Wildwood poised to nearly double its population again in next year’s census

As the booming city of Wildwood is poised to nearly double its population again in next year’s census, residents will vote this fall in a referendum by mail whether to adopt a new city charter.

The charter, last renewed in 2003, defines the responsibilities and duties of the city and its officials. The revised charter was developed over the past year by a charter review committee, which included City Manager Jason McHugh and Commissioner Joe Elliott.

An April 1 population estimate released recently by the University of Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research put Wildwood at 12,665 residents. Last year’s estimate was 9,511.

The 2010 U.S. Census set the city’s population at 6,709, up from 3,924 a decade earlier. The population estimates determine the city’s share of state revenue-sharing funds.

Sumter County also showed a significant population gain in the estimates. With an estimated 128,633 residents, the county has added 35,213 people since 2010, when its population was 93,420.

The Village of Southern Oaks, where up to 60,000 homes now are allowed on both sides of the Florida Turnpike, is a major driver of growth for both the city and county.

Wildwood officials decided to conduct the charter referendum by mail because it is about half the cost of holding a special election. It also would provide an earlier vote than waiting until next year’s regular elections.

Ballots may go out to voters by early October with a deadline to return them by the end of the month.

The proposed Wildwood city charter continues its mayor-commissioner form of government. It also continues the at-large election of commissioners instead of setting up districts.

It outlines duties of the city manager, police chief, city clerk and attorney and makes it clear that the city manager supervises the other appointed officers. That issue arose last fall when police department officials challenged the city manager, which resulted in the departure of two command officers and the chief.

The charter also allows the commission to contract with an outside party for police services if desired.

Commissioners can be suspended or removed upon conviction of a felony or a misdemeanor involving their office. They also are subject to removal for three consecutive unexcused absences from city commission meetings or for “incompetence, corruption, misconduct (or) malfeasance while in office.”

A special election must be called within 30 days if a mayoral vacancy occurs. The charter also requires that the names of unopposed candidates appear on election ballots, which does not occur in all Florida elections.

The charter grants authority for the city to levy property taxes, borrow money, issue bonds and impose special assessments. The city has the power to grant franchises, such as for utility services, or to operate municipal utilities.

A charter amendment can be voted on if 25 percent of the city’s registered voters sign a petition for the amendment. A review of the city charter also would be required every 10 years.