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Cape Coral Vote 2011, Question of the week, week three: Budget

By Staff | Aug 13, 2011

Each week through the primary, The Breeze will ask the candidates for Cape Coral City Council an issue-related question. In the interest of fairness, each candidate is limited to the same amount of space, about 100 words, for their response. Week three’s question: The city is in the midst of its budget process. Do you see room for further adjustments? If so, where specifically would you cut; what, if any, new revenue options would you favor; and what is your position on any use of reserves to balance operational expenditures?

Peter Brandt (I)

District 2

As Council’s liaison to the Financial Advisory Committee, I have just spent over 20 hours with them as they reviewed the FY 2012 budget. Using all of the City Manager’s Level 1 suggestions except the street lighting item (note that there is $440K in it for capital) and most of the Level 2 suggestions, they reached a balanced budget at the “not to exceed” millage rate. It maintains services at or near current levels, and I see no obvious ways to make further reductions. I steadfastly oppose the various service fees that have been proposed in the past. To increase revenue, we should continue our work to improve our economy and economic development to increase our tax base. I also believe there are more organizational changes that can be made to improve government efficiency. Reserves should never be used for recurring expenses.

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John Carioscia Sr.

District 2

As far as cuts to save money, I would rather look to save on the spending side, such as with a $2 million fuel budget, if we could begin to purchase more fuel efficient vehicles. A 20 percent savings in fuel efficiency would save us $400,000.

Expanding the “volunteer program” would be another cost saving idea. Review the out sourced City contracts to determine if some of the work could be done “in house.” Double our efforts to increase grants. Partner with major sports brands to sponsor sports fields. And finally, a moratorium on any and all “contractual” bonuses. My position on any use of reserves to balance operational expenditures is that as long as we have enough reserves, as supported by policy, any surplus reserves can and should be used in bad economic times.

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Joseph Coviello

District 2

City Council set the ceiling for the millage rate at 7.87 resulting in $831,884 lost revenue in the 2012 Budget. With assessed property values continuing to fall and the possibility of the millage rate being reduced even further this was a costly decision. The city will now be scrambling to cut services to make up this shortfall. Cut costs by executing well thought out planned projects from inception, manage and oversee projects avoiding expensive consultants, audits and backtracking. When checks and balances are needed, utilize capable city employees in this capacity saving the city hundreds of thousands in audit fees.

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Daniel Sheppard III

District 2

In a healthy budgetary process no stone can be left unturned as we seek savings and value. The city needs to operate within its means. An adequate level of services must also be maintained, therefore caution must be exercised when seeking to reduce expenditures.

A marketing strategy that attracts new commerce and additional residents will pay dividends. Cape Coral is a bedroom community that lacks sufficient employment opportunities, originally designed to attract seasonal residents and retirees, Cape Coral’s original target demographic. Marketing strategies should seek to attract our traditional target demographic, demand for commerce will follow.

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William Deile (I)

District 3

Reserves are generally set aside for unforeseen/emergency needs and should be preserved for that, not used for operational expenses. New sources of revenue still come out of the pockets of our residents. With a per capita income of $26,000 this is not the place to go. Government must live within the ability of those who pay the bill. Other areas to economize include reducing our commercial paper expenses, reducing standby pay, reducing “add” pay, implementing efficiencies in the maintenance and parts program, and imposing a solution on recently union rejected contracts to bring them into line with budget realities.

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Leonard Nesta Jr.

District 3

Do you see room for further adjustments? No, not at this time. The millage rate was brought to the Council by the City Manager and was lowered to the new proposed rate by the council. Now the current council has to look at where to pull the money from. It is their responsibility to find out where the cuts come from.

What, if any, new revenue options would you favor? Health Insurance self funding and Joint Ventures may be some.

In time of need I would use some of the reserves.

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Alan Sheppard

District 3

At this time, I see no room for further cuts in the budget and still be able to provide necessary services.After the City Council turned down efforts to keep the rollback 8.22 millage rate (for ad-valorem tax,) and insisted on the 7.97 rate, little maneuverability was left. We really need more revenue to handle the ever-increasing needs of a growing city. Increasing user fees, a one-cent increase in the local gasoline tax, a campaign to convince Lee County to add a 1 percent or 2 percent tax over the Florida sales tax (6 percent) would be better pay -as-you-go methods of increasing much needed revenue. Lower property assessments have led us to this point of desperation.

Reserves should be used for emergency situations.

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Carlos Alvarez

District 5

While this question has many facets, I believe the main query here is related to new revenue options.

