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UEP, revenue issues highlight candidate debate for city seats

By Staff | Jul 30, 2009

Candidates for Cape Coral City Council took aim at the city’s troubled utilities expansion project, city spending and management during a debate Wednesday at the Cape Coral Association of Realtors building.
All but one of the debate participants were challengers who are trying to unseat an incumbent or replace a term-limited council member. Most did not miss an opportunity to criticize the current council.
The five back-and-forth votes on the UEP were a particular target for ridicule.
“I didn’t see the 6 o’clock news, where is it now?” former mayor and current mayoral candidate Roger Butler asked, to the laughter of the 200 in attendance, when asked his opinion of the UEP.
Council members voted down water utilities for North 1-8 and water, sewer and irrigation utilities for Southwest 6/7 last week, but brought back the SW 6/7 portion of the Monday for reconsideration.
“I’m not in favor of going ahead with either one of these projects,” mayoral candidate John Sullivan said. “A lot of people are going to lose their homes because of this.”
District 4 Councilmember Dolores Bertolini was responsible for resurrecting the SW 6/7 project, voting for it Monday after voting against it last week.
She got the chance to explain her votes during the District 4 candidates’ debate. She said the last-minute ideas brought forth by other council members to improve the project made her think further review of the project was needed.
“If others were working on these issues then I need to know what they’re working on,” Bertolini said.
Her opponent in the District 4 race, Chris Chulakes-Leetz, said it never should have gone that far.
“If I believed there were last-minute backroom deals going on, I would have requested that the motion be tabled before it came to a vote,” he said.
Not all non-incumbent candidates think the UEP should be halted.
“I believe that we should go ahead with the (SW) 6/7 expansion,” said District 6 candidate Kevin McGrail. “I think we need to go ahead with it to have a coherent and a cohesive plan for utilities.”
McGrail and his opponents, Frank Antos Jr. and John Cataldi Jr., are vying to replace District 6 Councilmember Tim Day, who is term-limited.
City spending also drew the ire of candidates.
“I don’t believe in the present direction of the city. We’ve got to cut down on the spending and run it like a business,” said District 1 candidate Jim Martin.
Raising revenue through additional taxes like the public service tax, however, is not on Martin’s agenda.
“I don’t believe in any of the service taxes,” he said.
His District 1 opponent, Marty McClain, is also against the public service tax and favors using the millage rate to meet the city’s revenue demands.
McClain admitted that the future will be difficult for the Cape, which has seen a 49 percent drop in property values in two years and is dealing with rampant unemployment.
“I think we’ve got some serious problems and I think we’re going to have some serious problems next year,” he said.
Martin and McClain are attempting to replace District 1 Councilmember Gloria Tate, who is term-limited.
Incumbent candidate Mayor Jim Burch did not attend the debate.