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Cape Council approves $6.2 million slash to budget proposal

By Staff | Sep 7, 2010

Cape Coral City Council tentatively approved a budget that could result in 6.7 percent in pay cuts across the board for city employees Tuesday night as hundreds of frustrated staffers looked on in council chambers.
The vote – passed 5 -3 with council members Kevin McGrail, Marty McClain and Derrick Donnell dissenting – caused employees to storm out of chambers in unison, bemoaning council for being out of touch with their employees.
“I’m not surprised by the vote,” said Robert Luzarraga, who works for the city’s police department. “They all vote the same way together all the time.”
Speaking about the voting bloc of council members Erick Kuehn, Pete Brandt, Bill Deile, Chris Chulakes-Leetz and Mayor John Sullivan, Luzarraga said the police department has already taken a 6 percent cut because wages were frozen last year.
This new payroll proposal, Luzarraga said, just calls into question the efforts of the police department in their labor negotiations thus far.
“They have the reserves because we helped them to build the reserves,” he said. “We made sacrifices so they could have choices.”
The choice city council faced was whether to use cash reserves to balance next year’s proposed $138 million operating budget. Most of the money came from savings from the current year budget the previous administration proposed to roll over into the new budget year, which starts Oct. 1.
That budget, presented by then City Manager Carl Schwing, relied on reserves to find that balance, but caused dissension among city council’s ranks for the best use for the money set aside.
New City Manager Gary King then tendered the pay cut proposal late last week, proposing to cut $6.2 million from Schwing’s submittal through an undetailed 6.7 percent in payroll cuts, incensing city employees, many of whom thought King’s proposal meant a loss of jobs.
In answer to a council question, King told the board Tuesday night that no jobs would be lost, but did not answer as second question as to what the payroll cuts mean, exactly, citing pending labor negotiations as the reason to stay silent.
The lack of detail was cause for some sharp criticism.
McClain bluntly called King’s amended budget proposal the “biggest piece of crap” he’d ever seen, adding that the proposal’s direction was unclear with little detail as to how, exactly, the savings were to be realized.
McClain said the proposal’s bottom line likely does mean a loss of jobs, because there seems to be no other way to achieve the savings.
“I don’t see it (working) without losing jobs … there’s nothing that says how this will be done. There’s no strategic plan and no direction,” McClain said.
Kurt Grau, president of the Cape Coral Fraternal Order of Police, said the proposal’s intent was to attack employee morale, which is already at an all time low.
Grau told council during public comment that the union would not take the pay cuts lightly, acting as if the cuts were the opening salvo of a forthcoming conflict.
“If you expect us to take a 7 percent pay cut, shove it down our throats and be happy about it, we won’t and we will fight,” Grau said. “We will not break the police union.”
Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz said using reserves to adopt the budget would definitely equate to loss of jobs during the 2012 budget cycle.
“If I approve using these reserves this year and it does get worse, how many people will we lose next year?” he asked.
Councilmember Kevin McGrail, who unsuccessfully moved to have council approve Schwing’s original budget proposal, equated King’s payroll cuts to “moving the finish line” on city employees, who have suffered wage freezes and cutbacks to ensure a balanced budget this year with some savings for next.
He added that proposed pay cuts should be done via negotiation, and through the city manager’s office, or on the dais.
McGrail said the reserves were built up so council would not be put into this position.
“I don’t understand why we need to keep it all in the reserves when it was put their specifically for this purpose,” McGrail said of next year’s budget.
City Council’s next budget hearing is Sept. 21. At that time additional public input will be accepted and council will vote on its final budget document for fiscal year 2011.
As currently tendered in both the original and amended budget proposal, the property tax rate in Cape Coral is proposed to stay the same, 7.9702. mills or about $7.97 for every $1,000 of taxable property valuation.
The proposed budget for all funds totals $425,723,833, which includes the general, or operating, fund at $138,008,382.