Wildwood commissioners slash property taxes while blessing $56.9 million budget

Wildwood commissioners voted Monday night to cut property taxes for the coming year during the first of two hearings on a proposed $56.9 million budget.

Commissioners agreed to set the millage at 3.398 per $1,000 assessed valuation, which is equal to the rollback rate. That represents a reduction from the current rate of 3.658 and will be the lowest Wildwood residents have enjoyed in 30-plus years.

The building of homes at a rate of about 175 per month in the Villages of Southern Oaks is one of the reasons Wildwood commissioners were able to cut property taxes.

An example of what that means for residents is that the owner of a home assessed at $200,000 after homestead credits would pay about $680 in city taxes – down from about $740 this year. A property owner’s tax bill also includes levies for the county, schools and fire protection.

The proposed millage rate will result in ad valorem revenue of about $5.3 million, up from the 2019 budgeted revenue of $3.7 million. That increase comes in large part because of the growth boom in the Villages of Southern Oaks, where The Villages Land Company is building about 175 homes per month.

The Advanced Center for Healthcare at Brownwood will house physicians from The Villages Health, Lake Medical Imaging, Florida Cancer Specialists, St. Luke’s Laser Institute and Lake Centre for Rehab, among others.

City Manager Jason McHugh said other elements of the economic boom that allowed for the cut in the millage rate include:

Commissioners also tentatively approved the 2019-20 budget, which shows total General Fund revenue of a little more than $13.65 million and a Utility Revenue Fund of $10.6 million. The budget also will set aside $500,000 for a new capital improvements fund, which is expected to reduce the need for borrowing.

One focus of the new budget will be reducing debt. It calls for shaving $1.3 million off the $11.1 million utility fund debt and $1.9 million off the $9 million general fund debt. It also would pay off $1.2 million of a $6.5-million Citizens First Bank loan.

Construction got under way in August on a new $7 million police station in Wildwood.

Seven full-time police department positions are being eliminated, including the deputy chief and a lieutenant. Police positions also will be cut due to the transfer of emergency dispatching to the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office. And other positions will be added in public works, parks and recreation and development services.

All employees except the city manager will receive a 2 percent cost-of-living increase in the proposed budget. And health benefit costs are expected to rise by 5 to 8 percent.

The major capital project for the coming year is completion of the new $7-million police station on the southwest corner of U.S. 301 and County Road 462 West. It will replace the old station that was heavily damaged by a fire in October 2018.

The new $7 million Wildwood Police Station is scheduled to open in May 2020.

Other projects on the horizon include improvements at Lake Deaton, which may host dragon boats; upgrades at Millennium Park; and a city hall annex.

Utility projects include completion of the Oxford Water Treatment Plant, the County Road 209 water main extension funded by a state grant and decommissioning of the Continental Country Club wastewater treatment plant.

Police operating expenses, the largest city department, will be about $4.1 million, down $369,100 from this year’s budgeted amount.

The second and final public hearing on the new budget is scheduled for Sept. 23 at 7 p.m. The fiscal year begins Oct. 1.