Candidates weigh in on the revenue side of the budget
Editor’s Note: Each week, The Breeze will ask candidates for city council their views on an issue of interest to the voters. Each candidate is asked the same question in a phone interview. This week’s question:
New taxes and fees, and a significant increase to the property tax rate, have been proposed in the budget this year as a way to compensate for the drop in revenue resulting from lower property values. What is your position on these revenue-side budget proposals? If you are against increased or new taxes, how do you propose to balance the budget?
Jim Burch, a 58-year-old land surveyor and the incumbent in the mayor’s race, said there may be no other option if expenses cannot be further cut.
“I don’t see any other way, if you’ve lost revenue and you still have the same operating expenses,” he said. “Ideally we could cut expenses, but I’m not sure this whole process is really the starting point to get us to the level of services that is attainable.”
Retired police officer and former mayor Roger Butler, 74, said he is not in favor of increased taxes but instead favors making cuts to expenses.
“Sacrifices are going to have to be made,” he said. “We might have to cut back on some things for a couple of years and when things improve when can bring them back.
Robert Pizzolongo, a 46-year-old employee of Comcast said the city should look at bringing more revenue into the city by attracting new businesses, especially high tech and manufacturing businesses, instead of an increased burden on taxpayers.
“It would help the tax base and help to educate citizens who would earn bigger salaries and improve the tax base,” he said.
The budget can be balanced, he said, by cutting government waste.
Stephen Lovejoy, 51, runs a document management company and thinks the city should be run more like a business.
“I can’t just tell my customers that I am raising my prices just because I need more money. They city can’t just raise taxes because they screwed up,” he said. “I say ‘no way’ to raising taxes. People are wiped out. They can’t take any more.”
Lovejoy said the key to balancing the budget is eliminating waste through cutting unnecessary perks for city administrators or the administrators themselves.
John Sullivan, a 66-year-old retiree, said an increase in taxes and fees is not necessary if the city could cut back on unsound spending practices.
“I don’t think they (increased taxes and fees) are a good idea. I think we have to concentrate on expenditures,” he said.
District 1 candidate Jim Martin, 77, a retired aerospace engineer, said an increase in the millage rate is not necessary.
“City staff should be required to reduce the spending — the taxes are to make up for mistakes made in the past — and learn to live within their means,” he said.
Balancing the budget in the long-term may require curtailing some functions like special events and eliminating overtime for employees, he said. If necessary, he said, the city may need to implement a city sales tax, special assessment, or a referendum.
“It’s hard to be specific, because I haven’t been able to see the city’s full debt profile. I don’t have a complete picture, but I think the city maybe close to being bankrupt,” he said.
Marty McClain, a 51-year-old construction consultant also running in District 1, said he’s against raising taxes, but is reluctant to comment on the city’s proposed budget.
“As far as any fees, I haven’t been able to drill down enough to make a an informed decision. We are looking at an $11 million difference between this year and last year, and it has to be made up somewhere,” he said.
District 4 incumbent Dolores Bertolini said she does not support increases such as the proposed fire assessments or public service tax. “But the budget will have to be balanced,” she said. “Even if things have to be taken out, or we need a further reduction in personnel.”
Challenging her for the seat is Chris Chulakes-Leetz. The 53-year-old Realtor said the budget needs further scrutiny but he is not in favor of raising taxes.
“But the city has to be kept safe and secure and I believe that we can cut anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of the budget and these monies can be identified and diverted to avoid cuts being propagated,” he said.
District 6 candidate, 67-year-old Frank Antos, Jr., a retired publisher, said the proposed millage rate increase would be a wash for most, if not all, homeowners.
“The people of Cape Coral have had such a tremendous drop in property values that even with the millage increase they will be paying on the lower appraised value and won’t realize any significant gain,” he said. “That should come close to making up for the budget deficiency.”
John Cataldi, Jr., is a 69-year-old retired police detective who also is seeking the District 6 seat. He said he is against any tax increases but also doesn’t want to see any reduction in programs or services for taxpayers.
Cataldi said the budget should be thoroughly reviewed and, if necessary, money taken out of the city’s reserves to make up for this year’s shortfall.
Joining Antos and Cataldi in contention for the District 6 post in Kevin McGrail. Medical technologist McGrail, 53, said he doesn’t want to see taxes increased but is realistic about how much can be gain simply by “trimming the fat” from the city budget.
“Nearly $450 million in debt can’t be fixed by getting rid of government waste. We would have the same chance of winning the Powerball five times in a row,” he said.
“It may come down to a special assessment or something, we need to be totally honest with ourselves,” he said.
District 6 candidate Joseph Trunkett withdrew from the race Friday.