Orange Park, FL

Orange Park town council adopts final budget, millage rate

Julie Morgan
Screenshot of Orange Park Town Council 9/20 meetingJulie Morgan

The Town of Orange Park adopted a final budget and millage rate for the fiscal year 2022/2023, but not before lengthy discussion; some of it contentious.

The millage rate, 5.8781, passed with a unanimous vote. However, the budget vote was 4-1.

During the public hearing and discussion, objections were raised by the community and council members.

One resident, Eugene Nix, brought up legal fees that have been included in the budget for two decades. He's referring to the legal fees for the town attorney, Sam Garrison. Nix is a former council member. "We need an attorney that works in the best interest of the people and at a reasonable rate." His beef is that "there has never been an RFP put out to try and get some competitive bidding" to fill this position. "We've been stuck with whatever they've given us for 20 years," said Nix.

Another resident, Frank Ricketts, who sits on the finance and budget committee, said he wanted it on record that the budget has increased by almost 63 percent since 2013. "This is an unsustainable process if we continue to go down this road."

During the budget process, Ricketts says he asked for details about "purchase orders under $25,000 for the last five or six years." That number is critical because it's the exact amount the town manager can spend within the budget without needing council approval.

"There was no detail in the purchase orders with reference to any single dollar with exception to money that was spent on Bradley Park with regards to grants," said Ricketts. He also questioned expenditures for the park. Bradley Park is the park that has been in the spotlight lately after several trees, to the public's dismay, were cut down.

In response to resident comments, council member Susana Thompson asked for a list of the purchase orders. However, town manager Sarah Campbell said she didn't have access to that information.

Another amendment to the budget had to do with a cemetery culvert. The town manager informed the council that design and engineering work for the cemetery culvert would be $35,000 more than what was included in the budget. The motion to account for this expense by increasing the item in the budget to $50,000 failed.

After hearing from multiple residents, Thompson said they should not move forward. "I think that we need to go back to the table with the budget committee and look at everything again. I think we need to do this extensively," said Thompson. She wanted to use a previous year's budget instead of passing the current budget. Her request was met with applause from the audience. However, the motion failed. Thompson was the lone vote against finalizing the budget.

The newest council member, Doug Benefield, motioned to amend the budget by eliminating one code enforcement position. The motion failed, 2-3. It would've reduced the police line-item budget by $66,000. The position that would have been eliminated has been vacant for about two months.

The budget discussion lasted about one hour and 15 minutes.

One item likely to be on the agenda for the next council meeting is the amount of money staff can spend within the budget without council approval. Thompson attempted to make the change at this meeting but she was told it would need to be an agenda item.

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