The City of Clermont’s finance director is set to retire this month, after 34 years.

Joe Van Zile was recognized for his service by the city manager, mayor and council during the Dec. 10 council meeting in City Hall.

“Mr. Van Zile certainly has been a wonderful financial leader for this city,” Mayor Gail Ash said. “He will truly be missed. We wish him well in his retirement.”

Van Zile kept Clermont’s tax rate among the lowest in Central Florida, earned the Certificate of Achievement for Financial Reporting for 31 consecutive years, and oversaw the financing of more than $65 million of loans. He managed an annual budget that has grown from $1.4 million in 1985 to $148.3 million in Lake County’s largest city, now with over 40,000 residents and 400-plus employees.

“Joe has demonstrated strong financial leadership and guidance during a time of tremendous growth for the City of Clermont,” City Manager Darren Gray said. “His expertise has been invaluable in providing exceptional services to the Clermont community.”

Not only did Van Zile manage the city’s funds during the launch of the Master Plan projects, the construction of City Hall, Fire Station No. 1 and a new police headquarters; the purchase of the Clermont Arts and Recreation Center; and the expansion of the wastewater treatment plant. He also sought out substantial savings along the way. Van Zile managed the refinancing of five loans that saved residents about $2.2 million; and he converted the employee group medical insurance plan to a self-funded plan, saving the city and its employees about $1.5 million.

As for his greatest accomplishment?

“The one thing that I’m the most proud of is the residents are paying one of the lowest millage rates in the whole Central Florida region,” Van Zile said. “They can feel confident that the tax rate here is very competitive.”

In fact, Clermont’s tax rate has only changed six times with him at the helm, from 2.429 when he started to 4.206. The broad revenue structure he set up, as opposed to one that is solely based on property taxes, helped Clermont withstand the 2008-13 recession with no employee layoffs or service cutbacks.

Under Van Zile’s leadership, residents and employees have benefited from technology advancements in respect to the use of credit cards, utility billing direct debit and online payments and payroll direct deposits. In addition, two recent advancements Van Zile’s staff completed were to split the utility billing system into multiple cycles and to convert a paper time sheet system to electronic.

During nearly three-and-a-half decades, much has changed in the city. But Van Zile has observed some constants.

“I’ve been very fortunate that and I’ve always had the support and respect from my staff, the city manager and council,” Van Zile said, rattling off employees who’ve been with him for 10, 20 and even 30 years. “I’ve had a tremendous staff from day one to today. They truly are my second family.”

Van Zile was hired as the finance director and city clerk by former City Manager Wayne Saunders, who previously served as the finance director. Initially commuting from Deltona, Van Zile moved to the Clermont area in 2002. Human resources, information technology and purchasing also were added to Van Zile’s plate; as the city grew, he split each into its own department, retaining his specialty, finance.

Van Zile’s first experience with local governments was as an auditor for the Florida Auditor General, where he worked for six years after graduating from Florida Technological University (now University of Central Florida) in 1978. The New York-native became a Certified Public Accountant and Certified Government Finance Officer.

Looking ahead, Van Zile plans to travel the country in his RV with his wife of 41 years, Nancy, and to spend time with his two children and four grandchildren.

But it won’t be easy leaving the Choice of Champions.

“I’ll miss the people the most – my staff and those in other city departments I’ve had the privilege of working with,” Van Zile said.

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