By Dan Harkins
ORANGE CITY - City leaders recently sold the old Chamber of Commerce building at 520 N. Volusia Ave. for $60,000.
That money will go right into fully landscaping three long and drab gateway medians in the coming year. But what about the rest of the city's 11 medians, all drably decorated?
Most will have to wait.
Orange City Council recently decided against a 4.1-percent millage rate increase to 7.61, which would have raised an additional $137,000 in property tax revenue to complete all the median work, sprucing both gateways from Saxon Boulevard and from the city limits on U.S. 17/92 at State Road 472.
Instead, council members voted 4-3 to adopt their first option, a 7.51 millage rate for the coming year that amounts to a 2.74 percent average increase over the current rollback rate of 7.31. The rate is expected to raise an additional $94,000 for other needs besides median work, from installing a new lightning detector at the city's Splash Pad to buying a new air compressor for the city workshop.
Mayor Tom Laputka, Vice Mayor Bill Crippen and Councilman Michael Wright all were happy with the improvements the city would be making. They voted against the 7.51 rate because it didn't go far enough.
"We're doing what's necessary so the city is able to do its business and do it well," Mayor Laputka said, adding that he thought "a higher rate would have been more prudent."
Added Vice Mayor Crippen, "I think we need to go a little bit better than option one," which set the 7.51 rate.
Council members also considered a 7.6731 millage rate, a 4.97-percent increase that would have raised enough money to landscape all the medians and build an event stage at Veterans Memorial Park.
Council members appeared confident that at least half of the 11 medians could get landscaped in the coming year, particularly with the sale of the old chamber building.
"I'd like to see a plan on moving forward with all 11 medians," said Councilman Anthony Pupello.
City Manager Jamie Croteau said the medians already have been irrigated and half of that cost was picked up with county grant money. With the 7.51 millage rate and money from the chamber building sale, she estimated she might be able to improve about five of the medians in the coming year.
One couple spoke against the city's rising millage rate, which is now the county's second highest, though what it collects comes in 10th countywide.
Linda and David Seaman lamented how the city's millage rate was 4.38 just five years ago.
Looking over the millage options the council was considering, Linda Seaman wondered what exactly any extra money was needed for, since city staff calculated that a balanced budget could be had with the 7.31 rollback rate.
"There's no mention of infrastructure or anything of urgent need," she said, discussing the plans to spend the extra millage dough, "but I do see a $76,000 event stage."