Candidates offers views on economic development
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 is: Given the state of the local economy, should the city re-address its economic development efforts? If so, what changes should be made? If they have a cost, please be specific as to how much money should allocated and the funding source. If there is a cost savings, how much and where should the money be re-allocated?
District 6 candidate, 67-year-old Frank Antos, Jr., a retired publisher, said the city should immediately re-appoint someone to the position of Economic Development director and reactivate the city’s Economic Development Council
Antos said the city could come up with roughly $170,000 to hire a new director by eliminating two lawyers within the city attorney’s office and replacing them with lesser-paid paralegals.
“That would be enough money saved to to hire a director. My basic philosophy is that we have too many queen bees and not enough workers,” he said.
John Cataldi, Jr., is a 69-year-old retired police detective who also is seeking the District 6 seat. He said the answer to bringing more business into the city without reaching further into the city’s coffers may be outsourcing.
“If we did it based upon commission, you wouldn’t have to lay out anything until they provide a result. We have money in the reserves for that and it’s not like we are going to be paying millions and millions of dollars,” he said.
In the meantime, Cataldi said, the city must push forward with commercial development and infrastructure development along the commercial corridors.
Also running is Kevin McGrail, a 53-year-old medical technologist.
Money is a problem this year, McGrail said.
‘I think in this year’s 2010 budget there really is no money to get the economic development office up and running,” he said.
Another issues is the Cape’s restrictive policies, which impede development, he said.
Chris Chulakes-Leetz, a 53-year-old USCG-licensed captain is seeking the District 4 position. He said the city needs to address economic development only after a thorough and complete review of budgetary documentation with an explicit explanation of funds created in the non-revenue category held by the city.
“Then there will be sufficient funds to allow for economic development once a through review has been accomplished,” he said.
District 4 incumbent Dolores Bertolini said the city must continue to focus on economic development for the long-term good of the city even if there is no money to spend on it right now.
“We can’t forget about economic development. The economy will recover and when it does we have to be prepared, down the road, to take advantage of it and we have to be prepared to do that by paring down the budget as much as we can while lessening the impact on citizens, “ she said. “We have to remember that in six months or a year from now business will be coming back or new ones coming into town.”
Bertolini said the council members are always looking for new ideas through networking and attending community meetings.
Of course, she said, more money to attract new businesses would be helpful but that just isn’t in the cards for the city at this point.
“I want to spend more money on it,” she said. “But I don’t know where I’m going to get it.”
District 1 candidate Jim Martin, a 77-year-old a retired aerospace engineer, said the city can move forward pursuing economic opportunities with the efforts of volunteers from various business and academic backgrounds.
“We get a committee together and once they have a plan they bring it before council and let them decide how to fund it,” he said. “This should not be an in-house decision.”
Because the volunteer council would work for free and the city manager is currently the de factor director of economic development Martin said, the city could get the economic ball rolling without cost to the city.
In the future, however, Martin said economic development should be a $250,000 to $500,000 line item on the city budget funded through ad valorem taxes.
Money can also be freed up by suspending the design study for utilities expansion in north Cape Coral.
“And there is so much other waste in the budget,” he said. “There is plenty of money, but it’s just not being spent wisely.”
Martin’s opponent for the District 1 seat is Marty McClain, a 51-year-old construction consultant.
McClain said the city needs to take advantage of money available from the county already earmarked for bringing new businesses into Lee County.
“We need to use the $25 million that Lee County has at its disposal that they offered it up for assistance,” he said. “Increasing our budget is not the answer but now is not the time to stop trying. We have stay focused on our mission.”
Incumbent Mayor Jim Burch, a 58-year-old land surveyor, said the city is doing as much as can be expected given their current budget constraints
“I think that we currently are doing what we can. We can only work with what we have,” he said.
If the city had the funds available, he said, then outreach to the entire country might be possible. For now, however, focus must remain on making the city as business-friendly as possible for the businesses that are already here.
Candidate John Sullivan, a 66-year-old retired broker/IT consultant, said the city cannot afford to fall behind other communities which are, and will be, vying for the hearts of businesses looking to relocate or expand when the economy inevitably recovers.
“It would be very foolish for us to try to wait until the last minute, when the economy is already coming back and other places are talking up their towns and cities,” he said. “We don’t want to wait and be the last place on the list.”
He said the city must actively pursue economic development opportunities, wherever they may be.
‘We have to go after them, we can’t afford to wait and let them come to us,” he said.
Sullivan said the city could free up millions of dollars by freezing annual cost of living adjustments and other union concessions.
“There are other places where we could find money,” he said,
Retired police officer and former mayor Roger Butler, 74, said attracting new businesses should not be the primary concern of the city’s economic future.
“We should be concentrating on keeping the businesses we have,” he said. “My priority would be to keep these business in the Cape, we can’t just disregard them.”
Butler said the city might want to consider a tax break for the rest of the year or some other incentive to keep the businesses in Cape Coral.
“It’s kind of difficult to say, because every businesses situation is unique,” he said. “I’m sure there is something that can be done.”
Butler said the city could raise money by suspending some projects.
“I think we can get along without a building for striping roads this year,” he said.
Additional funds could be raised through the shedding of some surplus properties and other routes, he said.
Regardless of the cost, Butler said everything possible must be done to keep the business that are currently in the city, from looking for a new place to call home.
Mayoral candidate Robert Pizzolongo, a 46-year-old Comcast employee, said the city needs to have tax incentives to attract large corporations that will bring high-paying manufacturing into the city that will in turn educate the citizenry, increase the city’s tax base and, he said, have no problem paying for water and sewage service.
“If we get the right businesses here, people won’t need to go over the bridge and will spend their money here,” he said.
Pizzolongo said the tax incentives could be made up for by cutting waste in the city budget and moving that money into the general fund.
Stephen Lovejoy is 51 and runs a document management company. He said instead of spending immediately on trying to market the city, Cape Coral should focus on creating a structured tax-base that does not leave room for city leaders to “play” with taxes.
‘I can see us doing this without spending a bunch of money,” he said.
Lovejoy said that any savings realized should be diverted to social programs to address problems such as homelessness, or, he said, simply put into savings for a “rainy day.”