McGrail town hall meeting touches on road repaving, budget, taxes
Repaving of roads, the city budget and land use changes were the topics of discussion Saturday afternoon during a town hall meeting at the Northwest Regional Library.
Hosted by City Councilmember Kevin McGrail, the meeting kicked off at about 2 p.m. and ran for just over two hours. A few dozen residents were in attendance and questions were taken during and following separate presentations on each topic from city staffers.
Steve Neff, transportation manager for the city’s Department of Transportation, and Chris Camp, streets superintendent, spoke about repaving the badly worn roads in the north Cape. City Manager Gary King covered the budget, and Wyatt Daltry, a planner with the city’s Department of Community Development, discussed land use changes.
According to Neff, about $1.9 million has been returned to the road fund.
“It’s a one-time, one-shot surprise gift,” he said.
It was determined that a proper use for the funds would be repaving the roads in the north, and $1 million was designated for the project. Neff reported that it would cost about $10 million to pave all of the roads north of Kismet Parkway, and that it would cost about $5 million to repave the “worst of the worst roads.”
Working with only $1 million, city staff came up with a set of criteria to determine which roads would be repaved, trying to apply the funds as efficiently as possible.
“We’re trying to do out best with what we have,” Neff said.
According to Camp, roads are ranked on a scale from 0 to 100 based on their condition, with 0 meaning there is “no road left.” Staffers took the roads that ranked 35 or below, then looked at each segment of road and the number of homes constructed on each one.
Counting the number of rooftops from aerial photographs, staff came up with eight as the minimum number of homes required on a segment for it to be eligible for paving. Staff also considered roads that connect the eligible segments to larger, city roadways.
“You need some kind of standard, some kind of criteria,” Camp said, adding that with only $1 million to work with that means only $1 out of every $5 needed for the worst of the worst roads is available.
“That is the methodology that we came up with,” he added. “Whether it’s fair or not, we’d like to hear from you guys.”
The density of homes in each section, or build out, was also considered in the process.
On Monday, the city council will vote on the proposed plan for the $1 million.
“I’m hoping there’ll be a phase II to this,” McGrail said, referring to the remaining roads and the extra $900,000 leftover in the roads fund. “I want to see these roads get paved.”
King reported that council directed city staff to maintain staffing and service levels and the millage rate. The current millage rate is 7.9702, but with the drop in property values and inevitable decrease in revenue, the roll back rate is about 9.5. Measures being taken have included not filling vacant positions and instituting wage freezes and furlow days.
There are about 1,400 full-time authorized employees with the city.
Staff has also looked at deferring capital acquisition or investments plans. King noted that the problem with this though is that “those deferred investments begin to stack up.”
He said the city has returned to 2004-05 property value levels, and the city’s net reserves are climbing, closing in on the rule-of-thumb of two months’ worth of funds. Sixty-four percent of the general fund is labor costs, King said, and officials will negotiate with the eight unions to work out the best contracts possible for the citizens of the Cape.
One woman asked McGrail if he would request that city employees take a pay cut.
“I can’t tell you a solid answer until I see the contracts,” he said. “I don’t know.”
King pointed out to the audience that their taxes are split among the city, Lee County government and Lee County School Board. Most of the taxes goes to the school board.
“It doesn’t all come back to the city,” he said.
A budget workshop will be held from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Aug. 26. It is open to the public. Any unfinished business will be continued to a second workshop Sept. 2 from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Budget hearings will be held at 5 p.m. Sept. 7 and 21. Public comment is taken.
City council will vote on the final budget at its regular meeting Sept. 27.
Daltry reported Saturday that most of the recent land use changes passed by the council affected the north Cape. He said the changes underwent a series of public hearings, from about 10 to 11, before they went before council members for a vote.
“We haven’t been blessed with easy commercial opportunities,” Daltry said of the city.
According to Daltry, 60 percent of the working age residents in the Cape have to travel outside of the city for work. The recent land use changes involved rezoning areas, most to commercial professional or commercial activity center, to invite commercial activity.
“We, as a group, tried to protect the neighborhoods,” he said, adding that staffers used commercial property as buffers.
Of the 30 areas being considered for rezoning, six were eliminated because of public input during the series of hearings and meetings that stretched back to January. He said that of the remaining 24 areas, about 2,300 acres were rezoned for a commercial use.
Staff remained on hand at the end of the presentations for residents to speak to. Visual aids were set up around the room — road maps, city maps and aerial photos, among others — for attendees to examine, and McGrail and staffers also set up a comment box.
Cape resident Betty Dill attended Saturday to hear about the roads issue.
“I want the roads in the north part of the Cape paved,” she said.
Asked about the process staff used to choose the roads, Dill liked it.
“I think it’s great,” she said, adding that the presentation answered her questions.
For local Jane Bliss and her husband, Nate, community meetings are a regular thing.
“We want to know what’s happening in our community,” she said.
Cape resident Gene Wolff echoed that.
“I come out just so I know what’s going on in Cape Coral,” he said.