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Council voices opposition to cutting city services

By Staff | May 12, 2009

Drastic cuts to Cape Coral’s Parks and Recreation Department, Public Works Department and other areas that would shut down parks, shut off streetlights and preclude any new sidewalks next year will likely not be passed by the city council as part of its fiscal year 2010 budget, council members indicated Monday.
Residents, though, can expect higher taxes in one form or another while receiving less services thanks to an estimated 35 percent drop in property values.
“This, what we have right here,” Mayor Jim Burch said while hoisting a budget scenario from Financial Services Director Mark Mason outlining the cuts, “folks, it’s not going to happen.”
Mason’s budget scenario included cuts that would be needed to meet the council’s target general fund budget of $116.4 million, assuming the current millage rate of 4.77 goes unchanged and no other sources of revenue are raised.
Council members balked at the prospect of such drastic cuts, and began to look at ways to increase revenue, but not before making sure any remaining fat had been removed from the budget.
“To take it down to bone and take people out of jobs is not really something I want to do. Besides the real doom and gloom that we are faced with we have to bring some of the more positive things we can do,” Councilmember Dolores Bertolini said.
But finding areas to cut without losing core services is easier said than done. Mason’s scenario already assumed there would be no capital improvements next fiscal year as well as no union raises — negotiations with city unions are still ongoing.
Councilmember Tim Day announced that he would like to bring a proposal to institute a public service tax to offset the alternative means of raising revenue, increasing the millage rate.
The public service tax, a measure long sought by City Manager Terry Stewart as a way to diversify the city’s revenue streams, can add a maximum 10 percent to every electric bill, but Day said he would not seek the maximum amount in his proposal.
“It would certainly be less than the 10 percent,” he said.
The proposal may not come in time, however, to prevent a large increase in the millage rate.
A millage rate of 7.7058, or $7.71 for every $1,000 in assessed property value, is the largest rate that can be passed by the city council without a supra-majority — at least six votes. It represents the rollback rate plus statewide personal income growth, or the rate needed to generate the same amount of revenue as the current year.
The public service tax must be passed before June 1 in order to take effect by Oct. 1, the beginning of the fiscal year. The city council’s full schedule before its monthlong hiatus, which begins June 8, means the public service tax is not likely to be passed before June 1.
Council members decided to hold a workshop focusing specifically on revenue on May 27 at 4:30 in council chambers.
Meanwhile, council members are caught between raising taxes or gutting city services.
Councilmember Gloria Tate implored others on the dais to think about the long-term effects to the city instead of the upcoming campaign season.
“It’s not about campaign promises, it’s about your legacy you leave the city,” she said. “Did you leave the lights on or did you leave the lights off?”