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Council restores budget cuts suggested by staff

By Staff | Aug 21, 2009

The Cape Coral City Council put some items back on the proposed budget for the next fiscal year that were originally recommended for removal by city staff.
The recommendations, including heavy cuts to the Parks and Recreation and Public Works departments, have drawn the ire of the community throughout the budgetary process.
With the exception of Human Resources, all departments found some items resurrected by council during a budget workshop Thursday at City Hall.
The proposed $116.4 million budget would increase based on the council’s adjustments.
The cost to bring back the items is more than $7 million, down from the original $9,463,722 in cuts as originally proposed by staff.
The cuts to the Parks and Recreation Department have been the most highly contested of the proposed changes.
Council tentatively approved putting program subsidization, maintenance, park rangers and recreation administration funding back into the budget.
This means community event waivers, special events, environmental recreation, aquatics programs and Special Populations will continue, and residents will not have to pay athletic user fees, for now.
“I’ve gotten more hits about Parks and Recreation than anything else,” said Councilmember Derrick Donnell.
Regarding special event fee waivers, council mulled the possibility of changing the method by which it doles out the funds.
Changes discussed, but not finalized, include a flat fee, percentages depending on the size of the event and offering different percentages based on the amount given back to the city through fund-raising attempts surrounding certain events.
“The danger,” Councilmember Bill Deile warned, “is we pit one group against the other. I don’t want to be in a position to do that.”
The police department found all of its items back on the budget. Totaling just over $1 million, the items include three new officers, four specialized officers and seven police vehicles.
With the exception of an administrative specialist, the fire department had two new engines, at a price tag of $310,000 each, and three new firefighter positions reinstated.
Fire Chief Bill Van Helden said the new engines will replace units that are 15 and 20 years old, respectively. He added that the 20-year-old engine actually died on the way to a call.
Public Works also found most of its items restored. Street lights will stay on, spot road paving will continue, canal dredging lives on and the signage and striping department will get a brand new building.
Five code enforcement officers will get to keep their jobs, but a section manager is still on the chopping block.
The decision to keep the five officers was due in part to the large number of foreclosed homes, which put a strain on the code enforcement division’s resources.
The future of Cape TV, however, is still in the air. Council plans on airing regular meetings, but any future productions and operator services could cease.
The additions of previously cut items brings the proposed millage rate to 8.4039. The tentative rate set by council members three weeks ago was 8.8241.