Budget workshops were held this week at both Orlando City Council and Orange County Commission meetings, and they were boring. This is good for residents. Both groups received favorable briefings from city and county officials, that reinforces positive forecasts from economists and various credit agencies, that the area’s financial standing is somewhere between comfortably stable and strong. Orange County Comptroller Martha Haynie called this year’s budget hearings the easiest she has ever seen.
Let’s break down the Winners and Losers:
Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and the Orange County Commission:: Almost every county agency was able to reduce costs or keep costs flat, the exception being the Orange County Sheriff’s office which increased costs 3.9% with pre-authorized funds for 12 new positions and body cameras . The 3.5 billion dollar budget featured no county-wide tax increases for a 26th consecutive year, and no layoffs. Mayor Jacob’s I.N.V.E.S.T proposal, a $300 million dollar infrastructure project that will go towards roads and public safety, padded every county agency’s presentation with an outlook for strong progress. This is being labeled as Jacobs’ “Legacy” project that will be a gift to the next Mayor (possibly one of the Commissioners sitting by her side) and residents, and will be a strong resume item if she chooses to run for Florida Chief Financial Officer in 2018.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and the City Council*: They’re getting the Barry Bonds asterisk treatment because of the 17.7% property tax increase from last year. While regrettable, it will ultimately prove to be a move in the right direction. The city presented a balanced budget, and the Mayor along with all of the other Commissioners up for reelection this year are heavy favorites to keep their jobs.
Projects that benefit from the TDT: Revenues collected from the Tourism Development Tax are booming, which means more money for spending it on projects and initiatives to promote the region.
Public TransportationSunrail and FDOT: Florida Department of Transportation Officials were unprepared for their presentation. They screened a commercial for Sunrail, and were preparing to leave the podium when the Mayor and Commissioner Ted Edwards asked for more information. What everyone in attendance received, was a wake-up call that all is not well with the commuter rail system. Funding is lacking and ridership is suffering. (story HERE)
LYNX: The embattled bus system reported flat ridership and cost, but Congressman John Mica called for the privatization of a system that has suffered from route inefficiencies and concerns or driver safety records (story HERE). The Executive Director gave his presentation, and is now departing for North Carolina, arguably leaving the system with no direction or solutions. This was a missed opportunity to answer the critics.
Central Florida Expressway Authority: There was a lot of confusion over a possible proposal that would allow the agency to use toll money for other transportation projects like Sunrail. The majority of the Orange County Commission including Mayor Jacobs slammed the idea, and don’t even recall guidelines what would allow CFX to use those funds for such uses (story HERE).