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Cape council debates use of reserve funds

By Staff | Aug 26, 2010

To use reserves, or not to use reserves?
The first, and only, workshop dedicated solely to the FY 2011 budget attempted to answer that question on Thursday, but city council failed to reach a consensus, and instead locked philosophical horns on whether a budget balanced with reserves is truly balanced.
Before current city manager Gary King took office, Assistant City Manager Carl Schwing presented a budget based on the current millage rate, but relied on using reserves to make it happen.
Councilmember Pete Brandt said work done by then city manager Schwing and department managers was “remarkable”, and said the approach, while not completely ideal, is the only way the council can go unless they were prepared not to provide core services levels.
“I don’t see us saying that we’re not going to use the $6 million and gut things in this city,” Brandt said.
With an operating budget of $138 million, and city council dedicated to keeping the millage at 7.97, the city was looking for roughly $6.2 million to make up the revenue shortfall.
While some of that was found within several budget amendments presented by Schwing and staff, $3 million is still needed to balance the budget for 2011.
City staff has worked over the last few years to raise the city’s reserves from 1.2 months to 1.8, which equates to roughly $17 million.
Taking the $3 million from reserves doesn’t seem like a wise move to Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz, who felt work to raise the level of reserves would be in vain.
“Any time you dip into reserves you’re moving backwards, not forwards … I believe we can find some unnecessary expenses or waste,” he said.
Fire Chief Bill Van Helden, during his department’s budget presentation, warned council that any more cuts to the fire department would deny them the opportunity to provide the necessary service.
Van Helden said it was not just the number of calls the fire department receives, but the growing the complexity of calls themselves. He cited a recent chemical suicide as an example.
“I don’t think we can responsibly cut anything else and not cut back on service,” Van Helden said. “I don’t think it would be responsible of us to do more.”
City Manager Gary King said he felt that presentations by most, if not all, of the department heads merely echoed what Van Helden said, and that finding more cuts would be difficult.
“Service levels are already being threatened,” he said.
City council was scheduled to have another budget workshop on Thursday, Sept. 2, but opted out because they felt no more new information would be available.
Councilmember Erick Kuehn questioned the wisdom of a budget workshop in general, saying it was the city manager’s responsibility to balance the budget and council’s responsibility to approve it or suggest changes.
“I don’t understand why were even here. The budget should be done by the city manager and staff,” he said.
Other highlights from the budget workshop:

* Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz wants to have a workshop dedicated solely to coming with ideas to generate revenue from the city. He said he’s looking for ideas from any and everyone in the city.
“We need to talk about revenue generating ideas I have a couple myself … but I want to hear from anyone in the city who wants to generate revenue,” he said.
* Public Works Director Chuck Pavlos said his department has been able to keep service levels “acceptable”, but have cut down significantly on the dredging program.
* Eight additional vacant positions in the police department are going to be eliminated. They are two sergeants, one captain, one patrol officer, and four detectives.
Interim Police Chief Jay Murphy said despite cutbacks to the department Cape Coral still has one of the lowest crime rates in the state, achieved, in part, by a “change of philosophy” in management.
“It’s the lieutenants and sergeants that deliver the service on the road and how they manage their folks,” Murphy said.
* The Parks and Recreation Department is not planning on fee increases to youth and adult programs. The one exception will be the adult softball leagues, which will go up $100. Team fees will rise from $850 per season to $950, with the average cost of $2.30 per player, per game.
Mayor John Sullivan made the suggestion that opening Sunsplash during season might be way to generate more revenue for the often revenue starved park.
“I know people from up north can take a heck of a lot more cold then we can down here,” Sullivan said.