Editor's Note: This evening at 6 pm, the Apopka City Council will host a workshop on annexing South Apopka. It's been a prominent subject since the 2022 election cycle in Apopka but a stumbling block in this community for generations.
Although South Apopka is only a little over two square miles with a population of approximately 6,800 residents, its reach stretches into the town it borders and helped to grow. Apopka flourished in its early years as an agricultural town. South Apopka residents toiled in the muck farms, orange groves, and industry of early Apopka. They are a part of this community, whether designated as unincorporated or a part of the city they helped to build.
In the previous two days leading up to the workshop, The Apopka Voice continued its "Make South Apopka your North Star" series. On Friday, we began with a look at the history of South Apopka. Yesterday, we focused on solutions and ideas to make annexation more than just numbers on a ledger. Today, we are providing an open letter to the city commissioners, who will ultimately decide the next course of action.
To read part one, go here.
To read part two, go here.
Good morning commissioners, and welcome to South Apopka Annexation Day. Well, annexation workshop day, at least. It's the first significant step in bringing this historic community into the city where it has always belonged.
South Apopka is a natural extension of Apopka and has been for generations. Its residents toiled in the muck farms and orange groves of early Apopka. They labored in every industry and stood alongside Apopka residents in the creation of this growing city for decades.
It's time to make their status in Apopka official.
I write this letter to the city commission, not the City Council, because Mayor Bryan Nelson does not support annexation. Nelson has issues with its cost. That's understandable for a budget hawk that ran for office on low taxes and large reserves.
In this April interview with The Apopka Voice, Nelson made his position pretty clear.
"The back of the napkin number, and we spent more than back of the napkin time on it, but we came up with $3 million a year. That's just taking over the police, fire, and other services we provide. But they [South Apopka residents] aren't looking for break-even services. They want better services. So what's the number? What is it going to cost? It's just a question of where and then how you pay for it."
He's also not convinced that Apopka residents will want to pay the tax increase.
"I'm happy to take it up, but at the end of the day, if $3 million gets you to even, what kind of services do they think we will provide above that? Nelson asked. "And then, you know, $3 million, that's a 20% tax increase. So everybody in North Apopka gets a 20% tax increase, and everybody in South Apopka gets a 20% tax increase. So the guy living in Rock Springs Ridge... does he wants to pay 20% more taxes to support annexing South Apopka?"
That does not, however, make him the villain.
But while Nelson is not the villain, he is not an ally either, and you have to consider that. The success of this workshop is up to you, commissioners. And let's be candid; without a successful workshop, annexation will wither on the vine as it has for years.
I would like to know why Nelson annexed his own home into Apopka in 2016. Was it just to run for mayor, or was there a quality of life he saw by annexing into Apopka? Why doesn't that same set of reasons apply to South Apopka? Why is Apopka the best place to live, work and play, yet not a good fit for South Apopka residents?
Those questions are for another day, though. Today, the focus is finding the solutions that will move South Apopka a step closer to annexation.
No commissioners, you do not have the mayor's support, but four of you have expressed support for the idea. Show the staff and administration that four is greater than one on City Council. The staff serves at the pleasure of the mayor and administrator - but you do not.
This is the best opportunity to move this generational issue closer to the end zone than it has ever been before. Do not let one single vote on City Council carry the day.
But let me be clear. This open letter is not an attempt to nudge you in a direction you don't want to go. All four of you have expressed openness in advancing this process. In fact, here are comments you have made in the past few months about annexation:
"When The Apopka Voice asked me if it (hypothetically) cost $10 million to annex South Apopka, would I annex? I answered yes... and I still stand by that because I don't think you can put a price on human life. It's the right thing to do. The City of Apopka has benefited greatly from the residents that live in South Apopka. Some of them are suffering financially, spiritually, and healthwise as a result of the contribution that they have made to the City of Apopka. It's the right thing to do."
"No one's going to vote to annex into the City unless they know the value proposition for themselves first. And to understand that, you must know South Apopka's makeup. What's the cost of annexing South Apopka? Many people will anecdotally say that if we annex South Apopka, the cost of service will go way up. That might be true in the first year or two years. But that should not be an obstacle for us to have the conversation because it's anecdotal. What we should have in the conversation is how many residents do we have down there? How many residential structures? How many commercial structures? What that allows us to do is understand the impacts that would be financially - impact fees, cost of hooking up the water and sewer, all these things that you would need to do to create the business case so that people knew what it would take to annex them in a mass format. I'm willing to have that conversation."
"This workshop will finally allow the council to sit down and have an open discussion and provide a platform for the residents of Apopka to share their voices in the process. It is important to hear from South Apopka residents and those outside of South Apopka. For years, candidates running for office and elected officials have expressed Annexation of South Apopka for "One Apopka." This workshop will bring our council and the residents of Apopka to the table to begin the dialogue. With the growth occurring in Apopka, it is important to start this dialogue so that all our residents are aware of the process; and the impact of the possible annexation. This will take a concerted effort by all parties to reach a favorable goal for a growing Apopka."
"I want to have that conversation on annexation. We need to handle that one way or another. Let's have some forums, meet with community leaders, and have those conversations.
We can do it at the [Apopka] Amphitheater, at City Hall... let's go to community centers, let's go to churches, let's meet people at their homes to discuss, and break down the facts, the hard numbers, what it looks like, and how it will impact each citizen should everybody choose and agree to do this."
First and foremost, we need to develop a plan and have full support on the council level, an all-hands-on-deck approach to go out and do outreach. We have a lot of momentum from the campaign. Everyone's campaign touched on this in some capacity. I don't want to lose that momentum. Let's have these conversations and then get it on the ballot."
All of you possess a wide range of strengths and talents capable of making correct decisions. You've been able to push back on agenda items that did not meet your expectations many times at City Council meetings in the past weeks, months, and years.
That's what I'm urging you to do today.
Suppose this workshop goes in a direction that features annexation costs without any effort to create solutions. In that case, it's up to you to show the same energy and passion you did during the budget hearings and the assertiveness you displayed in adding 18 firefighters to the 2022/23 budget when you lacked the support of the mayor, city administrator, and even the fire chief.
There will be high-voltage public comments, just like there were at the first meeting on annexation in February. It's real emotion coming from residents of Apopka and South Apopka, and you should consider them, but you cannot base your decisions entirely on emotion.
There will also be a pragmatic analysis by the staff and projected costs to annex that might look like a huge mountain to climb. It, too, should be considered, but your decisions must be based on more than just costs.
You must be solution-based in your assessment.
Assume there is a way to annex South Apopka, and then find the best way to make it happen. Ask the questions of staff that lead to creative ideas to move annexation forward. Do not let this become a contest of emotions against analysis. Push the staff to find ideas to overcome any issue proposed as too heavy a lift.
Don't allow this workshop that so many worked so hard to make a reality to become a series of reasons why annexation is bad for Apopka. Stay true to your convictions, push the staff and administration to dig deeper, come away with a plan that all of you can support, and move this generational issue closer to the finish line.
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