To annex or to remain unincorporated? A decades-long question in south Apopka

The Apopka City Council is once again considering whether to put an annexation ordinance on the ballot, joining Apopka and south Apopka. Those communities have gone back and forth on the issue for decades. 

A historian at a Tuesday town hall meeting in Apopka explained, South Apopka came into existence during the Jim Crow era, when Black families were pushed to the south side of the railroad tracks.

The councilmembers don’t have the ultimate say over whether the two areas join together; voters do. The town hall meeting was meant to let voters speak their minds and ask questions so that the council could get a better idea of whether it would be worth including on the ballot.

Tuesday's meeting included a lot of heat and a lot of disagreement over whether annexation would be good or bad.

Lori Tarver spoke up at the meeting, expressing that she wants to remain an unincorporated part of Orange County. 

"Because of the property taxes," she explained. They have something called ‘unintended cost’ and basically, we just don’t trust them." 

Pastor Jimmie Howard is part of the majority that does want annexation.

"The concerns that I was sharing is police protection, streetlights, sewer, and also recreation for our cities, our communities inside Apopka," explained Howard. "They’re much better on the Apopka side than they are here."

Some residents said they just want answers. Monique Morris called the meeting a failure. 

"I think we should have a workshop to explain the pros and cons to explain of becoming one with the City of Apopka."

Apopka’s mayor says there could be a property tax increase with annexation, but there’s a lot of disagreement about how much of a shift that would mean.

Councilmember Smith maintains that overall, people could save money. 

But when he said he thinks the quality of life in south Apopka would improve with annexation, Orange County District 2 Commissioner Christine Moore shook her head. 

She says the county puts a lot of money into south Apopka that doesn’t come from taxes provided by those residents.

When asked whether annexation would cost south Apopka residents money, or save the money, Councilmember Nick Nesta said simply, "That’s a good question."

"It depends who you ask," he continued. "We don’t have the hard numbers yet. That’s the problem."

Thecity council didn’t provide much information at the meeting about the actual effects of annexation.

They wanted instead to listen to the public.

But the public says they barely got any notice about the meeting. Even some of the councilmembers said the mayor only told them about it at the last minute. 

"We went door to door just trying to get people to come out. At the January meeting, we discussed that and said, ‘How will you do better?’ Another slap in the face. Half the residents didn’t know about it," said Tarver. "So with little things like that, that we can’t trust you with, how do we trust you with the major things?"

Another question Councilmember Nesta says is still up in the air is what this could mean long-term.

Annexation would raise property values, which could lead to generational wealth.

It could also lead to gentrification.

So how do you raise the value without pushing people out? 

"I don’t know how to do it," said Councilmember Nesta. "I think doing a deeper dive, having more conversations, reaching out to other municipalities that have done the same thing to see what those long-term effects may look like."

If this does move forward, it would still be a few years before annexation actually happens. Some of the Councilmembers brought up that the delay could give them time to rethink the budget to reallocate funds where south Apopka needs them.