Citizens voice concern over lack of storm shelters, budget cuts; Mayor: Time to plan for long term
Though currently mired in an economic downturn and facing a major budget crunch over the next few years, Cape Coral needs to look toward the future and plan for the long term, Mayor Eric Feichthaler said at a Thursday town hall meeting.
After failing to bring in the Cincinnati Reds when he first became mayor, Feichthaler told about three dozen people at the town hall that he plans to pursue another ball club.
“I would like to see Festival Park become a spring training place, especially if it does not come at taxpayer expense,” he said. “I think spring training would be incredible for this community.”
The mayor pointed to the Boston Red Sox possible move from Fort Myers and argued that the Cape would be an ideal place for relocation.
Feichthaler admitted that the idea has been met with laughs in the past, but pointed out that Cape Coral is now only receiving nationwide attention for hurricanes and foreclosures.
“We have got to have forward thinking to take it,” he said. “Some day, hopefully in the next five years, that will happen.”
With property values likely to drop by double digit percentages, which will result in a massive revenue decrease, some in attendance were concerned that the impending budget crunch could put some disadvantaged residents in jeopardy.
Resident Erick Kuehn voiced his concern that the Cape has very few hurricane shelters — the city has only one, which is Diplomat Middle School.
“I know we are short in money, are we really looking out for the elderly and the disabled in this community?” he asked.
Feichthaler said the city’s current system, which relies on large-scale evacuation, can take care of its residents — so long as they take heed to the warnings.
“I don’t think anyone in the city will take it seriously until it really, really hits us,” he said.
“With all of the challenges we have stretching the dollar, I don’t believe that focusing on hurricane shelters is the (best course),” he added. “In a perfect world, I would like to have a lot more shelters.”
Other residents touched on recent news that Feichthaler asked staff to look at the feasibility of charging personnel, including police officers, for use of vehicles when they are taken home.
Jeannine Smith, who moved to the Cape three years ago, argued that a charge would discourage officers from bringing their vehicles home which may have an adverse effect on neighborhood safety.
“I think the presence of the police car is vitally important to the community. We have four to five of them in my neighborhood; I know that I feel safer,” she said. “This isn’t a perk for police officers, this is their job.”
Feichthaler pointed out that he wanted to get the issue out in the open for discussion, saying that the perk benefits the city but the real question is who should pay for it.
“It’s not my goal to take money out of the police department’s hands,” he said.
Resident Laura Roler told Feichthaler that she has heard very little about the future of Academic Village, which has being lying vacant for about four years.
She pointed to an item on Monday’s City Council meeting agenda and asked the mayor where he stands on developing the area in a public/private partnership.
Feichthaler opposes asking for project bids on the land, arguing that the city needs to hang on to the land and maintain the vision it had when the land was first acquired.
“I don’t think any decision is going to be made on how to go forward (on Monday),” he said. “It’s one of those situations where we should just wait.”
The mayor also voiced support for installing utilities in the Southwest 6/7 utility expansion area.
A vote is scheduled to take place June 9.
Feichthaler said he plans to again ask for an impact fee reduction for costs associated with building wastewater plants. He said the fee would be rolled back only to 2006 levels which he believes represents a fair value.
“I think $6,800 is a wholly unreasonable cost,” said Feichthaler.