Donnell shares info, asks for input at town hall meeting
Cape Coral Councilmember Derrick Donnell held his first town hall meeting Saturday morning for more than 65 audience members, which included a few of his fellow council members, city personnel and residents of Cape Coral.
Donnell said he wanted to host a modified town hall meeting for the community to offer a setting where everyone can “just talk” and participate in “heart-to-heart conversations.”
“It is just a dialog, if you have questions raise your hand,” he said.
Before beginning the town hall meeting Donnell made sure the audience understood why he offered a personal invitation for the young and minority citizens of Cape Coral to Saturday’s town hall meeting.
“Our young citizens aren’t represented that much in government, so I wanted to give them an opportunity to get involved,” he said, adding this is why he invited the minority community as well.
The meeting was intended to carry on a positive spirit for the community and move forward with various issues.
“We need help in this city – we need help as a city,” Donnell said. “We are so fragmented right now it is disheartening for me.”
He said fragmentation is one of the first things he observed when he was elected as a council member more than two years ago.
“We can pull together and move forward,” he said. “This is the initial effort I have to move forward.”
Donnell explained that he does not expect for everyone to agree on every point made.
“Diversity is the key to our success,” he said.
He said the city is in a serious time right now because there are two groups who have opposing visions and opinions on what the city should be.
“We are getting entrenched in our position and we are starting to battle one another,” Donnell said.
He asked everyone who attended the town hall meeting to bring their property tax bills with them because he wanted to be specific about where the council members get caught every year.
“We get wrapped around the millage rate,” he said, which has raised many issues.
“No one cared about the millage rate because construction was booming,” he said. “Nobody knew what would happen in two years; the reality is that no one could predict what could happen in the city when the times were good.”
Donnell then attached the property tax bills to a question he aksed audience, “How much does it cost to run the city of Cape Coral?”
After listening to seven responses he told the audience that he likes to listen and then analyze what people are saying because the council is faced with the same problem when they sit down and talk about the budget.
“I am saying to you that is the problem we have when we start talking about the budget because we don’t have a working number to start off with,” Donnell said.
“I can assure you the last thing I am doing right now is to keep myself there for another four years,” he said about remaining as a council member. “I am blatantly honest, that is the only way I know how to be. Who knows what is going to happen in November.”
General funds was also discussed at the Saturday morning meeting.
Donnell said public works, parks and recreation, fire and police and the department of development community are the big four that are always addressed when discussing the general fund because they provide the structure and foundation of the community.
A house assessed at $100,000 with a millage rate of 5 mills was provided as an example, so audience members could understand how the general funds accumulate. He stated that $100,000 would generate $500 a household, an $80,000 value would accumulate $400 and a house assessed at $60,000 would bring in $300 for the general fund of Cape Coral.
He told the audience that they told him to “go after the property tax, don’t cut my services.”
“If we need the money the public has clearly spoken to go after the property tax,” Donnell said.
“Either we want to cut services or we are going to have to figure out a way to generate revenue,” Donnell said. “End of story, it is not that difficult. I’m just a regular ole guy, this is not rocket science.”
Another issue that was addressed during the town hall meeting was infrastructure, water and sewer.
“We are the only city with more than 100,000 residents that are talking about infrastructure, water and sewer,” he said. “The problem has always been the UEP.”
The Utility Expansion project was always coming in the form in which it was proceeding because no one had intellectual debates of what they system was going to be, Donnell added. He said in his opinion, one of the smartest things that has been accomplished since he joined the council was the establishment of the UEP committee.
“When I read the reports of that committee it convinced me of what we needed to do,” Donnell said.
“Do I have all the answers…no,” Donnell said, “but the learning curve to move the city forward I have, my finger is on the pulse of what is happening to us.”
He said the issues the city is faced with are not surface issues and he encourages individuals to bring information forth and share their insight, so more education about a specific subject is shared.
“I am going to challenge you to dig deeper,” he said.
Rose Bergau, who attended her first town hall meeting Saturday morning “though it was very informative.”
Bergau said although it was informative she believes there are still issues that need to be addressed, like the council members working with the city employees more.
Another Cape Coral resident, Lora Greenwell said there needed to be more citizens in the audience that do not understand what is going on in the city, instead of just city personnel.
“It’s a shame that they don’t want to be more involved,” she said.
Greenwell said she believed the meeting was informative and she was glad Donnell explained the tax bill.
“I’m glad they have them,” she said about the meeting. “I think they should have a few more than what they do and really advertise it.”
Donnell finished the meeting by saying, “I wasn’t quite sure how today was going to unfold – this, folks, is my idea of how we work together to move this city forward.”