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City mayoral hopefuls spar over taxes, administration

By Staff | Aug 29, 2009

Candidates for the Cape Coral mayor’s seat took turns Friday sparing over the city’s budget and administration during a debate in council chambers.
Incumbent Mayor Jim Burch, 58, spoke in favor of tax diversification policies like the public service tax, a 10 percent surcharge on electric bills, but his opponents spoke out against the measure as a “buzzword.”
“Yes, there’s probably a place for them given the right situation. We absolutely need to go away from the ad valorem (property) tax system. Right now it’s 65 percent of our tax base,” Burch said.
Those looking to replace him on the council dais had a different take.
“It is a buzzword,” Steven Lovejoy, a 51-year-old vice president of a document management company, said in reference to tax diversification.
“I don’t believe it’s a tax diversification, the money’s still coming from the same people,” said John Sullivan, a 66-year-old retired broker and IT consultant.
Sullivan instead intends to entice business to come to Cape Coral, thereby relieving the 65 percent burden.
Former mayor Roger Butler, 74, was leery of an additional tax that he said would be forgotten in future years and become a staple of city budgets.
“Once you put that public service tax on, it seems like no one ever notices it’s there and it just stays there,” Butler said.
The candidates’ positions also diverged over the future of City Manager Terry Stewart.
Stewart is one of the semi-finalists for the open Lee County Manager position, the third such job he has sought recently.
Sullivan, an outspoken critic of Stewart, questioned his ability to manage the city during the current recession and his loyalty to Cape Coral.
“I think Terry did a great job as long as the money was rolling in. If there was any loyalty around here, I think he would want to stick around. I would want to ask for his resignation,” Sullivan said.
But other candidates defended Stewart’s job search.
“To me, I would be looking for another job for all the rhetoric that’s going on around the city,” Lovejoy said.
“This is an opportunity that is a very unusual opportunity. It’s not like he’s looking for every job out there. When the contract comes up we’ll base his performance on it,” Burch said.
Butler, whose tenure as mayor ended before Stewart was hired in 2002, wants to form a working relationship with him before deciding his future with the city.
“Before I judge anybody to be fired I’d want to work with the man,” Butler said.
Another mayoral candidate, 46-year-old Comcast employee Robert Pizzolongo, did not attend the debate.