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Council discussing service fees to cover decreasing revenues

By Staff | Feb 23, 2009

The Cape Coral City Council will not vote on the fiscal year 2010 budget for another seven months, but some citizens are already upset at some proposals on the table as the city tries to grapple with ever-decreasing home values and the subsequent drop in the city’s coffers.
During a budget workshop in December, the city’s finance department estimated property values could drop 35 percent. For a city where 65 percent of its revenue comes from property taxes, cuts in services would be inevitable.
City staffers and council members at the workshop discussed the possibility of service fees for parks, utilities, street lights and other city services. The proposed fees would be a way to diversify revenue.
But for citizens, additional fees amount to an increase in taxes, and some made their concerns heard during Monday’s council meeting.
“A tax by any other name would smell as foul,” said resident Gary King.
“To me that’s government speak for increasing taxes,” said John Sullivan, founder of the Cape Coral Minutemen and a regular attendee of council meetings.
But some council members and city staffers contend that city government is already lean, with more than half of its general fund being spent on public safety, and they are looking to find alternate revenue sources in addition to making cuts.
“The issue with dealing with this budget is what things do you not want to have?” Councilmember Tim Day asked.
“Fifty-two percent of the general fund is public safety,” he said. “If we close a fire station that’s going to translate to a life. If you take away one of those stations, people are going to die.”
Day also defended service fees as a way to make the city’s tax system more equitable, since residents who rent properties receive city services but do not pay property taxes.
Sullivan disputed that, saying landlords and owners pass on the cost of taxes in the form of higher monthly rates.
“You pass it on from one person to another, and the guy who’s living there is obviously where it’s going,” he said.
Instead of fees, Sullivan said he would like to see more cuts and greater efficiency in city programs.
However, some council members say that reductions alone would drastically decrease service levels.
“It’s practically impossible,” Mayor Jim Burch said when asked if the city could maintain reasonable public safety service levels without finding alternative revenue sources.
Council members plan to discuss more specific fees and possible revenue sources during a workshop next month.