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City council passes $120 million operating budget

By Staff | Sep 24, 2009

The Cape Coral City Council set the 2009-10 operating budget at $119.7 million during a special meeting Wednesday night.
The decision raises the millage rate to 7.9702, or $7.97 for every $1,000 in taxable assessed value, which is an increase of more than 60 percent over the current millage rate of 4.768.
Though the millage rate increased, city spending fell by more than 8 percent.
Mayor Jim Burch has long maintained that city council has slowly brought down the city’s operating budget over the last two years, but that the reductions have gone unnoticed by the public.
With the new budget, Burch said the city is operating at 2006 levels.
“For those people out there who say we have to get back to ’06 levels, we’ve done it. They just don’t acknowledge it,” he said. “I’d like to see it (the millage) at 4.7 but it’s a total fantasy … the city would shut down.”
Throughout the budget process, city council has been plagued with what could and what should be cut. Departments citywide are forced to do more with less next year as no area was left unscathed.
Some of the cuts include police and firefighter positions and vehicles, reduced maintenance to parks, employee concessions and reductions in IT equipment.
Council also flirted with the possibility of a four-day, 36-hour work week, though the proposal did not make it past the employee unions, which shot it down.
Councilmember Pete Brandt said Wednesday that he was reluctant to support the budget because he feels there is more the council can do to reduce the number, but added that it was time to move on.
“I don’t believe we’ve reduced everything we possibly can,” Brandt said. “Are we going to cut more? Probably not.”
Though the number of citizens who turned out Wednesday was far less than that at the first public hearing, public comment was still overwhelmingly against the budget.
Prior to the council’s vote, five-year Cape resident William Nelson said he was going to leave the city if the budget was passed.
Nelson moved to Cape Coral from California because of its waterfront access and cheap tax base.
Now a “for sale” sign sits in front of his house, and Nelson is looking outside of the Cape for his next home because he said he cannot afford his $2,500 tax increase.
“The reason I moved here is because it was inexpensive,” he said. “I’m prepared to leave the Cape.”
Both the millage rate and the 2009-10 operating budget passed 7-1, with Councilmember Eric Grill the lone dissenter on both votes.
Councilmember Gloria Tate voted Wednesday via speakerphone as she was hospitalized for an unspecified illness.