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The Villages
Saturday, August 6, 2022

Wildwood mayor shocked by growth outside The Villages as city pressed to deliver more services

Like a double-sided coin, rapid growth brings in more revenue for Wildwood, but also boosts demand for city services.

Supply chain issues are delaying some capital projects, but city officials also are working to complete an aggressive five-year strategic plan that will map the growing city’s direction.

More than 50 initiatives, including many capital projects, are part of the strategic plan under the categories of community engagement, transportation, affordable housing, downtown redevelopment, infrastructure and employee recruitment and retention.

Assistant City Manager Cassandra Smith presented details of the proposed strategic plan at a City Commission workshop on Wednesday. Commissioners also heard their second presentation on the 2022-23 city budget by Assistant Chief Financial Officer Lynzey McClellan.

City Manager Jason McHugh said the proposed strategic plan will be posted on the city’s web site at https://www.wildwood-fl.gov and that comments from residents and business owners are welcome. The comment period ends Sept. 9 and the plan will be up for adoption Sept. 26 along with the next city budget.

“This has been the hardest year I think we’ve had,” McHugh told commissioners. “The impacts of growth are real. We have to make sure we have everything ready to meet the demand.”

Wildwood is gaining about 5,000 to 7,000 new residents a year and that growth recently pushed the population over 20,000.

Besides the Villages of Southern Oaks, McHugh said a lot of apartment complexes are coming to the city.

“That growth outside The Villages is shocking,” said Mayor Ed Wolf. “It’s much more frankly than we expected.”

Community engagement projects in the strategic plan include upgrades to Millennium Park and building a recreation center at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Park.

Improvements to Clay Drain Road, Huey Street and Jackson Street highlight transportation priorities.

To encourage affordable housing, the city hopes to partner with a developer or non-profit organization to construct 40 housing units on surplus city property by 2027.

Downtown redevelopment projects include developing city-owned property along U.S. 301 for businesses and parking, planning Gamble Street improvements, building a linear park and working with state transportation officials to plan a truck bypass of the highway.

Expanding the wastewater treatment plant to handle up to 4.3 million gallons daily by 2025 tops the list of infrastructure projects, which also include a water main extension and rehabilitating 90 manholes a year.

To enhance employee retention and recruitment, city officials will study and modify salary levels and classifications along with creating career progression paths and possibly upgrading health benefits.

The proposed strategic plan is linked to next year’s $60.1-million city budget, which goes into effect Oct. 1 for the 2022-23 fiscal year.

Two weeks ago, commissioners set a maximum property tax rate of $3.00 per $1,000 assessed valuation, which represents a modest increase because it is above the rollback rate of $2.87. The rollback rate is the amount needed to collect the same revenue as the prior year excluding new construction. This year’s rate was $3.25.

Wildwood expects to collect $12.7 million in property tax revenue next year, a $3.4-million increase from this year.

Twenty-one positions would be added in next year’s budget and major equipment expenses include police body cameras and cars.


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