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Officials fear 35 percent drop in tax revenues

By Staff | Dec 13, 2008

By GRAY ROHRER, grohrer@breezenewspapers.com
Cape Coral council members and city staff members held a strategic planning session Friday to see how best to grapple with a potential 35 percent drop in property tax revenues resulting from declining home values.
The 35 percent drop-off forecast by city staff means council members would have to set the millage rate at 7.7 mills to equal this year’s property tax revenues. This year’s property tax rate is 4.768 mills, or $4.77 for every $1,000 in taxable value.
“Leadership is not just about the good times when you have a lot of money, leadership is right now,” Councilmember Dolores Bertolini told her colleagues.
Council members looked for ways to diversify their revenue streams and tried to find parts of the budget to trim or de-prioritize.
Financial Services Director Mark Mason mentioned special assessments for fire services as a way to accumulate revenue from properties that receive the benefits of fire protection but don’t pay property taxes.
“Churches, for example, don’t pay property taxes but receive the same benefits from fire services,” Mason said.
Diversifying its revenue sources is a top priority for the city, as more than 60 percent of coffers are stocked by property taxes.
“I’m interested in any services people are receiving and they’re not paying for,” Councilmember Derrick Donnell said.
“As we move forward we’ve got to bring all that stuff to the table,” he added.
The housing crisis is hurting Cape Coral more than other cities because of its over-reliance on property taxes, City Manager Terry Stewart said.
“Most communities operate with property taxes that make up 30 to 35 percent of their general fund. We’re at 60 percent,” Stewart said.
Council members also are looking at ways to cut the overall budget, but little was taken off the city’s short-term or long-term priority list Friday.
“We’ve got to decide who we want to be when we grow up,” Assistant City Manager Carl Schwing told council members.