WINTER SPRINGS, Fla. – Two months ago Winter Springs city leaders pushed back against a Seminole County audit – the first of two audits concluding the city misused funds from a penny sales tax.
The Winter Springs Mayor Kevin McCann said then his city did nothing wrong and the audit, which found the city shifted millions of dollars away from infrastructure projects, was politically motivated.
Now a second audit is largely reaffirming many of the findings identified by the first audit.
Winter Springs Community Association President Jesse Phillips, the loudest voice taking issue with the city’s spending and policies since 2019, said the latest audit completed by the state is “vindication.”
“That’s the word we’re using because ultimately true vindication doesn’t come until we fix the issue,” Phillips said. “But there have now been five separate government agencies that have now told the city that our concerns are valid, which is what they’ve been diminishing and downplaying for many years.”
The latest audit is the second one completed by an auditor general this year, both with similar conclusions.
The State Auditor General identified eight issues, including ongoing problems with the city’s half-century old wastewater plant, resulting in sewage spills and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines as well as concerns about how Winter Springs spent its share of the county’s penny sales tax intended for infrastructure.
The state audit identified that the questionable spending “may erode public trust.”
“You go down the list of the number of concerns of things we’ve been raising for years, we’re fully vetted in vindicated by what the auditor general found,” Phillips said. “At the end of the day the folks running our city have some serious self-reflection to do. Because they’re now faced with the choice of do we effectively admit that everything we’ve been saying has been wrong.”
Winter Springs Mayor Kevin McCann, who took over in 2022 and largely inherited the ongoing issues, said the state audit is likewise vindication, but for the city.
“We see it as it’s clearly stated – no criminality, no malfeasance,” McCann said. “There will be people who want to claim otherwise, but I think what’s in the writing in the response will hold the truth. I’m very happy for the new set of eyes, pointing out some new policy issues that as we continue to grow and more people move in we need to expand some of our policies and tighten up some things and we’re an open book. We’re willing to listen.”
McCann said he generally accepts the findings of the audit.
“I would say generally yes and most of the things have already been corrected and there’s several things, consent orders, that have been acknowledged and taken care of,” McCann said. “Look, the one important thing that this audit really seems to be circling around is the wastewater infrastructure. And it is no surprise that our 50-year-old water treatment plants are in dire need of replacement. That is my single biggest priority, it has been a priority of the city to fix this. I call on the state legislature, instead of slinging mud or trying to make news, please help us.”
Phillips said he wants city commissioners to admit to mistakes.
“I want the city, I want all of those commissioners to publicly acknowledge that their denialism of the past four years was wrong and they’re setting a new course,” Phillips said. “The course is to address the issues.”
McCann said neither residents nor issues have been ignored.
“There’s little in this report that we didn’t already know about that we didn’t already report to the state,” McCann said. “As expressed to the auditing committee in Tallahassee, ask the question and we’ll provide you with all the information. The majority of these things are already public record. That we’ve had spills, yes we have.”
State Senator Jason Brodeur called for the audit in January.
To him, the latest audit report is significant.
“I think so because one of the pieces of events that the city promoted and even said it when they came to testify in Tallahassee was that this was somehow political,” Brodeur said. “And so to have folks who come from out of town who have no skin in a political game, to validate all of the things the residents were complaining about that we found in the county audit, says that this is probably what’s going on.”
Brodeur said if McCann believes the audit is politically-motivated, he should include that sentiment in his response to the state auditor general.
“I would tell him to put that in his 30 days of response that he has and see whether or not the auditor general determines whether they need to do more field work to provide more evidence,” Brodeur said. “The evidence in the report is pretty damning. They are getting fined because they can’t handle their wastewater. They do not have any policies and procedures for spending that 400 other municipalities do. Then produce them.”
Phillips said he’s asked all city leaders to step down. They did not respond to him.
“I got in this position by volunteering for many, many boards and my interest is to serve the community,” McCann said. “The rhetoric calling for us to step down I don’t understand the logic. Of course it’s not going to happen, of course.”
Brodeur said Winter Springs now has 30 days to submit an official response to the state auditor general. If the city offers a corrective action plan that the auditor accepts, the audit is over and closed.
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