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Council shares ideas on cutting next year’s budget

By Staff | Mar 2, 2009

Cape Coral City Council members discussed the possibility of facing a $33.4 million reduction in next year’s budget Monday, and seemingly no proposal — save one exception — was off the table.
The sacred cow of public safety — namely the police and fire department budgets — is largely considered untouchable, but a myriad of proposals by council members signified that no idea is too outrageous.
Cutting non-public safety city staff by 10 percent, furloughing some employees, shutting down Sun Splash Family Waterpark and eliminating the $250,000 budgeted for Cape TV were some suggestions to help find the reductions.
On the revenue side, increasing the millage rate and instituting public service fees were posited by some council members as ways to lessen the amount of reductions needed.
Councilmember Dolores Bertolini suggested holding wages firm, shutting down some facilities an hour early and furloughing employees — forcing city workers to take a certain amount of unpaid leave — as ways to save money while preventing overall reductions in city staff and service levels.
“We’re talking about freezing wages and negotiating with the unions as they come up. To keep from any more layoffs and more economic distress for our city, we may have to go this route,” she said.
The decline of $33.4 million was an estimate by the city’s finance department, based on two key assumptions: that property values in the city would decrease by 35 percent and the current millage rate of 4.78 would remain the same.
As council members scrambled for ideas, Financial Services Director Mark Mason said the decline in property values could be worse than the initial estimate.
“There was a 25 percent decrease in property values this year, we’re estimating it’s going to be 35 percent this year, but it could be higher,” he said.
Councilmember Pete Brandt called for a 10 percent reduction in non-public safety employees, and speculated Sun Splash should be shut down.
“I think the idea that we’re subsidizing Sun Splash is not a good thing. I don’t know what the answer is, maybe shut it down, I don’t know,” he said.
Mason and City Manager Terry Stewart urged council members to give them a target budget number next week for them to work with.
The 2009 operating budget stands at $127 million, and Mason’s projection for next year’s budget with the current millage rate is $93.6 million.
Assuming the $60 million budgeted for the police and fire departments remains the same, and $1.1 million is added to the mandatory government services portion of the budget, which is currently $14.2 million, $34.6 million would have to be cut from the remaining city functions.
Those functions include the city council, city attorney, city manager, city clerk, financial services, human resources, information technology services, community development, public works, and parks and recreation departments.
Stewart pointed out that council members are not tied to the target budget number they decide.
“This does not mean that you won’t be able to further refine it, all we’re talking about is an initial target,” he said.
Stewart may not get that target next week as initially planned.
Bertolini suggested $120 million as a target number, and Brandt eyed $110 million as a better figure, but no vote was taken during Monday’s workshop meeting.
Councilmember Gloria Tate said she doubts a target number could be reached by next week.
“I’m not sure that it’s next week that we can get to that number. My purpose is to educate myself and the public as to what we really want and what we’re willing to pay for,” she said.