Wildwood commissioners slash property taxes, prepare to adopt $45.2 million budget

Wildwood commissioners on Monday night heard the first reading of a resolution to adopt a $45.2 million budget that includes a 9 percent decrease in property taxes and a 23.8 percent increase in ad valorem taxes coming into the city during the upcoming fiscal year.

Commissioners will hear the second reading of the resolution in two weeks, at which time they are expected to adopt the largest budget in the history of the 141-year-old city – one that has seen tremendous growth over the past two years and expects to see even more in the future.

Wildwood is enjoying the benefits of ‘explosive growth’ in the Villages of Southern Oaks.
Wildwood City Manager Jason McHugh

The budget, which becomes effective Oct. 1, will tax property owners at the rolled-back rate of $3.66 per $1,000 assessed valuation, down from this year’s rate of $4.02. The rolled-back rate is the amount needed to collect the same revenue as the prior year, and this year’s number is the lowest in Wildwood in more than 30 years.

The new budget, includes about $5.5 million in reserves, was presented to commissioners during two August budget workshops. During those sessions, City Manager Jason McHugh told them the city will see an additional $719,165 in ad valorem taxes this year while also giving residents a break on their tax bills.

Thanks to new homes being built in the Villages of Southern Oaks at a clip of about 175 per month, McHugh said, the city also can expect to see a second year of “explosive growth.” And he added that the intense building pace should continue for several more years as the world’s largest age-restricted community continues to get even bigger while closing the gap between the Village of Fenney and the rest of the community north of State Road 44.

The Villages Grown project involves growing vegetables in greenhouses and using hydroponic methods that result in a higher yield per acre than traditional farming techniques.

Wildwood plans to issue more than 2,100 new residential building permits in the coming year, but that isn’t the only factor in city’s remarkable growth. Commercial and other non-residential development within The Villages is well under way and is expected to bring huge financial benefits to the city, McHugh said.

Those projects include:
• The Center for Advanced Healthcare at Brownwood and the Brownwood Hotel and Spa;
• The Villages Grown (a project to provide locally grown vegetables to restaurants, food stores and retail customers); and
• Shooters World.

During last month’s workshops, McHugh also reported on the benefits of “flourishing” growth outside The Villages. Vystar Credit Union, Circle K and Trailwinds Shoppes West are expected to open in the coming year. Trailwinds Village and Freedom Plaza are looking for tenants. And new assisted living facilities – Trailwinds Senior Living Center and Yourlife of Wildwood – will begin construction in fiscal year 2019.

All told, the city’s taxable value has increased 36 percent from the previous year. For the first time in Wildwood’s history, the total taxable value of property in the city limits has exceed $1 billion.

Wildwood’s taxable income has increased by 36 percent in the past year.

And that trend should continue over the next several years as new development continues to hit the tax rolls, McHugh said during one of the budget workshops.

Commissioners also heard good news on the staffing front, as the city plans to add six new positions in the coming year. Those will include a public works inspector and trades technician supervisor, a recreation specialist, a human resources assistant, an accounting tech and a work order coordinator (water).

The budget also allows for a three percent cost of living adjustment to all employees (excluding the city manager, police officers and commissioners), salary adjustments where appropriate, increasing the starting pay for police officers to $38,000 annually to remain competitive with other agencies, and salary adjustments to current officers if needed.

Building the new headquarters building for the Wildwood Police Department is a priority in fiscal year 2019.

With major growth also comes the need for improvements and other special projects. In the coming year, Wildwood will see several, including:
• Building the new $6.9 million, 13,200-square-foot police station at County Road 462 West and U.S. 301;
• An entrance sign/improvements at Trailwinds;
• Work at the Wildwood Community Center;
• Hardware and software improvements;
• Improvements at Martin Luther King. Jr Park;
• Capacity improvements at the wastewater treatment facility;
• The Oxford Water Treatment Plant;
• Phase 1 of the County Road 209 water main extension, which is in support of the Oxford water treatment facility; and
• Design and permitting of the State Road 44 wastewater line, which includes the decommissioning of the Continental Country Club wastewater treatment facility.

The Wildwood Community Center will see improvements in the coming year.

Going forward, McHugh said he expects general fund revenues to be more than $9.9 million, with a targeted range of 20-25 percent in reserves by the end of the coming fiscal year. And he said the utility revenue fund should have a 2019 fiscal-year ending balance of more than $3.2 million, which equates to more than six months of operating expenses in reserves.

Wildwood Mayor Ed Wolf

Finally, general fund revenues are projected to be more than $9.9 million, with a targeted range of 20-25 percent in reserves by the end of the coming fiscal year. And the city’s utility revenue fund should have a 2019 fiscal-year ending balance of more than $3.2 million, which equates to more than six months of operating expenses in reserves.

Mayor Ed Wolf, who first joined the commission in 1976, said he’s thrilled with the proposed budget and the rollback rate that cuts property taxes.

“As long as growth pays its way, I’m happy,” he reiterated.