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Candidates weigh in on utility expansion

By Staff | Jul 18, 2009

As Monday’s expected Utilities Expansion Project votes looms, the votes cast by city council are likely to become fodder for the municipal election ahead.
The mayor’s seat and three city council seats — Districts 1, 4 and 6– are up for grabs.
With sitting city council votes expected to become news of record, board hopefuls were asked this week how they would vote if they were sitting in the seats of power.
As with the current board, opinions are mixed.
Mayoral candidate Stephen Lovejoy said he would vote to move forward with the project, although he would do so with some regret
“It’s a tough situation. I would have to say, ‘go ahead with it,’ but I would like to see what hardship programs are available,” he said. “It’s a terrible thing to say have to vote for, so we must be set up to help people who can’t afford it right now.”
The possibility of instituting a rate increase strengthens his resolve.
“If cutting it off causes the rate increase then we have to move on with the program,” he said.
Lovejoy said the option of deferring the initial payment may delay some of the financial burden.
“They can choose to not start paying until 2011 or 2012 and that should help,” he said. “If things aren’t better by then, we’re all in trouble.”
In contrast, former mayor Roger Butler would like to see the expansion project delayed citywide.
“I have a problem with UEP on the north end because the people there are really suffering. I know two families there that the husbands have lost their jobs the family is really having a hard time. That needs to be put on hold,” he said. “The only thing I have against (SW) 6/7 is that it should be re-bid. I would bring that up. I think it could be possibly be done cheaper.”
Mayoral candidate and city activist John Sullivan cited the economy in his opposition to the project.
“I would vote against both situations. Right now in this economy, I don’t know how you can think about saddling people with this sort of thing,” Sullivan said.
Mayor hopeful Robert Pizzolongo also is against the expansion project in its entirety.
“I would vote no on all of it. The project needs to be done, but not right now. The economy is bad and people are struggling. Down the line when the economy has turned around we should do it, but not now, no question, no waffling,” he said.
District 1 candidate Kenneth McClain is of two minds on the expansion, saying he would vote yes on SW 6/7, but no on NW 1-8.
“I have been vocal on UEP on council before. (SW) 6/7 needs to go ahead and run. One through 8 needs to be looked at and a better plan laid out rather than just doing it,” he said. “There needs to be a controlled growth schedule. “
McClain said that should include revisiting the population growth and density of the affected districts and implementing the upgrades in areas with the more immediate need and expanding from there as needed.
“One and two would be the most impacted and then grow it from that point based on development and population,” he said.
Jim Martin, who also is seeking the District 1 seat, agrees that the two areas of the city should be approached differently
“I would vote stop it on (SW) 6/7, (NW) 1-8 should be rebid within a two-year time frame,” he said.
Martin said by that time the real estate market should be showing signs of recovery, giving the Cape an economic shot in the arm.
“This would give residents some additional income,” he said. “But the city needs to get control of spending. Spending is out of control and needs to be stopped.”
All of the candidates said they were against the city’s tentatively approved utility rate increase and that it was neither inevitable nor necessary.
Pizzolongo was most vocal in his opposition.
“We can get around it if we cut the fat out of city government. I’m tired of hearing that there’s no money available,” he said. “There is money there, the rate increase is not necessary.”
If the funds are not there, they should be and the current city council should be held accountable, according to District 4 candidate Chris Chulakes-Leetz.
Chulakes-Leetz said he would have no reservations about immediately bringing the project to a halt.
“I would vote to stop the (entire) project. It should be investigated, re bid and re-accessed. We need the utilities, but from my research there has been extensive mismanagement and it should be looked at again,” he said.
Kevin McGrail, who is running for the District 6 seat, said the controversy could have been avoided altogether if the city had left the decision up to the Cape Coral electorate.
“Because of the number of people involved it should have been put to voters. The city missed a great opportunity in the last election,” he said.
Now, McGrail said, a vocal minority of UEP opponents hijacked the focus of the issue whenever the public has had a chance to offer input, drowning out any dissension.
“All of the meetings have been commandeered by the anti-UEP people,” he said. “They’ve scared away people who might bring another opinion before council.”
But what’s done is done and the city must now lie in the bed that has been made, he added.
“I would vote for the city water and sewer. They started to build these plants years ago with the expectation of this growth. The city has worked hard to expand payment options so it should not immediately financially affect the people as it is being presented,” he said.
McGrail said it is important for the city to move forward with the project as previously voted upon.
“We can’t flip-flop anymore. We look like idiots to the bonding companies. Whatever the decision, we need to stick with for at least two years,” he said.
“What’s the big rush?” asked another District 6 candidate, John Cataldi, Jr. “There’s no health emergency nor is there a water emergency in either area,” he said.
“I would vote to stop it. I’m not against infrastructure, but I believe it’s the wrong time, the wrong prices, and for the wrong reasons,” he said.
In lieu of moving forward immediately, Cataldi said the city should look to similar municipalities for a frame of reference.
“We should look at other cities that enjoy the same infrastructure and have paid a third of the price and re bid at a later time. We should put it off as long as possible. We weren’t even scheduled to do this until 2017,” he said.
Joe Trunkett, a candidate for the District 6 seat, also would like to see the plan delayed.
“I would vote against the UEP for the time being. I would push it out three to four years. If we went forward, that could start a new wave of foreclosures and we could end up losing more tax money.
Frank Antos, Jr., who is vying for the District 6 seat, said he would have to have more information before he could make an informed decision on how to cast his vote.
“I’m aware of the problem, but I’m not at all convinced it should be done all at one time,” he said. “There are too many questions that I would have to answer before I could vote. It’s a matter of timing and what we need and when we need it.”