UEP takes center stage at mayoral candidates forum
Most of the candidates for mayor in Cape Coral agree on the major goals for the city: attract businesses, lower the cost of the utilities expansion project and craft a budget that saves city programs while reducing costs.
Where the candidates differ is the ways and means to achieve those goals.
That much was clear Wednesday when four of the five mayoral candidates — incumbent Mayor Jim Burch, former Mayor Roger Butler, retired broker and city activist John Sullivan and local business executive Steve Lovejoy — took part in the Southwest Neighborhood Association’s mayor candidate’s forum at Oasis Elementary School.
Robert Pizzolongo, a Comcast employee, was absent due to a work conflict.
Water, sewer and irrigation utilities are to be installed in Southwest 6/7 in the next phase of the UEP, but the project has stalled for more than a year.
Burch said the project should progress now to move the Cape’s infrastructure into the modern era.
“I think it should go forward with it. We’re the ninth largest city in the state, we can’t survive on septic tanks,” he said.
Butler wants the UEP to be put on pause to allow the economy time to rebound and give homeowners some time before assessments are issued.
“We should put that (SW 6/7) off for a year,” he said.
He also chided Burch for not being able to vote on the city’s most controversial issue.
Burch has abstained from voting on the UEP because his surveying company, DRMP, has done design work for SW 6/7.
“I sincerely think we need a strong mayor, one without any conflicts of interests that can vote,” Butler said.
Sullivan is also in favor of halting the UEP, but also bemoaned the cost of the project and the amount of debt incurred by the city because of it.
“We’re paying too much for these utilities. I think we need to put it on hold until we get through this economy,” he said.
Lovejoy, however, wants to move ahead with SW 6/7 so current utility customers will not face an increased rate hike.
The average monthly utility bill is scheduled to increase 92.5 percent over the next five years.
If council had gone forward with SW 6/7 and water utilities in North 1-8, the increase would have been 47.6 percent.
“We’ve got a half-built house, let’s finish it before it rains,” he said.
Each of the challengers also tried to push the assets they will bring to the mayor’s seat.
Butler advertised his experience as a two-term mayor, while Sullivan positioned himself as a challenger with solutions, instead of a mere critic of city actions.
“I think you need to have a mayor who has experience with the city through the good times and the bad times,” Butler said.
“I’ve been known as a naysayer. That isn’t true,” Sullivan said.
But Sullivan still had sharp criticism for the current city government.
“We seem to have a city that, in my opinion, is heading for self-destruction,” he said.
Burch pushed back against the criticism, saying the city council has reduced the budget and staff levels during the past two years while the city’s population has remained constant.
“We still serve the same client base for far less expense,” he said.