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Cape Council to tackle budget cuts Monday

By Staff | May 8, 2009

Street lights in some Cape Coral neighborhoods, city-sponsored events, and new sidewalks could be a thing of the past next year if a budget proposal from the Financial Department is passed unchanged by the City Council.
Council members are slated to discuss the budget during their meeting Monday, but some are bemoaning the proposed cuts and looking for ways to prevent cuts by increasing city revenues.
The city is anticipating a 35 percent drop in property values, or a $33.4 million reduction in revenues next year.
In March, council members tasked Financial Services Director Mark Mason to develop a budget scenario for the general fund of $116.4 million, about a $10 million decrease from last year.
Mason’s proposal includes removing or shutting off all city street lights older than 10 years (which would save $1 million), shutting down Parks and Recreation Department amenities like the Aquatics Division, Art Studio, Eagle Skate Park, programs at Four Freedoms Park, Pop’s Cafe, Tony Rotino Senior Center, and the Mini Bus Transportation Division (saving more than $1 million), and halting the installation of sidewalks for the coming fiscal year (saving more than $663,000).
The cuts to Parks and Recreation amenities, classed as “catastrophic” in the budget proposal, are predicated on Police and Fire Departments funding levels remaining intact.
Mason revealed another scenario in his proposal detailing a possible $1.1 million cut to the Police Department budget and a $642,000 cut to the Fire Department budget, which would leave the Parks and Recreation Department with severe cutbacks but still allow operations at various parks to continue at basic levels.
In earlier budget talks, however, many council members said they would not support cuts to the Police and Fire Departments.
“I’m not looking to cut the police and fire,” said Councilmember Dolores Bertolini.
The cuts to public safety would likely lead to longer response times, but not all council members are against the cuts.
“In the Police Department, I still think their organization is top heavy. There can be cuts there without reducing boots on the street,” Councilmember Pete Brandt said.
Faced with the extensive cuts, residents will likely face an increase in the current millage rate, which stands at 4.77, or $4.77 for every $1,000 in assessed home value.
“It’s almost inevitable it will go up,” Bertolini said.
She added that she prefers an increase in the millage rate to the proposed public service tax that would increase electric bills by 10 percent. The millage rate can be reduced in future years, whereas the public service tax will likely not be eliminated once it is implemented, Bertolini argued.
“I really don’t want to start imposing new taxes,” she said.