various lighting and beautification districts established to maintain medians, fountains and other features. More than two-thirds (69.5%) are already satisfied with the condition of the medians along Winter Springs BLVD and 71% do not support the idea of an increased levy for residents of Tuscawilla and Oak Forest.
Almost 9 in 10 residents–“Suspend” Pickleball Plans
Perhaps the biggest loser in public opinion was the plans being pushed by certain commissioners to bring additional pickleball courts to the City. As debate looms over the sports status as a fad or more permanent staple, Winter Springs residents expressed strong concerns over the expense, timing and priority of adding additional courts. Only 15% of respondents have ever played the sport, with less than 3% saying they “regularly” play, with 86% saying they do not believe the city should keep pickleball courts as a “top priority” and 88% saying the city should “suspend any plans to spend $3.5 million on Pickleball courts until infrastructure improvements are made.”
Strong Support for Clerk Maloy Audit
Perhaps the biggest winner of the survey was Seminole County Clerk of Court and Comptroller Grant Maloy, whose recent audit of the city’s use of Penny Sales Tax funds received strong validation. As local media outlets report on the city’s attempts to criticize the audit as politically motivated, more than 82% of residents sided with the Clerk of Court and opposed the city’s resistance to the additional controls and accountability recommended by the audit. When asked if “strong financial controls” should be enforced over the city finances, 95% of respondents agreed. The ongoing investigation by the state Auditor General looms large in residents minds as well, with 90% stating the investigation caused them to be concerned about city leadership.
Bipartisan opposition to tax increases
Although issues pertaining to budgets, taxes and infrastructure can be viewed differently based on party affiliation, opposition to the Winter Springs budget remained strong across party lines. Strong majorities of Republicans (77%) and independents (75%) wanted the milage rate decreased to avoid a tax increase, while Democrats opposed the 9.3% levy increase by a 70-13% margin and believe milage rate should be rolled back by a 68-17% margin.
FULL STATEMENT MADE BY WSCA PRESIDENT JESSE PHILLIPS ON THE RESULTS OF THE 2024 PROPOSED BUDGET SURVEY:
“The residents of Winter Springs do not trust the city to take even more of our hard-earned taxpayer dollars. At a time when we are faced with severe cost of living increases, future water rate increases, trash pickup and other rate increases, city leadership is callously inflicting further hardship throughout our city, and penalizing the residents of Tuscawilla and Oak Forest twice. The Commission should vote down the proposed budget and go back to the drawing board, address our more immediate concerns to fully cooperate with the state and county audits, engage in a legitimate process to hire a qualified city manager to lead a credible budget process. Those searching for an explanation for why less than one in ten residents feel our city is going in the right direction should consider the mockery of our concerns made by this $72.7 million pork-laden boondoggle.”