New Year, new goals
Local property values are dropping, state and local budgets are shrinking, and Cape Coral city council members and Lee County commissioners face difficult decisions about which projects and services to fund and which to cut.
As a new daunting, challenging year approaches, local leaders are making resolutions and developing strategies to deal with the economic and budget problems 2009 is likely to present.
First on Cape Coral City Councilmember Pete Brandt’s resolution list is slashing the city’s budget by reducing staff levels.
“We need to cut the budget. I think the administration needs to look into reorganization and find ways to deliver services with fewer people,” Brandt said.
With city staff predicting a 35 percent drop in revenue from property taxes next year, council members are also looking for alternative revenue sources in addition to cutting the budget.
Following the trend of banks, insurance companies, investment firms, and auto companies, Councilmember Bill Deile is looking to the federal government for help.
Deile wrote a letter to President-elect Barack Obama earlier this month soliciting federal dollars for the city’s utilities expansion project, and is currently planning an op-ed article he hopes to be printed in the Washington Post to attract attention to the plight of cities affected by the housing crisis.
“Obviously the thing I’m focused on is trying to get federal funds from the Obama stimulus package,” Deile said.
Lee County Commissioner Bob Janes is hoping new infrastructure projects will help jump-start the economy in Lee, where unemployment is approaching 10 percent. Construction on new road projects and affordable housing projects might help take up the slack from the fallout from the housing crisis, Janes said.
“There’s not a lot we can do to get the economy moving again but we can help out with some of these projects that are ready to go,” he said.
Janes is taking a positive approach into 2009, but realizes some pet projects may be cut or delayed. Providing better mental health care is something he would like to focus on, the budget willing.
“I don’t know what we’ll be able to do with that. I don’t know how much money we’ll have,” Janes said.
Like Cape Coral, Lee County also will be looking at developing alternative revenue streams, and Janes is holding out hope cuts in staff or services won’t have to be made.
“I sure hope we don’t have to lay off anybody, and I sure hope we don’t have to drop any projects,” he said.
In contrast, Brandt is taking a different approach to saving money in the Cape.
“If you cut people you cut money,” Brandt said.
Communicating better with the citizens also is one of Brandt’s resolutions.
“We’ve got to find more effective ways of doing more there. There has not been a good line of communication between the council and the staff and the public, and that’s something we need to work on doing a better job on,” he said.
Deile will be searching for citizens’ input on services to be cut or kept as the council conducts budget workshops next year.
“I’ll be looking at effecting economies in the way we spend money. I want to get feedback from the citizens on services they want funded,” Deile said.