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Council passes $490M budget for next fiscal year; Possible reduction in city services

By Staff | Sep 18, 2008

Cape Coral citizens are likely to see a drop in city services next year after the city council approved a final budget Wednesday of $490 million for 2009 — about a 19 percent reduction from the 2008 budget of $604 million.

The operating budget is $126 million, a 28 percent decrease from 2008’s $175 million. The council set the millage rate at 4.769, or $4.77 for every $1,000 of taxable value.

“This was the most difficult budget I’ve been a part of, and certainly the one I’m most proud of in my four years here,” said Mayor Eric Feichthaler.

Council members had to contend with a 25 percent drop in property values from last year in creating the budget, making cuts and subsequent reductions in services inevitable.

Most notably, an employee buyout offered by the city means less police officers and firefighters, and cuts to the Public Works Department means road resurfacing and median improvement projects will be delayed.

“We should acknowledge that we have a good budget, a budget that’s below last year by quite a bit,” said Councilmember Jim Burch.

Not every council member, however, was pleased with the budget. Councilmember Pete Brandt voted against it because he thought expenditures could be reduced further so that not as much of the city’s reserves would have to be used.

Under the budget passed Wednesday, about $8.3 million in undesignated reserves will be spent.

“I’m not really pleased with what this group has done yet because I don’t think we’ve found everything we need to find,” Brandt said.

He indicated that reserves would be better used next year, when financial constraints are expected to get even tighter.

“We’ve already been warned that next year is going to be worse. If we already use up some of our reserves to smooth out things this year, what are we going to use next year, the rest of them?” Brandt asked.

He made a motion to cut more than $6 million in expenditures across the board, but it was voted down by other council members.

“It’s too far reaching. We’ve used reserves for good purposes, unfortunately this year we’re in a bind,” said Councilmember Dolores Bertolini.

City Manager Terry Stewart said such a cut would mean the loss of entire programs.

“We’ve cut a significant portion of our capital expenditures, and operational costs can only be cut back so much. It’s not an either/or — you’re going to cut jobs or you’re going to lose programs — it’s going to be both,” he said.

Councilmember Bill Deile was also not pleased with using reserves, but voted for the budget nonetheless.

“I’m going to be supporting this budget, but not because I feel comfortable using the reserves as they’re being used,” he said.

Deile added that he would like to see the council make cuts throughout the year.

Councilmember Tim Day echoed those sentiments.

“The opportunity to save money is all year long,” he said.

Stewart said he will work with council members to find ways to reduce expenditures throughout the year, and that he will be a prudent steward of city funds.

“I give you my assurance that we will give you the same judicious caution (as in previous years). We’re not going to go off half-cocked and start spending money willy-nilly. We’re going to be cautious and careful,” he said.