A proposal to fund a police officer who would serve solely in the downtown Apopka area in a special taxing district was put on hold Wednesday, February 7, after questions arose about a possible alternative program.
Apopka’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) board, which is made up of the Apopka City Council plus two community members, heard complaints from community activist Rod Love about the Apopka Police Department’s proposal to fund the police officer, as well as a residential assistance program.
Love complained that city staff did not consider a proposal from his group, Florida Economic Consortium on Violence and Crime, Inc. (FEC), asking for funding from the CRA board for what his group calls a community redevelopment public safety initiative.
The proposal would entail working with small businesses in the CRA district in downtown Apopka, along with those in neighborhoods within the district to reduce crime and other issues such as affordable housing.
“I’m appalled that city staff and, Mr. Mayor, yourself, would totally disregard several months of requests from the proposals submitted to you based on what we have defined as items that would be beneficial to the CRA,” Love said.
He added that his group had made a proposal for special funding for police in the CRA district, something that the city had “no knowledge or interest” in prior to his group’s proposal.
“Now, you’ve re-engineered the same concept that we presented to you to fund internally,” said Love, who doesn’t like the city’s CRA proposal of an officer dedicated to the CRA downtown district.
“While we support law enforcement, we believe that because of the shortage of officers already on the streets in Apopka, that this community-based initiative (from FEC) will be beneficial for all parties included,” he said.
A back-and-forth arose throughout the 90-minute meeting with opinions given by city attorney Cliff Shepard, who said Love’s responses to the city staff’s comments on his proposal over the past several months were not helpful or done in the spirit of cooperation.
The CRA was created by the city of Apopka in 1993 and did some work, but has been more active since Mayor Joe Kilsheimer took office in 2014.
“It was revived and kicked into gear when this administration came on board,” Shepard said.
CRA board member Doug Bankson said he wanted to hear Love’s entire proposal, as well as anything else that might be presented regarding the CRA district.
“His voice needs to be heard. I feel like there’s an issue here that I think the public wants to hear,” Bankson said.
Kilsheimer said Love’s proposal “doesn’t meet the standard,” adding that “none of these questions were proposed until I got here (as mayor).”
“I’m sorry that we have not been able to see eye to eye with Mr. Love.”
In the Apopka Police Department’s proposal, the first-year cost of the program is budgeted at $327,721.
The CRA, which is funded through a special taxing district of the downtown area, would pay $177,875 for the first year. That cost includes 95 percent of the police officer’s salary and benefits, as well as about half of the cost for prisoner work crews to help with various improvement projects in the CRA’s downtown district. The remainder of the officer’s salary will come out of the city’s general fund and the other half of the work crews’ costs will come from the city’s self-supporting utility fund.
Other costs of the program include funds for a vehicle, uniform, firearm, and other necessary gear. That amount comes to $58,906 and will be funded through the Apopka Police Department’s Law Enforcement Trust Fund.
In addition, $25,000 would be spent for community initiatives, including workshops, educational materials, and outreach programs.
Apopka police say the officer would help with preventing and solving crimes in the downtown area. It’s necessary, they said, because the CRA district houses 4.6 percent of the city’s approximately 50,000 population, but accounts for 17 percent of the overall crime in the city.
“Having a designated law enforcement officer working within the area defined in the CRA will increase the bond between law enforcement and the community,” the police department’s report on the need for the officer stated.
“This officer is expected to become the ‘go-to’ person for community members and attend to community challenges beyond that of traditional law enforcement. The impact created by community policing is positive and necessary for establishing long-term relationships.”
In the 17-page report outlining the need for the officer, the police department said the new officer should pay off not only in building relationships with the community, but economically as well.
“This designated full-time CRA officer, and associated initiatives, will enhance relationships with residents who are familiar with the community in ways that typical law enforcement or city representatives are not. The impact that the Apopka CRA and a CRA officer can make within the city of Apopka will be positive and indispensable. This is not purely an economic initiative program, but one that will result in economic and social progress,” the report stated.
The effects of the program will be measured, according to the report.
“During the initial period, the Police Department will establish performance measures and document accomplishments to determine the value of this program, as well as its effects on the designated area. If it is determined the program is successful, the CRA Board or City Council will need to determine future funding.”
A linked, but separate proposal calls for $75,000 from the CRA to be budgeted for residential renovation for 75 residences at no more than $1,000 per residence. That was also tabled by the CRA board.
The issues will be discussed further at a meeting that will be scheduled.
This article appears on page 1A of the Friday, February 9, issue of The Apopka Chief.