New revenue could be generated by expanding the use of Public-Private Partnerships with the City acting in a supportive role. This option represents a maximum utilization of limited city revenue to create new jobs in the private sector. While this maybe a new path for Cape Coral, it is a realistic approach in these trying times. As to using reserves to balance the operational expenditures, I am a firm believer reserves are only to be used when all other avenues of funds are exhausted, and only then on an emergency limited basis.

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Bennie Barnes

District 5

Yes, I do see room for further adjustments. The City can start to produce its own electricity from sewage (through gasification process), which would save money in two areas. There may be some ways we can save money in public safety that do not involve cutting the force or brown outs (maybe changing how we use the patrol cars). I think our reserves are the lowest we can allow at this time, so I do not believe using the reserves is a viable option.

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Rana Erbrick

District 5

Council’s action to reduce the “not to exceed” millage rate already mandates further budget adjustments and requires future Councils to either further reduce the workforce and services to the citizens, impose tax increases or put user fees/assessments into place. I’m generally opposed to utilizing additional new fees/assessments.

Less painful budget adjustments could be made by looking at actual 2011 expenditures versus budgeted amounts for line items such as travel, communications, training etc. Health Care benefits for Council Members should certainly be eliminated.

Any further use of Reserves would likely lower our credit rating or cause a default of our bonds.

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Richard Leon

District 5

At this time, I do not see any further sensible adjustments to be made to the proposed budget.

I am in favor of using up to 25 percent of the reserves never succeeding less than one month and one week of future operation. The reserves are for use in emergency situations and at this time we are in an economic emergency. Use the reserves!

The best way to take the burden off of the residents to help fund the city budget would be to aggressively seek out commercial and industrial businesses to help fund the city.

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James McManus

District 5

At the Council Meeting 3 weeks ago we saw 3 Councilman say we need to set a “not to exceed rate” between 8.2208 mills (the rollback rate) and 7.9702 in the City Manager’s budget. You saw 5 councilman debating how far below the 7.9702 we should go, eventually settling on 7.8702. The most remarkable part of the discussion is that there was zero talk about the budget and how to arrive at the budget cuts to get to 7.8702. I consider that vote to be fiscally irresponsible. I do not see any cuts that I could recommend at this time.

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Wm. “Scott” Morris

District 5

Eliminate money allocated for an outside labor attorney. A budget shortfall exists because certain members of council voted to drop the millage rate and ignore the City Manager’s proposed balanced budget at the current millage rate. This vote created an automatic deficit. New revenue sources during the current budget cycle is not the answer. Last year’s budget created reserves of two months operating expenses which the city has not had for some time. If cuts to make up the shortfall cannot be made without laying off employees, or reducing services, then the reserves should be used to balance the budget. ______________

Charles Stanton

District 5

Budgets are adjusted endlessly. One adjustment creates another adjustment. To reduce the budget to match the resources, send the budget back to the department heads. Department heads know where they can make the proper cuts to their department’s budget. You ask for specifics to make cuts. Cut outsourcing programs that can be done in house. Cut City operated functions from private buildings that are rented to city owned buildings. Cut back on unnecessary audits and studies. Produce budget reports that can be read and understood by humans.

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Derrick Donnell (I)

District 7

The city manager had to make critical adjustments to balance the budget at his proposed millage rate of 7.9702. Now that the majority of council has voted to set the maximum millage rate at 7.8702, I want to be crystal clear when I say that I am not in favor of additional adjustments, specifically because these adjustments will come at the expense of deeper cuts into essential services and loss of jobs for employees. Yes, I am in favor of utilizing reserves. With respect to generating revenue, there are three options: Increase the millage rate, increase user fees, attract new businesses.

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Michael Garr

District 7

I believe the city should constantly be looking for means to adjust the city budget to reflect the troubled times we are experiencing. As a current measure, I would recommend the city withdraw from the Southwest Florida Regional Council. While this is a small step, it represents a move in the right direction allowing city funds to be returned to more practical and beneficial uses. I believe large potential revenue creating options lie in the expansion of public-private partnerships. These partnerships work well at both large and small scale, and utilize limited resources, from the city, to create maximum results in terms of jobs.

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David Stokes

District 7

I would like to see the expense spent on outside consultants used like the two hundred thousand for the UEP audit reduced and have our capable employees do it for free. New revenue should be obtained by bringing more business into Cape Coral through more economic development lowering the tax burden on our residents. We must be conservative in our use of reserves if used to maintain our credit rating and for emergencies.

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Erica Warren

District 7

No response. The candidate cited time constraints.