Upgrading wastewater treatment capacity due to exploding growth pushed Wildwood’s city budget to a record $258.5 million for the 2023-24 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
Commissioners Monday night gave final budget approval after a public hearing.
The budget includes an estimated $150 million to build a new wastewater treatment plant and upgrade the current 30-year-old facility. Payment is expected to come from municipal bonds, which usually are paid back over 20 to 30 years, and potential grants.
Property owners will pay taxes of about $2.83 per $1,000 assessed valuation, a 5.7 decrease from last year’s rate of $3. The tax rate will be at the rolled-back rate, the amount needed to collect the same revenue as the prior year excluding new construction.
Wildwood is expected to collect $17.5 million in property taxes next year, up $3.5 million due to growth.
The total taxable value of property in the city is up $4.4 billion from four years ago and next year is expected to increase by more than $1.5 billion.
Wildwood’s population has nearly doubled since the 2020 census to 30,327, up from 15,730 three years ago, according to a University of Florida estimate.
Home construction in the Villages of Southern Oaks and apartment projects are driving the growth.
During the past year, The Villages built an average of 134 homes per month, down from its historical average of about 300. Some of the recent Villages growth has been in Lake County.
Outside The Villages, single-family and apartment developments are under way, including Twisted Oaks, the city’s second largest master-planned community with more than 1,200 homes on nearly 400 acres along U.S. 301 near the railroad bridge. Homes may be available by the end of next year.
Commercial development also is flourishing in Trailwinds Village, Beaumont, Wildwood Crossings and along U.S. 301, State Road 44 and Powell Road.
Expansion of Wildwood’s wastewater treatment capacity will cost about $150 million to increase the system’s daily capacity to 5.5 million gallons. City officials plan to build a new expandable plant that will process 3.5 million gallons daily and upgrade the current plant to process up to 1.5 million gallons a day.
To help finance the debt, Wildwood will boost its wastewater rates by 20 percent for the next four fiscal years. Minimum monthly wastewater rates will rise this year to $28.12 from $22.49. Water rates will go up by 4.98 percent, which is linked to the consumer price index.
Two residents objected to the increases at Monday’s public hearing.
Jan Ennis of the North Beaumont neighborhood described the wastewater increase as “exorbitant” and said developers should pay more of the cost.
“My concern is 20 percent is way too much,” said Jeannine Stoute. “We need to find a way to make it more equitable.”
City Manager Jason McHugh said his staff is working to lower costs.
“We’re doing everything we can to keep the rates down as low as possible,” he said.
The wastewater treatment expansion pushed expenditures up by 350 percent over this year’s $60.1-million budget and 180 percent higher than a July expenditure estimate of $89.5 million.
Operating expenses are estimated at $31.2 million next year and the budget includes other capital projects such as a downtown parking ramp and Millennium Park improvements.
Besides property taxes, Wildwood is expected to receive $4.6 million in franchise fees from water, gas and refuse providers, $3.3 million in utility service fees and $3 million in state revenue sharing.